Since its debut in 2016, the MBRACE collection by Sebastian Herkner for iconic German furniture brand DEDON has been a smash hit in the world of outdoor design thanks to its chic mix of teak and woven fiber. Now, the star designer has continued his fruitful collab with the brand to further evolve the 12-piece line, launching the MBRACE ALU armchair, which features the largest die-cast piece that DEDON has ever created and is available in seven possible color combinations between base and fiber. As Herkner recently celebrated the new launch at the brand’s showroom at theMART in Chicago, we sat down with the Frankfurt-based designer—in MBRACE high-backed wing chairs, naturally—to talk about the collection, what he enjoys most about his DEDON partnership, and what’s up next on his very full plate.
You have a longstanding relationship with DEDON. How did that start?
I studied furniture design, then I graduated in 2007 and started my own business. I had first collaborations with brands like Classicon and Moroso, and then I put my footprint in the market in terms of crafts and material combination and color combination. I got the interest of DEDON, of the former art director, Sonja van der Hagen, and she asked me would I like to meet her at the fair in Milan. We met there and she introduced me to the team and to the products from the portfolio; we met a second time at the factory in Lüneburg south of Hamburg, and I saw the production of the fiber, which is produced there in Germany with a big extrusion machine. Then we went later to Cebu in the Philippines to see the production, which is important—I think it’s also necessary for me really to understand the technique and to see the people working. You know, the chair you are sitting on takes three days weaving for one person, and I think that’s important to know. Nowadays everyone thinks it’s done by robot or 3D printer or whatever, but there are still many hundreds of human beings weaving for DEDON in their own factory.
DEDON’s new MBRACE ALU armchair
How many collections have you done with DEDON over the years?
There’s MBRACE, which is the biggest, and we did some lighting also, LOON. We did the MBARQ modular sofa with different heights, and you can have a corner and so on. So we did like three, but the MBRACE for sure is one of the most successful ones, and it’s still growing. We just added a cocktail version of the wing chair with shorter back wings, and we added the aluminum base recently—the original one is with teak—which was a new material I was bringing to Dedon at the time; there are also different color combinations for the top. We worked like three years on the MBRACE collection before the first launch to get it done perfect. The aim was to have it comfortable with and without a pillow; normally there’s a shell and you put a lot of pillows inside, and then it will be comfortable. This really works also without. We have it at home sometimes also without when we are too lazy to take the cushions from inside to the outdoors. The idea was [that along with] the big sofa landscapes DEDON has in the portfolio, to have smaller complementary furniture in the scale that would fit a Chicago skyscraper balcony, you know? Because the reality is not just Hamptons and Ibiza—the reality is also smaller apartments, and there are people who have their Flexform sofa and want to have the same quality for outdoors.
The skillfully woven chairs are a stylish fit in a variety of settings.
How is your work process with DEDON different than with other companies you collaborate with?
It’s great that the production is in-house. So on one hand they have the production of the fiber [in Germany], but then the magic happens in Cebu, in the Philippines. So for me it was important to go there, [and go back from] time to time. So I’m there every second year to meet the people, also to understand their culture and philosophy. And in the morning they all do sports together in the courtyard, then they go to work; it’s fantastic to really sit down with them and to try to develop the weave. We started with the weave in a studio on a small sample, and then from the 2D sample, they’re really shaped to a 3D one. So for me, it’s really necessary to have partners on the other side I can really meet. Of course I have clients that just work with suppliers. Then it’s sometimes more difficult, but I try always to meet them also really to understand the material and what is typical for their technique and how can I maybe challenge them also. [In my] experience, if you meet a craftsman on the same level with respect, they’re really super open-minded to try also something they never did before. To try different shapes or different material combinations, whatever. I think it’s so important really to highlight the craftsmen and people behind the scenes for the furniture business, but also for interior designers and interior architecture, because they are the ones really giving a soul to a product or giving motion to a crafted product because they are handmade and I think we as humans want to discover design or products or even food with all of our senses. I’m sometimes like a chef—I need the right ingredients where I know where they come from and I need the right tools. And then of course, it’s my intuition and my fantasy to create something.
What piece is your favorite in the MBRACE collection?
Funny, We have one low back and two high back [chairs at home]. And of course, when I’m at home with my husband, we are both sitting in the high back. But when we have a guest, I’m always a gentleman saying “Sit here,” and then I have to sit [in the low back]. [laughs] When you have it at home, you sit completely different inside. You sit in the corner, and that’s also a big advantage of the chair—you can really sit with your feet up in the corner. Sometimes I have a nap on the chair. I fall asleep with my foot on the footrest. No, I think it’s really a very good product.
Each piece in the collection is available in an array of colors and cushion combinations.
What about the new colorways? Do you have a favorite?
The most commercial one is the pepper here; we also have a taupe because sometimes you don’t want to take risks and this was the best color of the first three. Now I think we have exciting new ones also like the chestnut and some others. And now we have the possibility to work with a powder coat on the legs because we have teak now. It gives a lot of possibilities for interior designers now to play with the color, to have a kind of unique setting for their clients, and I think that that makes it interesting, Dedon is really about colors and adventure and the playfulness of living outdoors.
What’s next for the collection?
We’re working on another color combination; we just added another smaller armchair I mentioned. We have something in discussion actually, but we need to start to develop it.
What have you enjoyed most about the collaboration with Dedon so far?
Of course, as a designer, it’s a privilege to travel. The Philippines was never really on my bucket list or I never had the opportunity to go there. So it’s great really to go there to, to have the local food and to experience it on a different level. And I think what makes it special is you meet the people directly—it’s not like a normal vacation, you know? You travel from one place to another, and you really interact with the people. Right. And you spend a day or lunch with them, so you get much more information than on a normal holiday trip. That’s fantastic for my work, that I have the possibility to travel to get a lot of inspiration and this intercultural interaction.
With or without cushions, the MBRACE collection was designed by Herkner for comfort.
Obviously the launch of the new MBRACE collection is a focus right now. What is coming next for you?
The next big launches will be next year for Paris [at Maison & Objet], then there’s Copenhagen [3 Days of Design] coming. So we’re always working on 10 products for different brands, like Duravit, which is our bathroom client, or Vibia for lighting from Spain or Classicon, [for whom] we’re working on a chair for next year. Of course, sometimes you work like three years on a product, sometimes half a year; you never know when the product really is finished, but we are busy and that’s quite good actually at the moment, even though the situation is a little bit different now in Europe because of the war and people are buying less furniture because they bought a lot during COVID. Um, yeah. But we are happy that we are really busy and have challenging and interesting topics to work with.
Yes, it’s great to see the product be successful, to discover it sometimes on Instagram. I think that’s the best on Instagram, if someone [tags me], I can see where it is and then you can discover almost-naked Christiano Ronaldo sitting on it or Justin Bieber with it on his basketball court. I never met them, but they have it. It’s fantastic, and this is a product that is successful all over the world. Sometimes you have a product [that does well] in France, but not in Italy, and this is really a universal one and people really understand and appreciate it.”