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Grandson of Menu Founder Takes Reins at Audo Copenhagen

by News Desk

COPENHAGEN — At just 30 years old, Joachim Kornbek Engell-Hansen, the grandson of Menu founder Simon Hansen and son of Bjarne Hansen (who turned Menu into a lifestyle brand) finds himself at the forefront of Denmark’s ongoing design heritage. The father of three small children is now at the creative helm of Design Holding’s fortified Danish luxury brand Audo Copenhagen, the result of merging By Lassen and Menu.

At the Audo Copenhagen party during Copenhagen’s annual design festival, 3daysofdesign, which closes Friday, the newly named brand showcased designs by famed 20th century Danish modernists: the Kubus collection by architect Mogens Lassen, the Tired Man by his brother Flemming Lassen and Joachim’s first designs as Audo Copenhagen’s design and brand director.

The Audo Copenhagen party at the Audo House.

Sofia Celeste/WWD

The event was set inside the city’s Audo House, which was conceived by Bjarne in collaboration with Norm Architects, who have served as creative directors and designers of several Menu designs. Inside a sunlit red-brick courtyard, an international design crowd sipped on fruity cocktails and pondered the direction of Scandinavian design — which across the board, was notably more colorful this season than ever. Audo Copenhagen, whose collection was full of cozy earth tones, was no exception.

New designs at the Audo House complemented by Durup textiles.

Sofia Celeste/WWD

On the Audo House’s first floor, New York-based interior stylist and creative director Colin King designed an installation set inside the penthouse of the multifunctional space. Pieces from King’s latest collection will be displayed among an immersive floral installation in collaboration with Alex Crowder of Field Studies Flora; the new space swathed in an eclectic mix of upholstery fabrics by Italian fabric and wall-coverings maker Dedar, Christian Lacroix (by Designers Guild) and Kelly Wearstler, among others. WWD caught up with Kornbek Engell-Hansen at Audo Copenhagen.

WWD: How does it feel to take over the design strategy for the two brands and continue your family’s legacy on a more global scale? 

Joachim Kornbek Engell-Hansen: My grandfather started Menu and I have been at the company for the past 12 years working with the creatives in design. About six or seven years back, I fully took over the creative direction of Menu. When we sold the company, we acquired By Lassen, and it has since been centered around Menu. At the time, we didn’t necessarily know we wanted to merge the products, but we knew they should be speaking to each other.

We have been working on the merge intensively for the past six months and now for 3daysofdesign it’s all coming alive. I’m extremely proud of where we are now with Audo Copenhagen and I look forward to telling the story to the world.  

What do you have in common with your grandfather? 

J.K.E.H.: My grandfather founded, but to be fair, my dad was leading the brand direction and he’s been in the company since he was 18 years old and has been the designing force of Menu. With him, we realized we understand creatives really well. We also realized we need people around us. 

My dad was the driving force that led us to really understand creatives. He acknowledged the fact that we need good people to both work and collaborate with us. His goal, and now mine, has been to work externally with extraordinary designers, partner with the best photographers and understand that the commercial side of business is essential.

What will the Audo Copenhagen aesthetic be going forward? 

J.K.E.H.: We are building on the foundation of what we already created for Menu; actually the transformation started 10 years ago when we went from a kitchen accessory brand to a lifestyle brand with a minimalist approach to design. What we do is take away unnecessary ornaments [accents] and strip the product down to the core. We focus on the subject of matter and there is a cleanness to the design that is very interesting. When we re-branded Menu, everything was white and black steel, but right now we are in a phase where we are adding a lot of warmth from the interior in general.

The art direction for Audo Copenhagen was created in close collaboration with Christian Møller Andersen (photographer & art director at Kinfolk). He played a central role in the design process of our new concept store at the Audo House. We have added more colors to the space both in terms of new upholstery and wall paint.

How does it feel to take over your family’s legacy post-merger?

J.K.E.H.: Sometimes when you talk about a big change, like renaming our brand, it can sound really big, but after being a part of it for so many years, it just wound up naturally evolving. There was definitely an incredible urge to do it well and enter into a new phase, so I’m happy we’re here. For my father, it’s been a dream for him to establish Audo and we talked a lot about changing the name. We wanted to take the time to do it well and create a house where everyone can come in to see what our brand is doing while enjoying the open spaces, such as the shop and restaurant.
How do you manage a restaurant and a store as well?

J.K.E.H.: The restaurant is managed by an external partner. It was important for us to team up with a restaurant partner who understood the concept, idea and feeling of Audo Copenhagen. We both intend to be a house for the local community as well as a destination for design lovers visiting from all over the globe. Entering our house should feel like a home away from home and the restaurant partner might be the first friendly face you meet, meaning that they should be brand ambassadors in the same way as if they were employed by us.

What is your first memory working in the family business? 

J.K.E.H. There are many memories as Menu was always part of my life. From joining a lot of meetings with my father when I was just a kid to exciting new launches, the best memories have been when we have something new to share with the world. I remember the light in my father’s eyes when he got a new idea for the brand; that’s something that has always been a huge inspiration to me.

I never got to work with my grandfather. Growing up, I was traveling with him to production sites, growing up, sitting in hour-long meetings during my teenage years, and it wasn’t the most interesting thing in the world, but it was essential. 

What will you take from By Lassen? 

J.K.E.H.: We are proud to now have iconic pieces, such as the Tired Man chair and Kubus Candleholder from the By Lassen collection in the Audo portfolio.

We hold very iconic pieces — Tired Man, Kubus; [you can] see it in three out of four windows in Copenhagen … The upholstery products, you can see them on the website as well; they are voluminous and elegant, like the Kubus. All made very simple and you can see the product geometry of square design. 

What sort of consumer will this new brand appeal to? 

J.K.E.H.: With an extensive variety of products, we offer options that are both heritage-driven and that are easily accessible and appeal to a broad consumer base. Most recently we collaborated with contemporary designer Colin King, who we worked with to create accessories that have consistently been purchased by a range of consumers around the world.

We are working from very heritage-driven products that are priced at a high price and, of course, higher consumer with a strong buying power. We did a collaboration with Colin King and centered around art pieces that he found. They [accessories] are reasonable to buy into as well. We don’t want to just segment in one place; it’s a modern way of broad span in a consumer reach where they buy into the same universe with a broad range of products.

What is your e-commerce business like in the U.S.? 

J.K.E.H. The U.S. e-commerce site is managed by Audo, we have a warehouse in the U.S., and we have a local setup over there. We are doing upholstery out of Mexico to facilitate U.S. business. 

Would you like your children to follow in your footsteps? 

J.K.E.H.: We would be happy with whatever career they choose when they’re older. My wife is very musical and I have a feeling they inherited those abilities.

A room with a view inside Audo House.

Sofia Celeste/WWD

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