- A conversation about luxury with Soraya and Max Kuehne
Hamburg-based Paperlux designs high-quality paper and paperboard corporate communications materials. It all started with some experiments with lasers.
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Most customers of the German design studio Paperlux are associated with high-quality products, but the studio likes to avoid the term luxury. “Luxury truly has a different meaning for everyone,” explains founder Max Kuehne. “For some, luxury is a Hermès bag; for others, it’s time.”
Together with his wife, Soraya, Max manages the 11-person team that makes up Paperlux. “I always had a great affinity for paper,” he says. “In the late 1990s I had the opportunity to experiment with large laser machines. We saw what happens when you put laser to paper. After burning quite a lot of paper, we were able to develop our own process for designing logos, lettering and other products by using the laser with paper and paperboard.” The name Paperlux is a combination of the English word paper and the Latin word for light.
Max, a trained sign painter, is responsible for the creative side, while Soraya, who serves as managing director, handles the business side. “First I fell in love with the man, then with the company, and then I came on board,” she laughs. Both acknowledge that jointly heading a company does not lend itself to a clear distinction between work and private life.
“Stories are a great inspiration. Stories make things fit together like a puzzle. Then we experiment with our hands and with materials to get the right combinations. Our presentations are composed of a narrative part and a design.”
The company is housed in an old horse stable in Hamburg’s Schanzenviertel district, with the lower floor used as a workshop. The work’s origin lies in the creative process. Asked what factors turn creative work into luxury, Max and Soraya cite time, quality and confidence. “Grandiose things can of course crop up in a short amount of time, but it generally helps if the creative team is able to experiment,” Soraya says. “It’s always helpful to put something down, get a good night’s sleep away from it and then pick it back up.”
Customers tend to have the same idea and place their trust and their projects in the team’s hands. But Paperlux once cancelled an order because there was not enough time to meet its own quality standards and the customer’s standards and expectations.
The first stop on the road to design is usually to engage with the material. Every material tells its own story, Max explains. There are even conventions for colours and shapes. “However, there is no final word on which shapes or colours signal luxury,” he says.
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“Luxury today is expressed more by the type of material and the workmanship.” Soraya adds, “The material – the feel of the paper – is incredibly important. And consumers respond automatically. It is not uncommon for someone to feel a business card that has been pressed into their hand, though they’re unlikely to reflect on whether it’s cotton paperboard or something else.”
This leads to a lively discussion on the packaging of toothpaste tubes. The same tube with different packaging may convey a completely different image. Impressions can be made through the use of colour and typography, but luxury in particular may very well be signalled by the choice of materials.
“You can always upgrade something through the selection of a material,” Max says. “If, for example, you take a piece of standard toothpaste packaging and simply use a different material, you will have already created an entirely different representation of the product – another sense that the product has become a little more valuable. Materials are just an incredibly interesting factor in a product’s packaging undergoing an upgrade.”
How do the designers know what works and what doesn’t?
“You can rarely codify the needs of customers who make luxury products and turn to us,” Max says. “You can’t just use the classic marketing toolbox. This is easier for discount products. The sector we work in involves an expert sense of the right material and the right combination of materials. The right hot foil on the right material but with the wrong typography will be just as much a failure as the wrong hot foil on the right material.”
And where does the inspiration for all this come from?
“I am a collector, I collect everything – with my eyes, my ears, my nose and very often with my hands,” Max explains. His wife agrees. “I can confirm that,” she says. “Thanks to my husband’s eyes, we discover incredible things, for example when simply walking around a new city.”
TEXT LOUISE ERIKSSON PHOTO JULIA KNOP