Transforming a classic

What a classic may or may not be is something that makes for a splendid debate. The term is originally descended from the Roman tax law of the time of the Roman Empire. The classis was a member of the highest tax class. The adjective classicus is later used by the Roman author Aulus Gellius (circa 175 A.D.) in the discourse between literature and aesthetics. From this point it appears in all areas of creative activity. It has become the term used to describe an art movement recognized as having created a standard, a term however which is used indiscriminately these days and is applied to representatives and works of the widest range of genres and the periods.

The term classic is often used, in order to idealize periods of history. The time that counts as the classical period of ancient Greece falls between the Ionic uprising against the Persian supremacy (500 B.C.) up to the Peloponnesian war (up to 431 B.C.). It was in this era that the groundwork was laid for western philosophy, medicine, architecture, literature, theatre and political constitution. Aristotle’s differentiation between form and matter also dates back to this time, which is still pertinent for design. In Germany, when people refer to the classical period, they usually mean the literary classical period of the 18th century, i.e. Wieland, Goethe, Schiller and Herder, dialogical discussion between politics and aesthetics during the time after the French Revolution. Or else it can mean the classical music of Vienna, which was characterized by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven and which in the meantime – because of its simplicity and popularity – has quickly come to encompass several historical music movements.
To describe Tara, the fitting which first appeared in 1991 and whose archetypal character has been carefully nurtured by its manufacturer Dornbracht and its creator Sieger Design, as a classic in the traditional sense of the term is at first problematic. Until recently, the term “long-lasting design” was widespread, and yet many long-lasting designs have recently quietly withdrawn from the market. Even the traditional concept of a classic is outdated, since it is possible to work on a classic, to work on a myth. An object may just as easily be awarded cult status as stripped of it. Establishing standards raises the risk of stagnation. The classic, however, possesses the potential to adapt to altered circumstances. It is open to a change of meaning. This classification is not caused by a sort of sloppy use of language, but by the changing world, through digitalization for example, or through the constant appearance of new products and sales channels. Even in the case of TARA , there has for a long time now also been respectively a TARA ULTRA and a TARA CLASSIC . The term’s use and the meaning are subject to rapid transformation. When a product, a service or an experience is given the attribute of “classic”, this is part of advertising promises, whose meaning seems relatively clear.

Classics play a prominent role in areas of the aesthetic mode of living. Karsten Hintz, responsible for the shop at the Bauhaus archive in Berlin, undoubtedly wrote in an essay for the book “Bauhaus” (ed. Jeannine Fiedler and Peter Feierabend, Cologne, 1999) that “our image of Bauhaus is characterized by reproductions”. And that furthermore: “the range of objects manufactured is equally as pertinent for today’s aesthetics as the changes which were made.” The most remarkable example of this is Breuer’s tubular-steel chairs, which in the 1920s “were originally upholstered with fabric – and never with leather”. The fabric could be brightly coloured, like the painted frame; “these days this is perhaps a little too tame for a classic”. Hintz also wrote: “No Bauhaus product has enjoyed the fetishist attention nor the cow-towing before an original more than the Bauhaus lights. But it is there, in particular, where no “original” in the true sense of the word exists. It was the redesign that first became a classic: the proportions of all the components, which are so often quoted today, were developed in 1980, when Wagenfeld redesigned the lights. And even this redesigning was later – for the benefit of both the product and the buyer – further developed and improved. The image of a classic: this emerges not least in the mind of the beholder. “In the 1960s, basic geometric shapes, primary colours and abstractness,” writes design historian Gerda Breuer in her book “Die Erfindung des Modernen Klassikers” (“The invention of the modern classic”, Stuttgart, 2001), “belonged to the new conventions of artistic avant-garde, who arranged elements to produce an autonomous design language.” With this she describes the spirit of an era which, in its reference to it, significantly shaped our perception of the avant-garde of the 1920s.

In the car industry, classic qualities emerged through the durability of the products, supported by an evolutionary perception of design. Many manufacturers try to continue the effect of a model’s design heritage with the successor model. The idea of quoting historical eras in car design began with the Nissan “Figaro”, a limited edition model from 1991. The 1998 VW New Beetle and the 2001 New Mini are the first series production cars, which incorporate ideas found in classical concepts. The Mini, which was launched 50 years ago, has been transposed onto a present day setting to form the basis for a dynamic lifestyle brand. Classics are not static. They have to change, as soon as the extraordinary aspect of their existence no longer expresses the acknowledgement of reality, but rather the detachment from it. In this respect, classics need transformation and must even sometimes be radically challenged, as designers like Alessandro Mendini and, more recently, Marten Baas and Martino Gamper have done, hacking away at them to get to the core. Now with white and black TARA presents the abstract colours of the 1960s, rediscovering a new avant-garde for us and allowing us to emerge from it ourselves altered.