Today, we have a pretty crazy story to tell you. It involves Studio Feixen – the Lucerne-based design studio that prides itself, specifically, on focusing on nothing in particular – and some cakes. Vanilla, strawberry and chocolate flavoured cakes to be precise. These cakes were the focal point of an exhibition and workshop last summer in Hangzhou, China organised by the renowned Swiss design studio.
Obviously, we wish we all could have been there to sample such perfectly smooth design deliciousness, but sadly, we will have to make do with sampling the cake-cum-poster delights through the wonders of the internet.
The story behind these impressive cakes dates back to a designer called Samuel Bloch. Felix Pfäffli, the founding designer of Feixen continues: “He helped us out for some months and when we realised that his internship would soon end, Raphael [another Feixen colleague] was like: ‘Felix, we need a really really good goodbye present for this guy’.” Long story short, he decided to buy one of those over fancy cakes with Sam’s face on it, and in visiting the factory where the cakes where made, an epiphany was realised: It’s super easy to print on marzipan.
When the cake arrived, complete with a Harry Potter scar, tears and a load of hearts also on his face surrounded by large scrawls of ‘Thank you!!!” around the outside, the atmosphere was electric. Raphael and Felix gave him the cake, took about a hundred photos of Sam and the cake, and invited everyone who walked by the studio to come in for a coffee and to eat a piece of Sam’s face. “That was the moment when we realised how good this combination was,” says Felix. “We were joking about making an exhibition consisting only of edible cakes or pizzas and whatever else you could eat. It was a great afternoon.”
So when the designers at Feixen were tasked with organising this exhibition in Hangzhou, it presented the perfect opportunity. “We didn’t really think this would ever happen,” says Felix, but lo and behold, the clients on the other end of the Skype call were really excited about the idea. There they were, sat behind a computer, pitching an exhibition made out of fancy cakes, which surprisingly went very well. “In that moment, I really felt how much I love our job,” Felix continues. “I was constantly smiling, talking, and at the same time observing myself in front of this screen explaining the most awkward idea of creating this absurd exhibition.”
The pair thought they would never hear from them ever again. But they did! They loved it! How could anyone not?! So in the next few hours, Felix and Raphael drew up a detailed plan of their idea. What they did not realise was that Jianping He, the man commissioning the exhibition, had very good connections to the biggest cake manufacturer in China, a company producing around 200,000 cakes a day. “What we thought was a crazy thing to make, turned out to be the smallest job they’d probably ever done!” Felix goes on to tell us. “And guess what, in the end, we got the whole exhibition sponsored. Lucky us.”
For the designers at Feixen, every step of the process was enjoyable. Constantly unsure of whether the exhibition was really going to happen or not, every bit of news all the way from China felt like “a small birthday present.” First, they received images of test prints, then pictures of the perfectly sized plinths to seamlessly melt into the four perfect white walls of the cakes. “The more we realised this is going to happen, the more excited we were,” continues Felix. To coincide with the exhibition’s opening, they also made posters with a cake-like glaze dripping down and even planned to produce bespoke T-shirts to promote the show.
Despite the translation barriers involved in communicating their ideas from German to English to Chinese, the project continued to surprise and delight Studio Feixen from the other side of the world. A fairy tale from start to finish, the designers wouldn’t change much now that the project is over. The only thing they would reconsider in retrospect, is the setting. “If we would have known what would happen next, we would have arranged this exhibition in a huge fridge,” says Felix, because the moment the cakes were sat on their plinths, the expiry date clock started ticking. The cakes had to be eaten pretty quickly, otherwise the glaze would start to drip down those perfectly stark white plinths. And to make matters worse, Felix and Raphael’s flight was cancelled due to a typhoon in Shanghai, preventing planes landing in the extreme weather.
By the time they made it to Hangzhou, all the cakes had been eaten. “Raphael and I were crying and trying for hours to find a way to get there, but finally, we realised that we came up with the worst concept for an exhibition when you’re late,” Felix finally goes on to say. “We found our happiness in gin and tonics. Of course, we were there as soon as possible, but when we arrived, there was just a totally empty room. We only tasted the bitter taste of good ideas and their consequences.”