Brilliant idea, brilliant idea, brilliant idea. If Alex Bergman were a cartoon character, he’d constantly be pictured with a little lightbulb dancing above his head.
He’d probably quite like it, being the man who chose “design with a smile” as the slogan for his firm, Fatboy.
Unashamed to admit he was once a bit of a loser, Dutch businessman and designer Alex Bergman has always been the kind of person who doesn’t like to take life too seriously. He could never have begun to imagine how his outstanding flair, huge appetite for risk and amazing head for business would end up turning his life around. It all began in a caravan, which was used as an office (the Dutch equivalent of an American entrepreneur’s garage). His first venture, B&W Clocks, focused on creating attractive, modern, decorative timepieces. A chance encounter introduced him to Finnish designer Jukka Setälä, who since 1998 had been trying to market a kind of oversized beanbag, which was perfect for lounging around. He’d called it ‘Fatboy’ in honour of Fatboy Slim, an electro musician who was in vogue at the end of the 1990s. The object, which was almost too simple to be true, instantly caught our hedonist’s eye. In 2002, restaurants were all jumping onto the lounging trend, with people dining on squishy sofas and bars all adding “Lounge” to their names. A type of electronic space music, known as Chillout, was also all the rage, inspiring calm and relaxation. That was all the encouragement Bergman needed, and he took over the selling rights for Setälä’s invention in 2003. “Not long afterwards, as if by magic, we started seeing pop stars such as Robbie Williams or Take That lying back in the huge cushions doing promotional interviews for their Dutch tour”, explains Petra Vos, Fatboy’s CEO. “Alex Bergman realised he was sitting on a goldmine… Everything just fell into his lap without him even realising it, and without even having to do any marketing.”
“The shape of the Edison lamp is as simple as you can get. So simple, in fact, it could almost have been designed by a child”
But was Fatboy’s success really so simple? The ginormous cushion may be a basic shape, but it is extremely technical to make. Its 3,542,897 beads are encased in Sunbrella fabric with a waterproof coating, whose colours never fade. It is washable, dirt-resistant and unbreakable. The Slim version, made from velvet and designed for indoor use, is so soft that it has even been “approved by Hugh Hefner” (the mischievous mind behind Playboy). The chlorine-resistant floating model, the Floatzac, is a concept that makes everyone feel as though they’ve been whisked off to paradise, and has been nicknamed the BFF (Best Floating Friend) of summer. Retailed in sixty countries, the Fatboy Original is a global success, underpinned by a sales policy that is also extremely “smiley”. “We attend a lot of trade fairs, but it’s always for MAISON&OBJET in Paris that we fine-tune the look of our stand for the rest of the year to come”, explains Vos. “It’s the most creative and most challenging trade fair. We know we have to do something unexpected each time we’re there.”
Having been a mono-product business for many years, the brand has now broadened its horizons by creating a number of new products that adhere to the same basic principle: exciting, simple and iconic. Modular shelving and rugs, tables, hammocks, hanging lamps… a Fatboy creation is at home in any environment, yet always makes a statement. “There’s the Edison lamp, whose shape is as simple as you can get. So simple, in fact, it could almost have been designed by a child”. It seems so obvious now, yet the translucent plastic lamp is not only rechargeable, but can be carried around outdoors. And that had never previously been done. Now available in four different sizes, it’s become one of the brand’s best-sellers. Another ingenious invention: the Lamzac. The long inflatable lounger made from featherweight nylon that fills with air in a single swish of outstretched arms no longer needs any introduction. It was the brainchild of designer Marijn Oomen, who was looking for an idea to enter the TV show ‘The Best Idea of Holland 2010’. As he deflated his inflatable mattress whilst staying with friends, he couldn’t help but wonder whether there wasn’t an equally easy way of blowing it up. The “air catch” concept was born. “The day after the show went out, his website went absolutely crazy. He came and asked Alex if he would market his invention” says Vos with a smile. And once again, a little virtual lightbulb danced above Alex Bergman’s head: brilliant idea!