An interview with the prince-designer Carl Philip Bernadotte and his partner Oscar Kylberg. The Swedish creative duo, who have launched their own design and lifestyle brand NJRD, talk about the project, between Scandinavian pride and global reach, with a focus on Italy

One seldom has a chance to address a designer as “his royal highness.” Not as an ironic quip, applied to certain self-absorbed creative egoists, but as a matter of fact: Carl Philip Bernadotte, Duke of Värmland, is the son of the present king of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustav. He is also a designer, who with a flair for understatement calls himself simply Bernadotte. With his friend and partner Oscar Kylberg, he works with well-known Swedish and international brands like Hästens, Georg Jensen or Stelton, to create objects and fashion accessories with an attitude of poised, sustainable and timeless elegance. With a shared background in Graphic Design at the ‘Bauhaus-oriented’ Forsbergs Skola of Stockholm (at different times) and many friends in common, the two joined forces in the studio Bernadotte&Kylberg in 2012, leading to the creation of their own design and lifestyle brand: NJRD.

HRH Prince Carl Philip, during last months, many designers have reflected on the possibility of developing new methods of design and production growth aptly related with the current historical situation shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. What were your personal thoughts?

CPB: “As always when we design, we are strongly committed to trying to develop design pieces that bring joy and truly enhance the user experience. That focus has not shifted on our end and probably never will. However, not being able to meet our business partners and travel in the same sense, while at the same time watching a dramatic shift in the retail landscape, does of course affect us all. From a historic perspective, we will probably look back at this period in time and remember it as a reset button of sorts. A period when we were able to take the time to reflect on the “why” of all of our doings. As designers, we are both very detail-oriented and hands-on in our creative process, so I guess that we have possibly become even more picky in the selection of designs and collaborations that we chose to move forward with. Both time and resources are too precious to waste, we have spent so many hours discussing how to move forward in the most sustainable sense as well.”

Sigvard Oscar Fredrik Bernadotte, the grand-uncle of Prince Carl Philip, was a famous industrial designer. Is there something in his work which influenced your research?

CPB: “Of course I draw inspiration from my great uncle and his work. But both of us have many influences, I myself look up to the classic furniture of Carl Malmsten and Axel Einar Hjorth, as well as the tapestries of Märta Måås-Fjetterström.”

You have been working together for almost 10 years now. How did you start your journey?

OK: “We discovered quite a long time ago that we had many common interests and friends, as well as the same design education. The Bernadotte & Kylberg design agency will be celebrating 10 years next year and we feel very humble to be working with so many talented brands.

We decided early on to only commit to design that we ourselves would be proud to use and be associated with. From the first launch with Gustavsbergs Porcelain Factory to our latest joint collaboration with Nordic Nest – introducing a completely new design and lifestyle brand – NJRD, we stay true to our commitment.”

Through your new brand NJRD you set out to create design for “Scandinavian moments.” What exactly does that mean? What are the distinctive characteristics of the collection, composed of carpets, porcelain table services and textile complements?

B&K: “Scandinavian minimalism is in our nature – close to our hearts. In creating NJRD and designing the brand’s first collection, we wanted to be able to share those meaningful moments of contentment and calm. Having a moment to yourself, when you feel that you have found something worth keeping for a long time to come. To share the design and those moments globally with other people who enjoy NJRD and Scandinavian contemporary design is so meaningful. Thanks to our partner Nordic Nest, the collection is already available in Italy and 70 other markets, and in 11 languages; we went global from the start here, thrilling! The first collection ‘Shapes’ is unified by several graphic elements. The pattern of first product we made the rug Stripes can be seen throughout the entire collection, as the line moves from different surfaces and materials. Where it ends up is in the eye of the beholder.”

Has your creative process some recurrent rules and stages, a sort of method?

OK: “Yes. We are true believers in having and following our design process: Research, Insight, Theory, Idea and Shape. In that order. Always. Each part of the process is equally important and needs to have its place and time.”

Are there some territories in design you'd like to explore? I mean some fields or areas you didn't engage in so far…

OK: “Over the past decade we’ve had the opportunity to try out many different fields in the design world. We like doing the unexpected and trying new things, for instance we have designed both fashion clothes and eyewear before. More recently, we loved designing beds for the now global Swedish premium company Hästens Beds. We also made smaller furniture pieces and feel strongly that furniture is indeed something we are eager to explore even more. Developing furniture is a very comprehensive process, and we feel drawn to it.”

CPB: “What’s more, we love working with brands from all over the world. It is within the cultural mix and sharing of experiences that exciting things and solutions tend to happen. That’s something we will always embrace.”

In your opinion, what are the common traits between Scandinavian design and Italian design? And what are the main differences?

B&K: “We are shaped and inspired by our surroundings. Scandinavia is basically dark for the winter period which makes us long for the light and sunshine when it returns in spring. We even celebrate it. Not only as people but also in our design – by not letting anything stand in the way of the light. That’s why we tend to have a minimalistic approach to design, because we feel the need to see objects and spaces clearly and for what they are. For us, the beauty of a design doesn’t necessarily come from what you can see or touch – but what the design (and designer) leaves for the brain to see.

Traditionally Sweden has a strong and quite a colourful design tradition, full of pattern, folklore and craftmanship. It’s something that we are slowly coming back to. Italian design, in our eyes, is typically very expressive and decorative, free of compromise. Something that very practical Scandinavians – like us – can see from the outside.”

You work with important Swedish and international companies such as Hästens, Georg Jensen, Stelton…. Is there any Italian company you feel affinity with, one you would like to design for?

OK: “Absolutely! Alessi, Kartell, Missoni, Zanotta, Flos, Foscarini, Boffi, and more, there are so many wonderful Italian brands.”

In 2017 with Hästens you were protagonists of an evocative event at the FuoriSalone in Milan. How did you live that experience, and what does it mean for a designer to present their products at the Milan Design Week?

B&K: “Being at Salone has always been a major source of inspiration, and a chance to connect with your colleagues in the industry. As designers, we love to work and visit countries that live, see and take design seriously. Italy, and Milano in particular, has become one of the most important design hubs in the world. Just like in Scandinavia, design is a lifestyle in Italy. We share that passion with you.”