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Even in the midst of war, we have reason to smile | Czech Grand Design Awards unveiled

Tuesday night, 79 designers, brands and design studios sat on pins and needles in the auditorium of the Karlín Theatre, waiting to see who would step up to the stage to receive the awards. The absolute winner was the Vrtiška & Žák studio, while Liběna Rochová, who was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award, received a standing ovation from the audience. A personal first-hand report.

I always keep a close eye on what’s happening on the Czech design front and look forward to the Czech Grand Design Awards Gala in the spring. That was the case at Tuesday night, when I sat in front of my computer screen, armed with my modest knowledge of the Czech language, and endeavored to follow the ČT art television coverage. The Karlín Theatre’s magenta stage set was a refreshing sight in itself: the backstage area, made of various podiums, was full of flamingo figures, and the neon sign CZECH GRAND DESIGN (stage design by Lucie Škandíková) proudly lit up above the heads of the gala’s cast. The designer’s unhidden intention was to dream up a kind of paradise-like atmosphere for the stage—after two years of COVID, and now, in the midst of the Ukrainian-Russian war, it was a balm for the eyes and the soul, not only for the nominees, the winners and the whole Czech design profession, but for me, as well.  

I’ve noticed about myself that, interestingly, the reason why I am looking forward to the awards ceremony is not that I can find out the winners first hand. Instead, it is curiosity that keeps me glued to the screen: what kind of show are the organizers planning this year? And by the show, I mean the whole event, with all its components—all of which create such a special atmosphere that makes me both immensely proud and envious of the Czech design.

Over the last few years, as I’ve observed the Czech Grand Design Gala, I’ve explored some of the ingredients that can never be missing from this event: exciting visuals, a program structure put together with good taste and professionalism, and humor. The latter is extremely important, quasi-essential so that you don’t feel like you’re at an endlessly boring and flat event— the Czechs allow just enough clumsyness and spontaneity, which makes it even more likeable. In this case, the Czechs don’t push the comedy to the limit (don’t imagine a stand-up night!), but they are happy to entertain themselves and each other. At last night’s awards ceremony, the color and style of the male presenters’ suits were eye-catching and brought a smile to our faces (shorts, short-sleeved jacket, white knee socks), while the female presenters’ elegant outfits were paired with dazzling and surprising accessories (such as a giant, glittering tiara) (costumes: Marek Cpin). And the hosts took the phrase “Let’s jump on the nominees!” so seriously that they sometimes summarized the main features of the category by bouncing on a trampoline, which was covered by a stage element.

This year’s prize was designed by Eduard Herrmann and Matěj Coufal, founders of the Herrmann & Coufal brand: this prize is—literally and figuratively—heavy (5 kilograms!), but its shape is reminiscent of both an archaic and reimagined baton (it almost demands to be grabbed by someone or someones, its design is so organic and expressive)—you can tell it has nothing to do with the usual, boringly repetitive memorial plaques, and that’s something to be proud of.

So let me repeat: exciting visuals, fun show-structure and humor—none of these were missing last night. And, of course, the commitment to high-quality design, the love and humility of the profession and the joy and pride that goes with it was all there on the stage, even now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, amid a war.

But not just the hosts’ costumes, the show of the awards ceremony itself was also absolutely lovable and enjoyable: the script of the evening—even though such an event is about listing the nominees, announcing the winner, presenting the awards and giving speeches—was never boring and remained tight throughout those sixty minutes. Neither did the appreciation of the partners, contributors and sponsors, nor the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the highlight of the evening, stick to the typical clichés: a children’s choir, a dance group with glow-in-the-dark neon tubes filled the stage for a few minutes, nothing was “over-written” or “over-talked”—there was just enough time to distract the audience or heighten the excitement in these interludes (director: Jana Burkiewiczová, Burkicom formation, visual: Shotby.us).

The most touching and awe-inspiring moment of the awards ceremony was when Designblok founders Jana Zielinski and Jiří Macek, representatives of the Design Academy, escorted fashion designer Liběna Rochová on stage to a standing ovation from the entire audience. The designer stepped up to the microphone in a unique printed dress: “(…) We should help those who need it most. Let us be empathetic, let us be happy to live in Paradise (…).”


Now let’s see who has triumphed this year:

Designer of the Year (award from the Czech Ministry of Culture) and winner of the Grand Designer Award:
Vrtiška & Žák studio

Photographer of the Year:
Vojtěch Veškrna

Illustrator of the Year:
David Böhm & Jiří Franta

Graphic Designer of the Year:
Adéla Svobodová

Fashion Designer of the Year:
PÁR & Eliška Horčíková

Jewelry Designer of the Year:
Studio Olgoj Chorchoj

Discovery of the Year:
Monika Martykánová

Producer of the Year:
Master & Master

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Liběna Rochová

Photos: Czech Grand Design

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