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Meet Buzz – the Australian company transforming the travel sector through design

Itsy bitsy aeroplane luxury – why do we love it so much? Buzz takes the essence of high-end brands and reimagines it into a ‘signature moment’ that only happens when you’re 30,000 feet above earth.

(L-R) Leonard Hamersfeld, co-founder, and Karen Webster, design director.

(L-R) Leonard Hamersfeld, co-founder, and Karen Webster, design director.



BY

October 5th, 2018


When travelling first and business class, extra details are added to make that experience even more delightful. For most, the extra legroom is enough. But beyond just being able to lie horizontally, business and first class passengers are treated to a selection of specially designed products to elevate the aviation experience.

Service ware, cutlery, pyjamas and amenity kits – these are the finishing touches that divide the classes in airline travel. And depending on which airline you choose to travel, you will see a variety of luxury brands collaborating on those products. What you may not realise is that behind the scenes there is an Australian company that designs and manufactures those products. Enter Buzz.

Alessi for Delta. Photo by Scott Newett, courtesy of Buzz.

Alessi for Delta serving ware. Photo by Scott Newett, courtesy of Buzz.

Founded by Leonard Hamersfeld and Barry Gold over 19 years ago, Buzz has been quietly transforming the travel industry. Some of the recent stand-out examples of the company’s work include Alessi for Delta’s serving-ware, an injection-moulded amenity kit with Swedish cult favourite Byredo for Emirates, and the ongoing Qantas Curates kits, which feature a cache of Australian artists.

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“We’re bringing design thinking to the skies.” – Leonard Hamersfeld
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Elaborating on the role of being a ‘middleman’ between a design house and an airline, Hamersfeld explains, “Airline products have traditionally been commodities, and we’re bringing design thinking to the skies. We find the most amazing design houses that fit for the airline we’re working with and we bring them together.”

Byredo wellness pod for Emirates. Photo courtesy Buzz.

Byredo wellness pod for Emirates. Photo courtesy Buzz.

It’s not a matter of just doing a quick-slap logo, or dodgy replica. To get the most authentic outcome requires true collaboration. “We work hand-in-hand with the design company and we collaborate on the product designs, the process… everything. We make it fit-for-purpose for the airline space. For example, we make sure that the products’ weight, strength and size is right, so that it fits on the tray, in the trolleys and is stackable. There are a million things to consider. One of our guys actually spent a month travelling on planes just to do the testing for the Alessi range,” explains Hamersfeld.

Karen Webster, design director at Buzz, reiterates the importance of these considerations: “We have to make sure we don’t, in any way, sacrifice the design or the quality when adapting a product. But for an airline, weight is absolutely vital.”

Alessi for Delta. Photo by Scott Newett, courtesy Buzz.

Alessi for Delta. Photo by Scott Newett, courtesy Buzz.

Aside from the technical requirements, part of Buzz’s role is to add something unexpected to the travel experience. Considering that airline travel is now commonplace, it could be argued that the glamour is all but gone. Rather than its disappearance though, Webster and Hamersfeld consider it a new kind of glamour. It’s luxury for the 21st century.

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“We have to make sure we don’t, in any way, sacrifice the design or the quality when adapting a product. But for an airline, weight is absolutely vital.” – Karen Webster
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“We hope that when people get on the plane and see this little bag it takes their breath away. And if they actually say, ‘I didn’t expect that’ or ‘It’s more than I expected’, then we’ve done a great job. We’ve added a touch of magic,” says Webster.

For Hamersfeld, it’s about offering a modern type of luxury, which isn’t bound by scale or even price, but is shaped by narrative. “Luxury takes many forms and it’s not just about the product. I think it’s about the story you’re telling. I think modern luxury is really about something that is limited edition, inaccessible. And at the end of the day, it’s about how it makes you feel.”

Alessi for Delta. Photo by Scott Newett.

Alessi for Delta. Photo by Scott Newett.

The limited edition nature of the kits automatically makes them collectable. And in many cases the miniature products are unique, in that they’ve been developed with travel in mind – think crease release sprays for your clothes, pillow mists, sleep oils and hydrating eye creams. “We do special edition skin care products that you don’t get at retail so they become very aspirational,” says Webster.

When talking about the hospitality ecosystem around travel, Hamersfeld says: “We don’t drive the service, more the product around the service, so I wouldn’t describe us as being in the hospitality sector. But we do add little bits of delight into all the touch points of travel, of which hospitality and food are a part. But it’s really about adding something to the whole travel journey.”

Alessi for Delta. Photo by Scott Newett.

Alessi for Delta. Photo by Scott Newett.

For a company that’s headquartered in a country which many would deem too isolated, Buzz has proven that distance knows no bounds.

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“I think modern luxury is really about something that is limited edition, inaccessible.” – Leonard Hamersfeld
.

“Actually one of the interesting things is that we’re so far away but we’re the largest supplier to the three main American airlines. Which has a message there for designers, that we’re not isolated anymore, in fact, in a sense we can operate as part of China,” says Hamersfeld.

And Buzz’s investment in design is helping to fuel Australia as a creative hub: “I don’t know many Australian companies that have more than 20 people in the design team. I come from a fashion background and even the really large-scale groups aren’t investing in design like [Buzz] is,” says Webster.

Portraits by Elizabeth Bull. All other photography supplied by Buzz.

We covered Mini Bar by Foolscap Studio, which talks about design and the modern traveller, have a read.

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