● Could you please summarize your career so far? Your education, foundation of your studio… How did you get into design & how did you proceed on this way?
My parents were farmers in the Marne Valley. I spent my childhood with my twin sister and two brothers in a small village of 80 people in the Marne department. Design came straightforwardly from what I learned at the Higher school of industrial creation (the ENSCI) in Paris, which was the only school that trained people in industrial design at that time.
For my degree, I worked on the idea of extended function. I had this intuitive idea that one function per object was not generous enough. I showed with three objects that form a “domestic trilogy” that was really an attempt to see how far one can really extend the function by putting givens in it: With these projects, I realised that, if we thought it out well, we could make it that the object is more than an object that comprises lots of ingredients, one can model it.
That is the know-how of our profession – not only to make a function but to add to it… take a position, deciding whom to support in home life, sharing… and I realised that it was there that things became passionate for me because we escaped solving issues, formal problems, we had this possibility of giving breath to a whole world and ideas that are essential for me. It matters little to me to make a new object, one more object, an object carrying a vision of society, a vision of life together, an engaged object.
As my projects proceeded, I began to work with furniture and the first project that engages in this idea of a life scenario was “When Jim Goes to Paris”, a column when Jim was not at home but when Jim arrived, it was deployed, it became a space, there is this metamorphosis of an object that was a potential in a potential and is activated in a moment and can propose a life scenario.
I did not want to make a piece of furniture that is formal. Of course, we have this notion of comfort once again; but I start with the principle that comfort can be offered in different ways and therefore this column of hospitality proposed a life scenario. It became a column.
We can have this process just as well at the level of the object, at the level of the space but also on different scales. When I worked on this knife with Forge de Laguiole and for Pierre Hermé I demonstrated that, with a tool that has been purified over the centuries… One doesn’t quite know what to invent with a knife (the pastry knife simply by thinking), this matter of life scenario, pastry scenario, here more of a customary scenario, here again we reach the point where the object accompanies us at a moment and no longer doing something at a time T but accompanying us at length around an entire activity. The knife cuts, but we turn our hand a quarter turn and it becomes a cake or pie server.
This calls up this second idea, which is to stop working on objects that are hyper-specialised at time T but that are going to have this intelligence of working on transitions, on the way we go from one activity to another, on fluidity. In a way, it is a matter of working on life itself, because life is in movement and only a succession of still pictures. In motion, life is multiple and evolving.
Design has no relation with shape, for me; in any case, that is not where the challenge or interest of this discipline develop. One can spend a lifetime designing the curve of a chair and aligning them, but why one more? Design, and its challenge for me is the relation to life and the inscribing objects in a space at the centre of which human exchanges organise.
● Where do you get the inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from observing life. The sociologist Marc Augé had defined my practice as anthropological design. After that, I rely on rites and customs to develop projects. That is when I introduce the notion of a custom scenario.
● What is your design philosophy? How do you define your style?
Beyond function, which is a minimum, I am seeing this profession more and more, via the projects I am engaged in, as that of a midwife. It is less and less a matter of giving matter form – aesthetics – but more and more a matter of bringing out, federating, organising, around common intentions and values links and networks of skills, connivance, sociality. Most of the projects I am currently working on bringing out this dimension of collective and collaborative work. I am thinking of the recent project of the “Maison des Petits au 104” in Paris, of the forest homes for the “Vent des Forêts” in Fresnes au Mont in the Meuse department, of the “Le Blé en Herbe” school in Trebedan in Brittany with the “The Fondation de France” of the mobile museum “Mobile Mumo 2”, hotel “Dar HI” at Nefta in Tunisia, and with Cédric Casanova and his olive oils of Sicily in Belleville. So, there is a more and more local dimension that interests me greatly. One can clearly see than contemporaneousness in no longer the exclusive privilege of the urban world.
Obviously, I also design objects, but objects are neither the centre nor the end purpose of the creation process. They are one possible actualisation amongst others (an architecture, a scenography an exhibit, etc.) at a given time, of a broader system of thought.
● What is your approach to the projects at the beginning? How do you start?
Behind each project is an intent. Behind “When Jim Goes to Paris” in 1995, the intention was to return hospitality to the home. The shape does not interest me. It is only the consequence of the intention, just like matter.
I think in terms of space and use, not in colours, matter or form. Of course, the objects have a form, but their shape is not what drives my work.
I hope that the shape would rather be the consequence of the intention. Starting with a created scenario, we say we’ll do this and that, and the object will give us one thing or another. We see that we thereby create a specification and the form, the matter, and the colour are simply and logically going to meet the specification.
That lets me formalise the object more analytically. There is a logic that emerges. Our process is often a hierarchy. That concentrates on the idea of the hierarchy of various ingredients that we want to put into the project. The logic that supports the project little by little secretes a formalisation, a materialisation that is inevitable with respect to the ideas of intention and concept that were developed at the outset.
● What kind of materials do you prefer in your designs?
I have no primal interest in matter or materials. I start off with the principle that if we begin to work with a given material, the object is often going to remain an exercise. Of course, one can often do this at school, which it is highly educational to start from the material in order to learn to master all the parameters of the object; but I think if we don’t want to make objects that do not remain exercises for people, it is better to start working with the intention, from the theme that brings us together, with an approach that I would call empathetic, and to guide the object so that it will take a shape that is in agreement with the values we defend in this world, quite simply. Whenever possible, I always try to enhance local resources and know-how, whether that be the stage managers for a museum, the know-how of the weaver women of Nefta for Dar HI in Tunisia, cabinet makers in the Meuse department, or the knowledge of an employment reintegration association.
● Can you talk about your recent projects?
There are a number of projects in 2018: Scenographic exhibits around Arabic music at the Paris Philarmonic and around Velvet Underground in New York. Textile collection for the distributor Carrefour, lamps for the publisher Roger Pradier, a living heritage entreprise. Médiation system for the Regional Contemporary Art Fund (FRAC) of Champagne Ardenne and an itinérant arrangement for the Pompidou centre in Paris Exhibit in Monaco at Muse around a collaborative effort with the manufacture of Sèvres.
● Finally, what kind of advice would you give to the young designers?