Soundsation radio alarm, 1996-8
Bebox jewellery box, 2000
Sunic perfume diffuser, 2002
Detail of Phytolab, 2002
matali crassetProduct Designer
Selector for 25/25 - Celebrating 25 Years of Design
29 March - 22 June 2007
In her of objects and spaces, the French designer MATALI CRASSET encourages us to question the way we go about our daily lives. Born in 1965, Crasset worked for Philippe Starck for five years before opening her own studio in Paris.
At first glance, Phytolab, the elegant acrylic cube dotted with potted plants which is one of three bathing spaces designed by matali crasset for Dornbracht, looks like a rational solution to the practical problem of how to create a pleasurable place to bathe in an open-plan home, particularly one too cramped to squeeze in a bathroom. The cube could be installed anywhere and the plants not only add a splash of nature to a windowless room, but create a screen of privacy.
Then if you look more closely, you will notice that, unusually for a bathroom, Phytolab does not contain a mirror. This is because its designer matali crasset not only wanted to create a versatile modern bathroom, but to encourage the bather to question the way they use it by redefining the experience of bathing in terms of touch and smell, rather than how they look.
Crasset encourages us to pose such questions in everything she designs. Born into a farming family in the French village of Normée, near Châlons-en-Champagne in 1965, she discovered design when studying marketing at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle in Paris and immediately changed courses. After graduating in 1991 she worked for the designer Denis Santachiara in Milan and returned to Paris in 1993 to work for Philippe Starck, first in his own studio and then at the Thomson Multimedia electronics group.
Having continued to develop her own projects alongside her work for Starck, Crasset opened her own studio in Paris in 1998. She now works across a wide range of disciplines on mass-manufactured furniture and electronic products, experimental projects such as Phytolab for Dornbracht and architectural commissions including HI Hotel in Nice and a capsule house for pigeons.
© Design Museum
Q. How did you first become interested in design?
A. I became aware of design as a career fairly late. As a student, I was unenthusiastically studying marketing and it was during a course on advertising that I realized how much I enjoyed designing packaging such as bottles. I decided that design would be my vocation and I enrolled in Les Ateliers (the École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle in Paris), where I literally became a new person. I believe that my rural background was a huge stroke of luck. My head isn’t cluttered with pre-conceived notions of the decorative arts or French “good” taste.
Q. What influence did your design education have on you?
A. It enabled me to reconstruct my personality. Design school was a vibrant place full of life and energy. A place of liberty and discipline at the same time.
Q. You worked with Philippe Starck for several years before setting up your own studio, how did this experience influence you?
A. I was very lucky to spend five years with Philippe Starck. It was like another education. I was particularly fortunate because it gave me the chance to work on a fantastic project for Thomson Multimedia in which I was given a great deal of freedom to reinvent a range of products. This was a very important period in my development as a designer. In Starck’s studio I learnt how to go from one project to another and to manage several large, complex projects at the same time. I enjoyed the challenges this posed and have continued to work in a similar way on different projects at different scales: moving from designing an hotel, to the pattern of a towel.
Q. Which of your early projects were most important in establishing you as a designer?
A. I think that the first project which defined my approach to design and was very visible was the bed-lamp-clock installation When Jim Came to Paris. The project began in 1985, but it was exhibited at the Satellite exhibition during the Milan Furniture Fair in April 1998. I stayed in Milan for the week of the exhibition so that I could explain the concept behind it in the most favourable way. It was a strange experience. Some people smiled at me. Others shook my hand and said ‘thank you’. The welcoming spirit that I wanted the project to convey was shown in so many small signs and generous gestures. On the other hand, another important early project was a low-tech one, little more than a gesture really, Digestion (a collection of poufs made from the cheap checked plastic bags usually used for laundry which Edra eventually put into production).
Q. How has your work evolved since you founded your own studio in 1998?
A. I had always worked on personal projects ever since I left design school in 1991, but it wasn’t until 1998 that I decided to take off and set up on my own. The only thing that has changed is the range of projects I work on. As my work is perceived, not as creating a formal universe but as an ongoing process of research, many doors have been opened to me. I would never have thought that I would be given the opportunity to design a hotel, for example.
Q. What are your chief preoccupations – and goals - as a designer?
A. To imbue each project with a sense of generosity and sharing.
Q. How would you describe your approach to design?
A. My approach is still to research new typologies which also address the fundamental needs of mobility, freedom and to enable people to use objects and spaces in their own way.
Q. You work across a wide range of design disciplines – products, interiors and conceptual projects like Phytolab – what are the advantages and disadvantages of this diversity?
A. I only see advantages.
Q. What inspires your work?
A. I am passionate about contemporary art, in particular in the work of artists like Carsten Höller, Joep van Lieshout and Yves Netzhammer. Also in the work of philosophers and thinks such as Marc Augé, François Dagognet. I also think of Perec and Bachelard because thought always comes before image.
Q. Which designers – past and present – inspire you?
A. “Inspire” isn’t the right word but the designer for whom I have the greatest respect is Denis Santachiara.
Q. Design has been – and, unfortunately, still is – a male dominated world. How do you feel that being a woman has affected the development of your career?
A. I have never been made to feel uncomfortable because of my gender and I have never felt that I was being relegated to a stereotypically female role. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Q. How would you describe Phytolab? And what were your objectives in designing it?
A. Phytolab is part of a triptych Update/ 3 spaces in one which I developed for Dornbracht. The concept was that a bathroom should be a pleasurable environment but not necessarily a narcissistic one, where we can enjoy our bodies and the natural beauty of water through the senses of touch and smell, rather than how we look. That is why there is no mirror in Phytolab. Similarly I played with the pleasure of light in Energiser, the second of the three bathing projects, while Green Sofa, the third project is a pure hypothesis. The designer often has to use a synthetic image to create the illusion of reality. My proposal was to create a visionary space – a utopia.
Q. Similarly, how would you describe HI Hotel in Nice? What were your objectives with this project?
A. There are some grand hotels which attempt to give the impression that guests are at home, while others opt for the atmosphere of the guest invited into someone else’s home. HI offers an experience of contemporary living. A hotel is the perfect place for seeing and giving different views on any and every cultural form. And it is obvious that a short-term stay away from home is a great moment for experimentation. HI takes guests on a voyage of discovery, leaving each individual free to embrace the different universes. It is a place for action.
The design concept is diametrically opposed to the idea of a ‘designed’ space where each object has its place serving a single purpose. The areas and objects in the HI environment are logical and fulfill useful functions, but by simply offering services, hints and assistance, we are left free to take our own decisions.
If we are not prisoners of the decor, we do not have to play the usual roles of luxury hotels. HI is an infrastructure offering a host of stimuli and life experiences. How was that produced? There are, for example, nine concepts for rooms, which are designed not as variations on an aesthetic theme, but based on hypotheses for different forms of spatial organisation: nine ways of living in a given area. Basically, the hotel is a platform. Indoors, the design is variable, changing as the day moves on, while also gleaning inspiration from outside forces. Often when you design a building, you get very little feedback. One of the most exciting aspects of hotel design is that the reactions are immediate.
Q. What are the most important challenges facing designers today?
A. Giving everyone with the desire to live harmoniously together by sharing the nuances of everyday life.
© Design Museum
1965 Born near Châlons-en-Champagne, France.
1991 After graduating from École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle in Paris, she moves to Milan to work with the designer Denis Santachiara.
1993 Returns to Paris to work for Philippe Starck first in his studio and then at the Thomson Multimedia consumer electronics group where she runs a design studio for Starck.
1997 Wins the Grand Prix du Design in Paris for her own work.
1998 Opens her own design studio and exhibits the bed-clock-lamp installation When Jim Comes to Paris at the Satellite exhibition during the Milan Furniture Fair. Presents the first of the Digestion collection of poufs.
2000 Creates Les Ordinateurs, a series of free-standing spaces in the form of giant iMac computers, for the Première Vision textiles fair in Paris. Designs a series of visionary kitchen appliances for Tefal and the be box jewellery box for Die Imaginäre Manufaktur.
2001 Completes her first residential project La Maison du Lac by converting an hotel into a family home.
2002 Develops the UPDATE/Three Spaces in one triptych of visionary bathing spaces for Dornbracht. First retrospective exhibition at mu.dac in Lausanne, then the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and Le Grand Hornu, Belgium.
2003 Completes the design of HI Hotel with 38 rooms on Avenue des Fleurs in Nice and the pigeon house at Caudry.
2004 Designs Friche domestique, a visionary apartment for the 1st Architectural Biennial Beijing. Launches Evolute lighting collection for Danese Milano and designs L’annexe du BHV, department store in Thiais, France.
2005 Creates identity, website, interior and exterior design for SM's - Stedelijk Museum in s’Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. Other projects include, Restaurant Végétable with Alain Passard at Printemps de la maison; shop Lieu commun in Paris with F communications, Veja and Misericordia; Tout’ouvert, pet grooming shop in Nice; Brunch collection for Guy Degrenne; D.fuse, animation with dj Jori Hullkonen for art-netart.
2006 Presents solo exhibition Soundscapes at Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York and Springtherapy exhibition at SM’s, s’Hertogenbosch. Designs Cuisine Fraich Attitude, workshop kitchen for Aprifel in Paris, desert knife and cake slice for Pierre Hermé manufactured by Forges de Laguiole and tray for restaurant Le Boudoir d’Hélène Darroze.
2007 Selector for 25/25 - Celebrating 25 Years of Design exhibition at the Design Museum 29 March - 22 June.
© Design Museum
matali crasset – Design + Designer 006, Gareth Williams, Pyramyd, 2003
© Design Museum
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