- Photography by Mr Blair Getz Mezibov
- Styling by Mr Tony Cook, Junior Fashion Editor, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Tom M Ford, Features Writer, MR PORTER
Discussing Simple, his first Italian solo show at Milan's Salone del Mobile design fair earlier this year, Mr Philippe Malouin calls it "an exercise in restraint". A sophisticated collection including wooden benches, MDF wall hangings and sand-cast aluminium chairs, his aesthetic is minimalist yet belies unconventional methods. "Function is always inherent. But I don't work in a linear way - sketch, make, produce. I prefer a process-based approach. The pieces are a result of an experiment." Instilled from his time at Design Academy Eindhoven ("Design has already been done better, so it's about finding alternatives"), this philosophy spurred him to his first award nomination - for an inflatable (yet practical) dining table he made on graduating in 2008. He also produced the ingenious Hanger Chair, currently being developed for the mass market. After leaving Eindhoven, in just two years he went from setting up his own London studio to showing his modernist-inspired Gridlock work at NextLevel gallery in Paris.
Design is evolving at the speed of fashion,
and it's not necessarily creating lasting pieces
Last year, he bagged commissions from Kvadrat, Swarovski and Artek, and his inspired metal Yachiyo rug won a Wallpaper* design award. Softened and weaved painstakingly by hand, the piece is indicative of his almost obsessive exploration of materials. When he's not being recognised for his design work, Mr Malouin teaches at the Royal College of Art, and he and his company, Post-Office, work on interior design. Among others, it has completed spaces for design magazine Dezeen, B Store and Orlebar Brown (watch out for a new space in Covent Garden coming soon). Taking time out from his studio, we met the designer to talk about his work - some of which you can see in our shoot, and below.
Simple focused on MDF pieces. How do you decide on a material?
I get obsessed with different materials and production techniques. There are a few pieces here today that are made of polished, lathed and layered MDF. Once you wax it you end up with this different material. They look like something made on a machine. We explore a manufacturing technique and then move on.
Were you happy with the show?
The pieces in Simple make up my favourite work. A result of a long time in the making, the work is very focused on what I'm most interested in: refined development of process to a very specific output that's very minimal and not tedious.
Explain your approach to design.
It's based on geometry or 1950s and 1960s American minimal art: forms and shapes that I would want in my home, rather than trendy things. Design is evolving at the speed of fashion, and it's not necessarily creating lasting pieces. Often the best thing to do is not to fix and repair and hold what you already have. I'm not very interested in curvaceous forms or computer-generated shapes. Trial and error is interesting to me, rather than deciding to design, say, a chair.
Artek 2nd Cycle Café
Post-Office was commissioned to design a cafe for Artek and
Fernandez & Wells in London's Clerkenwell in September 2012. The result
was a functional mix of Artek products and F&W's food and coffee.
"A system I have been developing for the last three years. It is a range of tubes
and connectors that can create virtually any shape as long as it is a repetition of cubes,"
says Mr Malouin. It was shown at NextLevel Galerie in Paris in January 2012.
"I made a giant hourglass for Lobmeyr that created gyroscopic patterns on the floor. This represented how much time goes into creating the crystalwear company's pieces", says Mr Malouin. The piece was introduced at Vienna Design Week in October 2011.
This is made using two-by-four timber lengths laid
horizontally and radially. It was part of the Simple show at
Project B Gallery in Milan in April 2013.
Thermal Till Paper Vessels
Created out of rolls of till paper, these bowls were
part of a project called Papermania! and made in front of
visitors at Vienna Design Week 2010.
First seen in Milan in April 2011, this is an
award-winning piece handmade from galvanised steel
wire rings in a Japanese chain mail.
How might that work in practice?
The Hardie Stool, commissioned by Danish fabric company Kvadrat, is interesting as it looks upholstered but it doesn't have any metal in it. We wanted to use the fabric as a structural element, so we rolled it like a sausage and layered it with resin. That was a giant experiment but it stands on its own. We didn't even know it was going to be a stool.
Does your personal style reflect your design work?
I wear the same pair of black shorts in the summer and the same pair of black jeans in winter. I have 20 identical black T-shirts and a few black sweaters that I wear every day to go to work. When I have an occasion where I need to dress up, I wear simple pieces with an interesting cut and fabric, pretty much always black.
Despite being hand-crafted, would you say your pieces look industrially produced?
That's an interesting thing. I like hand-crafting because there's no way of making them by machine, but a crafty aesthetic was part of a trend that I never took to. The Yachiyo rug took seven people three months to make - each link was closed one by one. People thought it was an industrially produced item but they knew it was impossible to make by machine. I like that contradiction.
Your work for Lobmeyr looks fascinating - how did that come about?
It's a crystalware company - "Time Elapsed" was in conjunction with Vienna Design Week two years ago. Most people expected us to make a glass but I was more interested in the sand crystals. We tried burning it, and, by mistake I dropped the bag on the floor and made a line with sand. It just went from there. I made a gyroscope hourglass on a big scale.
What's the design community like where you live?
I live in London's Hackney, which is really vibrant. Most people I know my age who are designers live or work there. It's close to where all the big ScrewFix shops are and a lot of warehouses. There's still a bit of industry in East London - a powder coater or a metal fabricator, sand-casters, metal-casters, foundries. Plus, the Dezeen offices are close by in Stoke Newington.
Are there more traditional designers you respect?
There are design gods such as Jasper Morrison. He's very methodical and never follows trends. The stuff he produced in the 1980s and 1990s is still as relevant today - in no way attached to trends. It's impossible to be as good as, say, Dieter Rams - so why bother? The Vitsœ shelving system he designed and most of the Braun work - it's timeless.
What else are you working on?
We're launching a range of crockery for 1882. Established & Sons approached us - we're doing some work for it... that's secret, actually! And we're doing big art installations for Bloomberg, too. It's exciting.