French design quartet 5.5 Designers bring the old back to life and celebrate the unique, with a conceptual and thought provoking approach to everyday objects.
Jean-Sébastien Blanc's definition of luxury:
A synonym for pleasure
If luxury were...
A deserted island with a beach and soft sand.
A clone that could do everything that I don't like doing.
Jean-Sébastien Blanc and Vincent Baranger are one half of the design quartet 5.5 Designers. Baranger and Blanc, who first met in 2003 at Paris' ENSAAMA while studying product design, were joined by Anthony Lebossé and Claire Renard (the original line-up included six, then five, before finally establishing themselves as a quartet, hence the numeric reference), later that year the group exhibited their premiere project together, Réanim. Dressed as doctors, the group rehabilitated broken furniture, using prosthetic legs and seats created from salvaged objects and resin. Since then the group has habitually reinvented things often deemed defunct, from the bare Christmas trees that lay abandoned in the streets of Paris each January, to plastics doomed for the incinerator.
The collective's career began in 2003 when Réanim caught the attention of the creative team of Paris department store Galeries Lafayette, who immediately commissioned them to create their premiere scenography within the store. "They presented us with a contract, but we were still students, so we had to go to the town hall and ask them to help us set up a company so that we could get paid for the project, then after that project came the next, then another, ever since the beginning. We never made any decision to set up a studio together." Explains Blanc. Just five years later 5.5 Designers' serendipitous union has engendered an impressive catalogue of manufactured products and creative environments, including their most recent interior design commission, the decoration of Paris' Sabz, a design oriented garden lifestyle store - the group's first permanent interior design project.
The medical theme of their debut sums up the collective's philosophy - to create a human bond between object and user. Not a unique approach to design, but as Baranger explains "In a lot of our projects, we try to find the situation that generates the object. It's like going to the doctors, we make an examination, then after we start the project." For example, in Milan last year they presented Cloning, a scientific exploration into DNA and design, defined by the physical characteristics of the client's body. Eye color, morphic proportions and body hair informs each bespoke object, from the hand-turned ceramic vases and eery Murano glass Eye Clone lamps made by master craftsmen, to chairs designed using pressure mapping technology.
In 2004 Frédéric Bodet of Paris' Musee des Arts Decoratifs instigated a collaboration between the group and French porcelain manufacturer, Bernardaud. The outcome was Ouvrirs-Designers, a collection of oddly assembled cups and saucers that not only celebrated, but encouraged the faults of the production process – surely a conflict in philosophy for a time-honored brand that prides itself on perfection? However, the collection was so well received that it caught the attention of the celebrated Dutch collective, Droog, and won them projects from similar historic brands such as Salviati and Baccarrat, with which they continue to work.
Although 5.5 Designers has always been considered highly conceptual, for which they make no apology, they realize that, like many of today's more successful names - such as fellow compatriots the Bouroullec brothers and Philippe Starck - to achieve success they must communicate with and respond intelligently to the brand's philosophy. However, they admit that this is not always so clear cut as Blanc recounts the story of the recent Save A Product project, with French glass manufacturer, Arc International. The group's proposal was to customize the company's large stockpile of unsold collections from the past, giving depassé objects a new lease of life "We told them that we wanted to work with these products, to re-introduce them into the marketplace, but they told us that it was too complicated and commissioned us to create a complete range of plastic items, so we developed the product and packaging and they produced 45,000 units. One week before the official launch they called and said that they had a new marketing person and said 'It's not a good idea to sell these products, as they are plastic and we don't know how to sell them because we make glass', yet it was them who asked us to make the products in plastic!" Rather than authorize the destruction, 5.5 negotiated a deal to buy the stock, which they sold through their website, offering design fans a rare chance to snap up a limited edition bargain. "It's not about making money, but just to give them their existence" he stresses.
These are just some of the offbeat yet laudable ideas that have brought 5.5 Designers acclaim within the realms of art and design. Could 5.5 Designers be just what the French need when Starck finally bows out?
5.5 Designers' Clean collection for Enkidoo has been selected as part of this year's Brit Insurance Design Award, and will be on show at London's Design Museum from February 12 through June 14, 2009.