Ultra contemporary designs infused with meaning a la contemporary art is the signature of Matali Crasset. At her Paris studio, the French designer talked to Luxuryculture about her desire to provoke a reaction from users.
“I like to break codes,” says the French designer Matali Crasset of her work. “I like the idea of creating objects and spaces for today and not for the past.” This is the philosophy that explains her very contemporary aesthetic, from mirror-less bathrooms for Dornbracht (“A bathroom should be a pleasurable environment but not necessarily a narcissistic one”) to the pioneering Hi hotels for which she is perhaps best known (“I don’t like the idea of travelling to a place and for my experience to be exactly the same”).
A former collaborator with both Denis Santachiara and Philippe Starck, for whom she worked with for five years, Crasset’s desire to rewrite the rules is the result of both a stellar design education and also a countryside upbringing. “A marvellous school which I appreciated a lot.” is how she describes her experience at Starck, where she was in charge of a design team of 25. “My head isn’t cluttered with pre-conceived notions of the decorative arts or French ‘good’ taste,” is what she credits to growing up in the French village of Normee, near Chalons-en-Champagne.
More than cleverly logical, Crasset’s work is also characterised by a close connection to contemporary art. “I really like the idea of the confrontation. Who is the artist and why has he done this?” she says of her passion for the conceptual. Crasset’s latest project is her series of “maisons sylvestres”, which consist of ecological cabins that will be placed within a forest filled with art near Lorraine, France.
Perhaps the best explanation of Crasset’s work comes form her response to the question as to how she would like people to feel when they experience her products or spaces. “I like to help people to become active and to react,” she says. “To have the will to discover and to be curious.” The role of a designer in her eyes: “It’s a little bit like being a small stimulus… the starting point of curiosity.”
Matali Crasset’s definition of luxury?
When I work on luxurious objects or spaces, I try to break the idea of luxury being status. It could bring another level of enjoyment, quality or culture. That’s more interesting.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
Somewhere extreme, like the dessert because the experience is very diverse and it gives a lot to your body and soul.
Any exchange of ideas.
I don’t care about objects.
Sometimes you sense that a person has had a lot of experience in their life. I like to be in contact with these people who have a density. They have a very acute look on things. Sometimes you may need three years to realise something but these people have the ability to understand it within minutes. They can give you clues about life.
How do you approach design?
The idea is that I have an intention before starting the project. I’m not going to do a new chair for the sake of doing a beautiful chair. What I like is to work on the idea of injecting life into interiors, hotels or whatever. I’m looking at how people are living and how I could bring something more to that through the object or space. And how I can bring experimentation or at least appropriation. I like to break codes because most of the time in design we are just following bourgeois codes. Perhaps it made sense 200 years ago but now I don’t know why we are still living with their furniture when we know we need more support for backs and stress. There is a gap between what you need in a piece of furniture and what we get. I try to bring is something more logical and also more contemporary because I like the idea of doing objects and space for today, not for the past.
You collaborated with Philippe Starck for five years – what influence did he have on you?
When I received my diploma, I first wanted to work with Denis Santachiara because I felt that he was much more in accordance with my sensibility. I did work in his Milan studio, which was perfect because it gave me faith in my work and in the way you can have a small studio and do a more engaged project. You have to fight to have to explain your ideas one project after another. When I came back to Paris I worked with Philippe Starck. It was very interesting to see how he is able to push the limits. It was challenging because I was a young designer working in a big company. I was also in charge of a creative team of 25 designers, which was very tough. I was inside the company so I was able to understand how it works behind the façade: the marketing, communications, research and development. It was a marvellous school.
You are passionate about contemporary art. Does this inform your work?
I really like it because I like to enter into an intimacy with a person, an artist, and to understand how they are expressing themselves. It gives you a lot of warmth when you like a piece. I really like the idea of this confrontation: who is the artist and why is he doing that? I really like it when it’s personal.
What is the impetus to your work, something practical or something conceptual that you wish to say?
I first have to find an idea of something that I could give through this project. As soon as I have that direction, then the materials and colours become clear. It’s not me who chooses those things but the project.
You have rewritten the rules of hospitality design with the Hi Hotels. What was your impression of hotel design when you undertook the project?
I don’t like the idea that you can travel from one place to another for it to be exactly the same. It’s like you haven’t left. This is not my point of view. I think you must profit from every minute of your life. The idea at the Hi hotels is to learn something, find something, test something. We only evolve with this experience. It’s nonsense to ask people to stay in a room, to forget about living and just watch TV. It’s a pity because you have plenty of people staying in a hotel and they could share a lot.
After opening in Nice, there are now Hi outposts in Tunisia and Paris. How has the concept evolved?
Each time we start from zero and find another logic and a new experience. Hi Hotel Nice is a four-star hotel. In Tunisia it’s in the desert, which is completely different. The idea there was to be in contact with the Tunisian culture, so we are inside the city and it’s a more small scale hotel. The hotel is also connected with the idea of renovating this place and helping the local people to renovate. After the revolution came, it has become even more interesting because we can do things fast right now, working in collaboration with the locals. It’s amazing.
What was the concept of Hi Matic Paris?
The idea was to create a pied-a-terre in Paris and once again to break a bit the organization of archaic hotels. I don’t know why at so many hotels you have to arrive and give your card and fill in papers. For me, that’s not welcoming. Why continue with that system? We prefer to welcome guests when they come to us. There is the same amount of staff working there but they don’t have set, narrow-minded roles.
Is the Hi Hotel concept particularly appealing to young people?
No. We saw with Nice that curiosity in this way has nothing to do with age. We work for people who like life, who are curious and who like to experiment things. It has no relation to the age of the person.
Tell us about the feral houses, your latest work.
It’s an amazing collaborative project. Artists come to a group of six villages and stay living with the residents, who help them to build a piece of art. Then it’s displayed in the nearby forest. I was in charge of following this spirit and making it possible to sleep there, a little bit like a refuge in the mountains. The idea is to walk a lot in the forest, stay there, start a fire, cook a little bit. You can profit either from the forest or the art. It’s sort of a center of art without any walls.
How do you want people to feel when they experience a Matali Crasset-designed product or space?
I just want them to smile, to be happy. That’s a lot already. I could say that sometimes I like to help people to become active and to react. To have the will to go and discover and to be more curious. It’s a little bit like being a small stimulus. This is interesting to be at the starting point of curiosity. It’s a way of living, an attitude. When you have a statement and project of life, your life becomes more coherent.
Which designers do you have the most respect for?
Niemeyer, milany, gil Colombo, I have a respect for Starck because he opened a lot of doors and if I am a designer today and can earn my living by doing this, it’s because Starck really created the notion that good design makes economic sense.