French furniture designer Hervé Van der Straeten's new "Debauche" series derives bold simplicity from a profusion of parts.
When it comes to French furniture designer Van der Straeten's astounding creations, refinement is bold and simplicity sumptuous.
Much like the curiously perfect monolith in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," Hervé Van der Straeten's designs have a beautiful authority that is menacing and majestic at the same time. Painstakingly crafted, their pristine, sculpted forms, rich textures, and optical tricks possess a perplexing, mischievous elegance.
"They say that for a sculpture to be good, it needs to have seven perfect angles. With my designs, there are interesting and unexpected visual intrigues from every direction," says Van der Straeten, who studied sculpture and painting before launching into jewelry design for fashion icons such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix. Quickly, almost instinctively, his rich adornments began to grow in size. Starting with his sinuously sculpted J'adore Dior fragrance bottle to baroque mirrors and candlesticks, his decorative jewels eventually took on larger-than-life proportions. Bursting onto the scene in 2000 with a staggering collection of furniture designs, he quickly attracted a high-flying Rolodex of international collectors from Diane Von Furstenberg and Marie Chantal of Greece to the Mobilier National (the French conservatory of State commissions of furniture and decoration).
Eloquently timeless and expertly crafted, each Van der Straeten design is produced in Paris at his private workshops, often the result of over several hundred hours of expert artisan labor. Presenting one thematic series of unique and limited-edition designs per year at his eponymous Parisian gallery, the designer's latest collection, "Debauche," is his most sophisticated to date. Conceived as a masterful mix of contrasting textures, forms and styles, highlights from the show include abstract Chinoiserie armoir, a massive, foreboding crystal rock and bronze chandelier, as well as a 'trompe l'oeil' stainless steel console.
What is your definition of luxury?
Luxury means total serenity for me.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
I'm not really attached to objects.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
At my country house in Burgundy.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
The person I love.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
Having good times with good friends at my country house.
What was the inspiration behind your new collection, "Debauche"?
The term refers to the profusion of different materials and shapes used throughout. I wanted to mix very different elements together in an extreme and unorthodox way, such as with my bronze and rock crystal chandelier.
Which pieces from the collection did you most enjoy creating?
I had a lot of fun making the "Volubile" chandelier. It consists of an interlacing series of bronze rings. It was created playfully and exudes that sense of freedom. Some of my pieces are very structured and massive, which is why I like to mix those up with pieces that have movement. I also had a lot of fun designing the pair of Chinese armoires. I restored 17th and 18th century Chinese panels but treated them like abstract graphics, as if they were posters or stickers lacquered onto a support.
What pushed you into furniture and decorative design after creating jewelry?
I always wanted to design furniture. I started by creating jewelry, but then gradually my designs progressed in size from bottles, mirrors and candlesticks to larger and larger things.
How does each medium impact the other creatively?
It's all very interactive. With each design, I look to create an element of sensory surprise and intrigue. For example, with the J'adore Dior perfume bottle, I designed a neck so thin that it looks like it might snap, releasing all of its precious scent. For the Kiss Kiss lipstick tube for Guerlain, the design is solid and square but surprising soft to the touch. You can see the same kind of 'trompe l'oeil' details in my furniture as well.
Do you think of your furniture designs as jewels for the home?
I don't think of it in that way. They are conceived as strong spatial accents. I give them as much personality and soul as I can, and then people appropriate them as they wish. I don't mean to make them look precious; I just have a strong taste for very high quality materials. I like lacquer and bronze when it's nicely worked but I'm not looking to make something look opulent. I'm a constructer and I like the idea that things be strong, permanent and timeless.
What is the creative process like in the construction of your designs?
Since I am working for myself and producing all of my designs in my own ateliers, I have total creative freedom. I usually begin with a sketch, and then start building the prototype in 3D. Then I start experimenting with materials. Most of the time, the material reinforces the idea. I have an excellent team of expert craftsman who then elaborate the design.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary designer?
I like Jean Marie Massaud because he has a very strong sense of modernity and elegance. His works are timeless, and that's essential to good design. I also like Arik Levy because is works are always incredibly beautiful and surprising.
Who or what inspires you right now?
I'm very interested in architecture right now. It's what inspires me the most these days along with contemporary art. I particularly admire Eileen Grey because whether she designed a small flat or a luxurious apartment, the result was always clever, elegant and generous. I really like Zaha Hadid's work. I feel particularly close to her vision of creating movement and dynamism in something that's static. Shigeru Ban's work is fascinating for the way he transforms simple materials and minimal lines into extraordinary structures. Finally, there's Claude Parent, who did a lot of work in the 60s. He designed a house in the Cap d'Antibes that to me is pure perfection.
What are you working on now?
I'm preparing for my first NY exhibition in September 2006 at the Ralph Pucci gallery. It will be a mix of old and new pieces. I am also producing a series of chandeliers for Crystal Saint Louis, as well as product designs for Guerlain. Aside from that, I am always working towards trying to improve the quality and knowledge of my craft. It takes a lot of work to do things this way – some designs, like the Chinese armoires, require 2,000 hours of work. You have to be totally passionate. But when the quality of the material and the craftsmanship synthesize with the idea, the result is authoritative and unique. It's that sense of satisfaction that's keeps pushing me ahead.
Galerie Van Der Straeten
"Debauche" until April 30, 2005
11 rue Ferdinand Duval
T: +33 (0) 1 42 78 99 99