LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Taking a leaf out of Tom's book


Designer Tom Dixon gives design the green light, while fusing creativity and commercial success.

Tom Dixon gives design the green light, while fusing creativity and commercial success.

Taking sustainability to the fore, Tom Dixon is the UK's latest poster-boy for responsible design.

Fate often deals a strange hand, as the illustrious career of designer UK-based Tom Dixon will attest. When the young Dixon dropped out of art school - an ambition curtailed by a motorcycle accident - to be become a bass guitarist, little could he have known that he would find fame, not through vinyl, but through aluminum. A second accident, which ultimately ended his dreams of rock stardom, steered him back on the creative course that had once eluded him, taking him into design and establishing him as one of the biggest names in the industry.

In yet another strange twist, it was skills acquired through motorcycle maintenance that proved most useful at the outset of Tom Dixon's design career. An early exponent of sustainability, through trawling the city scrapyards, the designer began welding found metal objects, creating original works that went against the grain of Eighties consumerism "London at the time was still full of scrap metal yards and the skips were piled full of promising bits & pieces due to the eighties boom....all of which presented themselves to me as potential chair backs or table legs. Unhindered by commercial concerns (I had my night job,) or formal training I made things just for the pleasure of making them. It was only when people started to buy that I realised I had hit on a form of alchemy...I could turn a pile of scrap metal into gold" he recalls. His work soon came to the attention of Italian manufacturing maestro, Guilio Cappellini, who commissioned Dixon to design the 1989 'S' chair, which has attained iconic status. Since then the designer has garnered an impressive design portfolio, from Moroso to Swarovski.

The self-taught design maverick rose to fame in 1998 with his controversial appointment as head of UK design studio for Sir Terence Conran's high street hit, Habitat. Going against his artisan, anti-consumerist approach, Dixon joined the corporate world, bringing design to the masses. By 2001, Dixon had risen through the ranks to become creative director, turning Habitat into one of the most successful home brands on the high street, rolling out throughout Europe.

Continuing to follow the industrial route, Tom Dixon launched his own label producing lighting and furniture collections for the contemporary design market, as well as undertaking interior design commissions, such as the recent opening of Soho House's East End counterpart, Shoreditch House and interior design schemes for Luxe Interior's luxury residential development in Dubai.

Dixon's inherent sensibility toward sustainable design came to light once again in 2004 with the announcement of the company's partnership with Nordic furniture manufacturer, Artek. Founded in 1935 by architect Alvar Aalto, for over 70 years the company has remained committed to responsible production, and sharing Dixon's ethos for durable design. This year Dixon made his debut as creative director of London's leading design fair, 100% Design.

Tom Dixon's definition of luxury:

If luxury were an object:
A time machine

You've been part of the UK design scene since the early 1980's, what do you feel is the country's strong point in terms of design?
I think that increasingly it's a place where it's not just British design that's going on – I think that's just a mirage – what it is a place where everybody can practice, there's huge amounts of finance and a collision between languages, cultures and businesses here which doesn't happen anywhere else. I don't think it's just about British design, more and more this doesn't exist. I teach at the Royal College of Art and only about one student out of every ten in my class is British. They study here, create networks here, and with low cost travel, can travel easily. I think that this has been the biggest change in the UK, certainly in London, it has become a cosmopolitan city. It's got enough depth and heritage, and really, I also think that London has become the financial center of Europe, which is as significant to the design community as design fairs, government support, or even British designers doing their thing. Also there is the fact that there is an active multimedia sector here, there's a successful film industry, a vibrant food culture, a lot of branding and marketing agencies, you name it. Design doesn't exist on its own, it's a parasite, a catalyst for other things to be better.

You have invested in Nordic furniture manufacturer Artek, a company renowned for its green credentials. This year's 100% Design, your first edition as the newly appointed creative director, had an overriding eco theme, was this your idea?
The sustainability angle never came from me, it was decided by 100% Design, so for me it was easy because I didn't have to decide the subject. The majority of my work in the sustainable sector happens in Finland.

How is your brand, Tom Dixon, contributing to sustainable design?
Well, during the London Design Festival we did a big giveaway of energy saving lights. My interests have always been in making things that have got a greater longevity, and I think that's as important a discussion as sustainability. Most of the materials I use are recycled as a matter of course, as they're mainly made from aluminium and 85% of aluminium is recycled anyway because aluminium is valuable and most are effectively made from mono materials, so they are very easy to recycle. Ultimately what you want people to do is pay a bit more for more sturdy stuff that's going to last longer, that's the best way of being sustainable.

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