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Icons of French design - Observeur Design 10

by Rosslyn Hyams

Article published on the 2009-11-21 Latest update 2009-11-21 16:36 TU

The <em>Muscle Bench</em> in the foreground of the Observeur Design 10 exhibition(Photo: Muscle/Observeur du design/APCI)

The Muscle Bench in the foreground of the Observeur Design 10 exhibition
(Photo: Muscle/Observeur du design/APCI)

After you’ve reached the Cité des Sciences at the Porte de la Villette in Paris, and made your way towards the blue lights, the exhibition more or less greets you at the top of the escalator, and doesn’t appear to be very big. However, it’s rather deceiving. You need a good hour to really explore, and sometimes understand, each idea and concept.

Culture in France: French design

21/11/2009 by Rosslyn Hyams

While it’s not easy to display a concept as such, computer screens step into the breach and explain all…well almost. It’s a less exhausting, more compact experience than some of the huge commercial exhibitions showing designs of today and tomorrow.

For the past ten years the French Industrial Design Promotion Agency (APCI) has selected different items they consider examples, if not icons, of French design expertise.

Anne Marie Boutin, who heads the agency, says that design, from kitchens adapted for the elderly, to gimmicky chocolate bars or scanner machines are clearly French.

“It’s about French art de vivre, luxury goods maybe, but not only […] it’s more sensible, and takes people into consideration. There are more colours, not just black and white or natural tones. It’s a mixture of these two philosophies,” she says.

From projects that have yet to see the light of day, like a multi-storey cylindrical boat harbour - “Blue Ring” - to a doctor’s bag made out of turquoise and green plastic so that children don’t feel daunted, a sheet of walnut wood and PVC that curls around flowers to become a vase, items and ideas that have a distinct ecological conscience and flavour, like tiles made out of recycled wool sweaters, and happy-nappies – yes - unlike most baby nappies or diapers, they are a really charming, delicate shade of green.

Ecological nappy(Photo: Couche Hamacsystem/Observeur du design/APCI)

Ecological nappy
(Photo: Couche Hamacsystem/Observeur du design/APCI)

The nappy is one of Boutin’s favourites, “it is a way of making people less passive, less negative about being ecological,” she says. “Only the inside layer is disposable, in a toilet or anywhere. It produces less waste therefore. The light green fabric is washable and soft on the baby’s skin.”

The environmental aspect of the items and concepts is becoming increasingly important says Boutin, and she says the panel who selects the items for the Observeur Design could make it an entry criteria in the future.

Another interesting environmentally-friendly object in daily use selected by the APCI is the B2P pen.

Each one is made-out of three recycled, tinged-blue plastic drinking water bottles. So French!  They look quite like a midget bottle of mineral water, with grooves around their circumference, and with a line of ink running through them, as well as a water-brand-type label in the middle.

The French Industrial Design Promotion Agency also praise and recommend French designs which rely on traditional arts, crafts, materials and skills.

For example, you can see a Hermès cabin bag –aluminium outside with the famous saddle-maker’s leather skills deployed in straps around the case, designed by Gabrièle Pezzini - or a park bench called Muscle (because its shape is that of a muscle) whose fibres, curved in places, are a few metres long and made out of “infinitely recyclable” steel and zinc.

Muscle was designed by Alexandre Moronnoz and built by the metalworker La Tôlerie Forezienne, a firm established in the Loire region of France.

That being said, the concept behind the ideas chosen for Observeurs Design 10 are at the forefront of innovation, invention and new shapes, or materials or uses, some showing just how ‘old is gold’.

The exhibition runs until February 2010

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