Jonathan Levien (b.1972 in Elgin, England) and Nipa Doshi (b.1971 in Mumbai, India) met at the Royal College of Art. They didn't date until they graduated in 1997, married in 2000 at Chelsea Town Hall, and officially started working together in 2001.
Their relationship with MOROSO dates back just a few years; for the Italian company they have created a range of products demonstrating her love of textiles and pattern and his rigorous approach to design. Their Charpoy (daybed) My beautiful Backside and Principessa designed for MOROSO from 2007 are a perfect elision of fine Indian skill with textiles and exact Italian production; of her love of craft and narrative and his industrial precision. It is a cross-cultural pollination with a contemporary edge, devoid of the whimsical and sentimental.
They have also designed cookware for Tefal and cutlery for Habitat; an intricate installation for the Wellcome Institute in London; bespoke shoes for traditional maker John Lobb. Such disparate projects are unified by the pair's very particular approach.
For "SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS at Work" they have designed a new small armchair for reading or relaxing, upholstered in a bespoke fabric using crystal. "The brief for this project was to create a usable product, so we had to make sure the crystal had some function and didn't overwhelm the whole piece. We designed a highly geometric checked Jacquard fabric where the crystal forms one of the lines. The answer was to use it as a fine, repeated detail rather than a massive statement," says Doshi. "In material terms, the wool fabric is light absorbent and the crystal reflective. It was important to play with that contrast," adds Levien. "We wanted it to be subtle but celebratory."
Fanny Aronsen was born in Malmo, Sweden, to a Swedish mother and Norwegian father. She was both, a designer and academic, trained in textile design and art history. A professor at the Konstfack at the University of Stockholm, she was also a successful textile designer. She set up her company, FANNYARONSEN, in 1998, and went into partnership with the leading Danish textile company Kvadrat in 2002.
We regret to announce that Fanny Aronsen has passed away on July 3rd 2011. Her creativity, flair and warmth will be greatly missed by us all.
Fanny Aronsen's work can be identified through its combination of compelling color and intriguing texture, and she often weaves cultural references (some Nordic, some from further afield) into her elegant work. But above all, it is the tactility that really matters.
While clearly luxurious, Aronsen's textiles nonetheless have a coolness and restraint you might expect from a Scandinavian designer. This being the case, she had to work up a clear agenda for her work with SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS, to ensure that the introduction of crystal complimented, rather than fought with, her established aesthetic. "My challenge was to absorb the idea of crystals into the spirit of my design, my expression," says Aronsen. "That took a lot of consideration."
She has also produced three fabrics, one using another new technique, flocking with SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS. "That introduces a new three dimensionality," says Aronsen. "And the brilliance of the crystal is highlighted by the soft textile surface." Another, a work of extreme luxury, introduces hand-embroidery and large-size crystals. The collection is completed with Novalin Irrbloss, a brilliant combination of SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS with black and white linen wall covering.
Francois Azambourg, b. 1963, is based in Paris and among France's most esteemed contemporary designers. He has worked for companies including Capellini, Domeau and Peres, Ligne Roset and Poltrona Frau, and continually pursued innovations in materials and techniques. By 1985, while still a student at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des arts appliqués et metiers d'art, he had already won an award for his Paper Coffee Pot and from 1988 to 1998 he spent the decade attempting to redefine and improve the weighty and inefficient instrument that is the saxophone.
At the end of 2007, SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS introduced Chaton Leather - a new application technique exclusive to the company which integrates chatons into leather so perfectly that a flat surface results. Azambourg, who has also done research into new materials for Mandarina Duck and Hermès, for whom he produced a lightweight bag, was particularly attracted by its assimilation of two opposing materials - hard shiny crystal and organic matte leather. Choosing to design products most often made in wood - a desk box and a tray in two sizes - he has used the chatons to simulate the pattern of wood grain. "These are often utilitarian products, so the introduction of something as fine and decorative as this patterned Chaton Leather technique is at odds with the objects," says Azambourg.
"My meetings with GAIA&GINO meant I visited Istanbul for the first time. What an incredible city, it crackles with energy. I didn't feel these new products were directly influenced by the city, but on reflection, perhaps my use of surface pattern - a first for me - did partly come from this contact with Turkish culture."
Along with objects that often go against current trends, Azambourg also enjoys playing material games. A solid-looking wooden topped table launched last year with Moustache turned out to only weigh 12 kg for example. As such the Tray and Box are seamlessly in tune with his oeuvre, bringing poetry and surprise to objects that are often subject to the less imaginative design.
Gitta Gschwendtner was born in Würzburg, Germany, in 1972 and grew up in Hamburg. She came to England aged 20 to study furniture and product design at Kingston University, and completed a masters at the Royal College of Art, and has remained in London ever since. She is known for both her product and exhibition design. She recently created the installation for the Sustainable Futures exhibition at the London Design Museum, and in August 2009 completed a wall providing homes for 1000 birds and bats in Cardiff, Wales.
Gschwendtner has worked for Italian company Horm, CTO Lighting and Habitat and her best known piece is the Big Plant Cup - an outsized cup and saucer for plants - produced by Thorsten van Elten since 2005. "For me, whether it's a product or a space, design must be functional, but also with a strong concept or story," says Gschwendtner. "I'm not driven by the material, in the first place. The concept comes first, then the most appropriate form and material follow."
"For the SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS at Work project, most important to me was to make something which challenged the application of the crystals," she says. "They had to be entirely integrated into the piece." Her two solutions were to cast a plaster and resin mix as stools and a low table, with a broken away, but crystal-sprinkled corner; and to encrust a soft silicon vase completely in crystal. "I love the way the crystals are so highly engineered and precise and perfect but appear in the imperfect moment of the broken corner," she says of the stools and tables. "The plaster and resin was chosen for its soft matte appearance. "For the vases, the crystals are randomly set, so you get to see all sides. It's rugged and strong, so it's a shock when you pick it up and it squashes in your hand."
Konstantin Grcic was born in 1965, to a German mother and Serbian father. He has worked in Munich since 1992, and is today ranked amongst the most highly respected of all designers, with an unshakeable belief in the importance of perfectly planned, exactingly executed products.
"My thinking is precise. If a client asks for a chair, I'll propose one, not three. Simplicity and pragmatic thinking, it’s what I do," says Grcic. His hits are too many to mention, but the Myto cantilevered chair (made from a single piece of plastic) and the Chair One, a crystalline creation in steel, are among the most iconic designs of the decade. He has worked extensively for Magis, Plank and BD Barcelona Design, Flos, Muji and Authentics, among others. The Art Institute of Chicago recently hosted a retrospective of his work called Decisive Design and the Serpentine Gallery put on an exhibition - Design Real - curated by Grcic himself at the end of last year.
For "SWAROVKSI ELEMENTS at Work", Grcic has created three designs for the Italian laminate specialists ABET LAMINATI, using crystals on laminate, something not previously attempted. "The project brief was to link crystal with the furniture industry, so I thought it would be best to create a material, rather than a product. Something that can be applied to furniture and interiors," says Grcic. "Two of the patterns are very geometric, and all three use crystals sparingly. The effect of the crystals is so strong that a few seemed to look more precious than many." Grcic has designed a bespoke circular seating area, to demonstrate the new laminate, which will be seen exclusively in Milan at the Triennale.
Through sheer inventiveness, and with an economy of means, Nendo has become one of the most formidable design voices to emerge from Japan. Established in 2002, the Tokyo-based firm is synonymous with its founder and chief designer, Oki Sato (b. 1977) though the team is seven strong. Born in Canada, where his father was the regional head of a Japanese electronics giant, Sato trained as an architect at Tokyo's Waseda University.
He has earned a reputation for clever, deceptively simple objects and interiors. His success is evidenced by a steady stream of acclaimed works from the Hanabi Light and Polar tables to designs for Cappellini (the Antler armchair, Ribbon stool, and Bambi table), MOROSO (the Dew pouf and Kub stool/table), Issey Miyake (the Cabbage chair) and Lexus (the Diamond chair). The name Nendo means "clay" in Japanese, suggesting the firm's dexterity. "We want to deliver a sort of surprise," Sato has said. "Not too large - we don't want to surprise too much. We get hints from everyday life."
Working with Swarovski was about encouraging users to "experience a process that allows them an even deeper understanding of the beauty of crystals," according to Sato. Initially introduced in a 10-centimeter size with four crystal colour options, Nendo's PUZZLE collection for GAIA&GINO is created by repeatedly making linear cuts into a cube of clear crystal glass. (Spherical versions are forthcoming.) Just visible inside the resulting blocks is a single Swarovski crystal that further reveals itself as the user takes the puzzle apart. "People can retrace the process of the puzzle's creation, allowing the sparkling gem to emerge," Sato says
Schooled in the United States at UC Berkeley and, respectively, Harvard and Princeton, Philippines-born Lyndon Neri (b.1965) and Taiwanese-born Rossana Hu (b.1968) have together become one of the most dynamic design forces in China today. They moved to Shanghai in 2002 while working for American architect Michael Graves on his renovation of that city's landmark Three on the Bund project. The husband-and-wife team established their Shanghai showroom Design Republic, selling contemporary design, in 2003. In 2004, they established their design company, neri&hu Design and Research Office.
Since then, they have taken on architecture and interiors projects including the restaurants and nightclubs of the Kengo Kuma-designed Opposite House hotel in Beijing and Shanghai's new Waterhouse boutique hotel, and a largescale redevelopment of the city's Julu Road. Simultaneously, as neri&hu, they have created independently-produced, contemporary furniture and objects that have been sold around the world, including through Droog. This year marks their first product collaboration with international manufacturers, with neri&hu -designed pieces for Moooi, BD Barcelona Design and MERITALIA - the last two being with "SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS at Work".
For MERITALIA, the designers sought to capture both the solid and ephemeral qualities of crystal in a single piece of furniture. The result is the un-WIRED collection of coffee and side tables in small, medium and large sizes. Made of blackened stainless steel wires, the base of each forms a thin lacing structure on which crystal beads are threaded. The round table tops come in colored glass or wood. "This collection glorifies the natural brilliance of crystals, while almost dematerializing the wire supporting structure on which the table tops rest," says Hu. Adds Neri: "In the dark, the blackened wire fades into the background, making it seem as if the crystals are floating in air."
No strangers to cross-cultural thinking, the couple has created a collection for BD Barcelona Design, called Narcissist that offers a new take on both Spanish and Chinese object typologies. The lacquered Narcissist Tocador is a dressing table - known in Spanish as a tocador and in Mandarin as a shu zhuang tai - with a clean, simple storage chest that opens to three folding mirrors, all topped by crystal- set latticework. The latticework refers to the atomic structure of crystals and also recalls a popular traditional Chinese furniture motif. "It not only evokes the repeating pattern of crystal formation, but creates a configuration of light and shimmer for the person seeing his or her own image in the mirror," says Hu. Alongside a matching stool, the Narcissist Tocador is accompanied by the wall-mounted Narcissist Mirror, with its crystals set in the inner rim to form a galaxy of tiny stars, and the Narcissist Dowry. The last is a jewelry case; set in a pattern of stitches around the lid, its crystals become visible only when the jewelry box is opened. Says Neri: "For each design, we wanted to utilize a different application of crystals, finding new ways to emphasize and bring out their intrinsic, visual qualities."
London-based designer Sebastian Bergne (b.1966) is known for his precise and undecorative design, the result of working to an agenda that highlights function and integrity. Since setting up his studio in 1990, he has designed for Tefal, Moulinex, Driade, Muji, Luceplan and Authentics, concentrating on useful, necessary products that will find their way into people's homes.
Inspired by a visit to Istanbul, he turned to ceramics for this project and has created a range of bowls and vases completed by a candleholder. Though applying his usual rigor, followers of his work will be surprised by the decorative quality of the pieces which incorporate the "Nazar" charm that traditionally protects the owner from the evil eye or bad luck. "Iznik work and the Nazar symbol are really important in Turkish culture, so both struck a chord. The eye motif is also slightly surreal when applied to these products. "I've moved a long way out of my comfort zone here, working with decoration, and with something so handcrafted;" says Bergne. "I'm the guy who knows all about injection molding."
He used a new SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS product called Crystal Rocks (crystals applied to a synthetic carrier material) for the pupil of the eye. "It looks and feels organic and rough, like it's been grown not made. It's less jewel-like than a single crystal and will, I hope, create a strong focal point. I preferred to use the crystal in a single motif than as a repeated element of the design.
"I feel like we are making charms as much as vases and bowls. To me, their function is as something symbolic, something to look at, as much as something to put flowers in."
Bergne's father was a diplomat, and Sebastian was born in Tehran and spent much of his youth in the Middle East. "One reason the project has been so enjoyable is that there were shades of the places I grew up in Istanbul. I did a lot of wandering in the streets, just enjoying the culture."
Tomoko Azumi (b.1966) studied interior architecture in her native Japan, but came to London in 1992 to study design at the Royal College of Art. The dual purpose furniture she produced for her degree show made it clear that here was a serious design talent, and she has gone on to design for a number of companies including lapalma and Zilio in Italy, Maxray and Muji in Japan, Roetlisberger in Switzerland and Habitat in the UK. She recently designed all the furniture for the Supreme Court in Parliament Square, London, a prestigious commission which involved fighting off competition from several known UK designers.
Azumi's work is characterized by a noticeable lightness and a respect for materials. For Zilio, for example, she experimented with steam bending wood to create a perfectly minimal chair and rocker. But she is particularly interested in lighting "because," she says, "all the work is contained inside the piece but all the effect is outside of it."
She had already explored the idea of picking up the reflection of crystals with LED lights when she made tiny paper lanterns for Swarovski's Wedding Project "Unbridaled - The Marriage of Tradition and Avantgarde", which toured the world in 2008. Now she has grown the concept into furniture, with a set of three tables. Inside the tables - sheet metal caskets topped with translucent glass - light emanates from LEDs and bounces off suspended crystals. "The illuminated tables are already a focal point in a dark room, but there is an added level of interactivity: when you touch them, something happens, the light moves and flickers, shadows play. They become objects of entertainment," says Azumi.
The designer worked previously with lapalma, who are producing the tables, on the very successful LEM stool. "lapalma is excellent at precision work, which is why I wanted to go to them with this project," says Azumi, "but the installation of the crystal and the lighting inside the piece is pure innovation. My idea plus their input and knowhow."
Since its founding in 2005 by architect Zhu Pei (b. 1962) and Wu Tong (b. 1968) who is the product designer, Studio Pei- Zhu has quickly emerged as one of China's leading experimental architecture practices. Based in Beijing, its projects include the breakthrough Digital Beijing, one of the major structures built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics; the renovation of a Qing dynasty courtyard house, also in Beijing, for the artist Cai Guo-Qiang; and proposals for the Guggenheim Art Pavilion in Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Museum Beijing.
Trained at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, both Zhu - who went on to the University of California at Berkeley - and Wu draw from traditional Chinese philosophy, art and architecture to create work that simultaneously looks towards the future. "We aim to rethink Chinese ideas while using contemporary techniques and materials, thus maintaining a strong coherence with the existing culture while also challenging preconceptions," Zhu says.
Current architecture projects include a forthcoming design museum in Shenzhen, an art center in Ningbo and a museum of Taoism in Sichuan province, all in China; in addition, Wu serves as art director for China's Art and Design magazine.
The Lotus Plate, designed for "SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS at Work", is the firm's first commercially-manufactured product and, like its architecture, it gives time-honored Chinese concepts a refined, contemporary expression. Edited and produced by Belgian company when objects work, the Lotus plate features crystals lightly scattered on an undulating, polished-glass surface. In designing it, the couple took an approach towards crystals that was rooted in cultural narrative, making the piece at once expressive and aesthetic, functional and metaphorical. "The Chinese name for crystal - shui jing - translates literally as 'water stone,'" Zhu explains. "Imagine a Chinese garden, and a lotus leaf floating in water after a soft rain. The water droplets evoke scattered reflections of time and light from the crystal's surface - a peaceful moment full of anticipation."