IMM COLOGNE 2019
Working with the soul
Anna Moldenhauer: Eugeni, I read that the 19th century served as inspiration for the chair “Remind.” Can you illuminate your approach a little for us?
Eugeni Quitllet: I like to work sub-conceptually. Essentially, when I designed the outdoor chair “Remind” I didn’t focus on a few individual details; it was more about translating the feeling. The feeling you get when you try to remember something, but you don’t use your head to do so, you use your heart. And just like a reflection, “Remind” certainly does bring back some aesthetic codes that many of us may have already forgotten. It shows that there is a trajectory in design, that we’re progressing in a certain direction.
Emotion and dream generally play an important role in your work. You call yourself a “Disoñador,” which is a combination of the Spanish terms for designer and dreamer. What do you dream of when you’re designing?
Eugeni Quitllet: The dream is to share these emotions. The dream only becomes reality when you share it. That’s what I love about product design: that you can have visions regarding a function, an aesthetic. And that these then materialize. The greatest moment is when the dream has become real in the shape of a product. You can touch it, use it, and share it with other people. “Remind” can be traced back to the Latin word “recordari” – “remembering through the heart,” physically feeling an emotion. Aside from this emotional part, solving a problem through the design is also essential to me.
You like to work with transparencies. Why did you decided to do so for the seat and backrest of “Remind”?
Eugeni Quitllet: “Remind” is manufactured as an injection-molded monobloc, which was very complex to do. The transparency lends the object a stronger sense of lightness. In addition, it creates a look that is reminiscent of wickerwork or bentwood furniture. The breathable structure also ensures a pleasant feeling when sitting as well as quicker drying after it rains.
Eugeni Quitllet: “Soul” was conceived for interior spaces. I had the opportunity to bring two types of knowhow together here: Pedrali has a great deal of knowledge when it comes to processing, both wood and plastic. The transparent polycarbonate seat breathes life into the chair and references modern technology. The curved structure made of light ash wood on the other hand stands for traditional craftwork. At the same time, the wooden armrests are pleasant to the touch. The chair has a soul, it is sculptural and practical.
This was the first time you worked with Pedrali. How should we imagine the collaboration?
Eugeni Quitllet: I had been in contact with Pedrali for a while, but after having been named “Designer of the Year” in 2016 I worked on a great deal of projects at the same time and we didn’t find the right moment to talk about collaborating. Last year Giuseppe Pedrali and I met up again and shared our ideas. Giuseppe wanted a product that reflected the company’s experience and was produced as a monobloc. I wanted to combine different materials. In my work I always reference the past, the present, and the future, and I try to bring these three components together – even though the forward-looking gaze is the most important one. With “Remind” and “Soul” I translated our ideas into two products. The collaboration was very good from the get-go and we were soon able to begin production. Pedrali was always very open for my visions. In the end a good exchange is also reflected in the product. When I work with a company it should always be like a love story. There has to be passion and energy on both sides; the baby needs a mother and a father.
You create your designs without producing models beforehand. Do you work out every detail in your imagination?
Eugeni Quitllet: I draw a lot and can effectively see the finished product in my mind. A model involves the danger of becoming lost and losing time. I drew a lot even as a child and imagined a great many things, like in a movie. I have a very realistic imagination and play through the questions a prototype would answer for me in my mind – materials, textures, fastenings, etc. When I have an idea it is always very clear. The challenge lies more in selecting the image I want to realize. Sometimes guests ask to see my workshop and then they’re very surprised to hear that I don’t have one. My brain is my tool. If I could, I would connect a printer directly to my thoughts.
Is comfort an important topic for you?
Eugeni Quitllet: Of course. I sit on a plastic chair all day, so I want it to feel perfect and not become uncomfortable after ten minutes. I think you’re obliged to offer the best-possible solution with your product. I always talk about the magic of the process of formation and which emotions a product transports, but the technical side certainly can’t be discounted either. The chairs should be functional, stackable, robust and at the same time aesthetic. But those are all things that are a matter of course for me. The technical side has to work, that’s the basis. It’s like flying in an airplane: What we tend to talk about more is the comfort, the atmosphere and the service.
What fascinates you about plastic?
Eugeni Quitllet: I like materials that flow visually. Many of my shapes are very reduced and made as a monobloc, as a single piece. Plastic, aluminum, glass, those are materials that can be easily turned from a fluid into a solid state. For a monobloc made from wood you would need a great deal of material – that’s why it’s better as a structure, as a frame, as is the case in “Soul.”
To what extent is sustainability important to you?
Eugeni Quitllet: You can achieve a balance when you create a product that will ideally last an entire lifetime. I design products intended to accompany people for many years. When you form a bond with things you are more prepared to recondition them again after a long period of time. Or also to find patina beautiful, because it adds another dimension to the product.
You worked together with Philippe Starck for over ten years. How did he influence your work?
Eugeni Quitllet: I think we inspired each other. The problem is that even after 50 chairs you don’t design number 51 with your eyes closed. You always start from zero each time – experience doesn’t lead to repetition. I was always very ambitious, always looking for boundaries. The horizon between sea and sky so to speak, the point where the water meets the air and vice versa. That’s the space I like to be in in my thoughts when I design. But essentially you have to reinvent yourself every day as a designer. Philippe taught me how to realize visions, and that the implementation of an idea is not impossible, even if it feels crazy at first. I think that’s what I have mostly retained from our collaboration. I had the tools and he showed me how to turn my dreams into reality.
Can you give an example of that?
Eugeni Quitllet: We are talking about designers as if they were free to do whatever they like. There are however a great many parameters you have to address. For example, I designed cutlery for an airline and the specification was to only use three grams of plastic per piece. Three grams of plastic for a fork, that’s really not very much at all. The challenge lies in giving the product a soul while at the same time meeting requirements. You don’t see the development process in the end product: The product has to be instantly convincing, it has to work. In order to meet these requirements and at the same time make a beautiful product, I always carry what is possible to the limit. Maybe then the person using that plastic fork will think twice about throwing it in the trash directly after eating.
You grew up on Ibiza, studied in Barcelona and also work in Paris a lot – what effect do these contrasts have on your work?
Eugeni Quitllet: Ibiza is a special island, international, cosmopolitan. In the 1970s and 1980s creative professionals from all fields met there – architects, artists, designers, musicians, writers. I was surrounded by these special influences, this creative universe; I grew up with all of that. When I left Ibiza I realized how little contrast the big cities offered. Most people were dressed in a similar way, everything was a little monotonous. On Ibiza, there were always many strong images, not just one. Nowadays thankfully the world has become a little more intermingled. In Paris I spent ten years working like crazy – the city is very fast paced. When it came to founding my own studio, I wanted to be closer to my roots again, to feel the salty air, the soft light, to be close to the sea once more. I found that in Barcelona. My office looks directly onto Gaudi’s Casa Mila: That inspires me. For me, light is like an object and I like to see it move from the sea and across my office over the course of the day. I love the activity in Paris, the long boulevards, the perspectives. Barcelona is livelier; the lines forming the city’s structure run parallel, while in Paris they are diagonal. I love both cities. I met my wife in Paris and had what was probably the most intensive phase of my career there. Paris is more for the intellect, while Barcelona is more for the soul.
I read that you would like to design a car. How far are you with regard to that idea?
Eugeni Quitllet: Cars are made from static materials, yet we manage to make them move anyway. That fascinates me. We have achieved a transition from animal to object, from horse to car. This animation has been perfected down to the last detail: The product has gained eyes through the headlights and been given expression through design. It is a shell for us that we permanently continue to perfect with the best seats, the best sound, the best light and the best engine. That’s why it continues to be interesting to me to address this idea.
Are you planning further collaborations with Pedrali?
Eugeni Quitllet: I am going with the flow a little, staying curious and waiting to see what happens. I’m sure it will be something good.