In conversation with Uta Abendroth: At imm cologne 2019, Philippe Nigro and Ligne Roset presented the "Phileas" furniture collection.

“I don’t want to be trendy”

Philippe Nigro recently designed the upholstered furniture collection “Phileas” for Ligne Roset, which was presented at imm cologne 2019. Uta Abendroth interviewed the designer about his work.

Philippe Nigro always places functionality at the heart of his design practice. Yet the French creative professional knows how to give his pieces a twist: at times sophisticated, now and again almost a little playful, yet always elegant. Nigro, 44, was born in Nice and studied at École Boulle in Paris, before joining Michele Lucchi to put a “final polish” on his craft. He started off wanting to stay at Lucchi’s Milan studio for a three-to-six-month work experience – and ended up staying there for twelve years. In 2009, the designer caused an international stir with the sofa “Confluences,” which kicked off his collaboration with Ligne Roset. He has now presented his latest design for the French label in Cologne, the collection “Phileas,” which includes sofas, an armchair and a stool.

Uta Abendroth: In the last ten years you have designed quite a few sofas and other items of furniture for Ligne Roset. Your latest collection of upholstered furniture “Phileas” looks completely different to the previous ones. How did that come about?

Philippe Nigro: We started working together ten years ago for “Confluences” and since then we have created four or five sofas, a couple of other furniture items and a bed together. Michel Roset and I talk at regular intervals, exchanging ideas. Comfort is always our top priority. It’s hardly surprising – with the extensive knowhow the company has when it comes to foam material that’s the obvious focus. Of course, it’s not about making similar things all the time. On the contrary, it’s much more exciting for me when the designs are different each time. It’s a designer’s job to understand a company, adapt to it, then suggest objects it needs at that time. “Phileas” is a very classic collection, and a little retro, but it has the spirit of Ligne Roset when it comes to ergonomics and comfort. The sofas and the armchair convey a feeling reminiscent of the Orient Express or a gentlemen’s club.

How does a project like “Phileas” arise? Was it your idea or a commission?

Philippe Nigro: In most cases I tend to make spontaneous suggestions, with Michael and I sitting down together to look at my drawings and images. Then we always slowly go more and more into the details – for example, regarding the height of the backrest, which is designed to provide comfortable support for the head and the back. These discussions are always very illuminating. I showed Michael the first sketches for “Phileas” about three years ago, but of course at times a design can also develop faster.

The retro look is a big topic at the moment. Do you have to follow such trends as a designer?

Philippe Nigro: It is always difficult to speak of trends as a designer. I started working on “Phileas” three years ago, when the retro look was just beginning to gather pace, or rather wasn’t as omnipresent as it is now. I don’t know if it’s a shame or a good thing that “Phileas” appears to have been made for this moment in time. But to be honest I’m not especially interested in trends and I don’t want to be trendy, I want to create new things. I personally find “Phileas” surprising because the collection is different to what Ligne Roset normally realizes in its low 1970s sofas. My design is much higher and also appeals to elderly users. Yet all of their pieces, including the very low models and my designs, harmonize with each other; the collection is perfectly matched.

So you wanted to design a comfortable, high sofa, because people are getting ever older? Was that the starting point?

Philippe Nigro: Well, that’s something you have in the back of your mind. In actual fact the segmentation helped me define the shape and the different sizes in all of this, because the vertical lines of the upholstery always have the same distance from each other. When you look at the pieces from above you can see it even better. I wanted to proceed from a rule of sorts, in order to predefine the proportions and clearly sketch out the armchair as well as the sofa. In past projects we have tended to start with the sofa. When we then got round to designing the armchair, it ended up too large or too wide to keep working with the same concept. It’s not so easy to adapt or transfer dimensions. For “Phileas” I started with the armchair, the smallest piece in the collection. When I addressed the sofas afterwards it was really helpful to have the segmentation.

Feeling à la Orient Express: The "Phileas" collection includes sofas, an armchair and a stool.

Where there other challenges?

Philippe Nigro: You have to think about various cover materials, such as fabric or leather, which will also be used in a range of colors. “Phileas” comes with metal feet or feet made of walnut wood. As a designer you have to be able to envisage all of these combinations, so that everything fits when it comes to the finished product.

Do you also decide on the colors?

Philippe Nigro: No, when it comes to colors and materials I always leave the decisions to Ligne Roset. Color in particular is a very personal choice; I don’t want to curtail that. The client should have full rein in that regard.

Over the course of your career you’ve worked with numerous companies. Which ones were especially important to you?

Philippe Nigro: Ligne Roset is certainly the company I am most strongly linked to. The sofa “Confluences” was the first product of mine that drew a great deal of attention in the design world and really kick-started my career. Other companies I feel very grateful and connected to are De Padova, Zanotta, Venini, Foscarini, Hermès and Baccarat.

Who else has influenced you?

Philippe Nigro: Definitely Michele de Lucchi. He will always be important to me, because it was with him that I gained my initial experience as a designer fresh out of college. At the time I desperately wanted to go to Milan and understand the Italian way of thinking in design. My work experience with Michele led to a collaboration that lasted twelve years. He was still working with Olivetti at the time and so I worked with him on computers and printers, on projects from the fields of architecture, as well as furniture, interior, exhibition and graphic design. Michele is a wonderful human being, gentle and interested, open, a real maestro. I enjoyed working with him very much. The work for Hermès was also very important to me. It is a dream for a designer to work for such a great company, with those wonderful materials and craftspeople. But I did feel a certain amount of pressure too of course – after all, this was Hermès. Yet in this case as well the relationship and interaction with the client were good and inspiring. A very pleasant cooperation.

For his designs, Philippe Nigro was inspired by fashion, among other things: For example for the small decorative seams in "Phileas".

What did you learn from these partnerships?

Philippe Nigro: That’s hard to say, because you can’t always directly transfer these things to your practice. I would say it’s about a mix of experiences that is reflected in how you approach proportions, comfort and, say, the choice of fabrics. Also over time you learn that this job is related to industry and that you have to think realistically about pricing.

What inspires you?

Philippe Nigro: Traveling to other countries is very inspiring for me, and of all the places I’ve visited Japan stands out the most. The culture, the food, the fashion, the design, the entire country is so different and inspiring. For me, one of the most amazing places is Naoshima Island with its museums, architecture and sculptures. I visit many exhibitions, especially on contemporary art and architecture. I recently saw a show on ikebana in Paris, that’s the Japanese art of flower arranging. And a few months ago I checked out an exhibition on Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela. It’s often tiny details that find their way into my work from fashion, for example the small ornamental seams in “Phileas.”

With a comfortable seat height and feet made of metal or walnut wood, "Phileas" convinces down to the last detail.