Pierre Charpin has studied art but work as a designer. Photo © Pierre Charpin
„Slice“ was presented 1999 for the first time. Photo © Pierre Charpin
From a play with different foams became a play with colors. Photo © Pierre Charpin
The new version of „Slice“ by Ligne Roset became a little bit bigger. Photo © Pierre Charpin
„Untitled“, drawing by Pierre Charpin, 2009, lithography, 59 x 84 cm. Photo © Pierre Charpin
Solo show on Pierre Charpin in Villa Noailles in Hyères. Photo © Lothaire Hucki
Endless Slice: at the show "Pierre Charpin - 20 years of Work" at Grand-Hornu in 2011. Photo © Pierre Antoine
Sliced chair
In conversation:

Pierre Charpin.

Jan 25, 2016

You hear, see, and read very little about Pierre Charpin – the French designer avoids the limelight, preferring to concentrate on his work. For years now he has been collaborating with companies such as Alessi, Ligne Roset, Zanotta and Venini, and producing limited edition drawings and objets d’art for Galerie Kréo in Paris. Charpin, who studied Art in Bourges, reveals a great sensitivity to color and shapes in his works. At the imm cologne fair, which he attended on the occasion of the re-launch by Ligne Roset of his “Slice” armchair, Martina Metzner met the hidden star of French design.

Martina Metzner: When I first saw the “Slice” armchair, I assumed it had to be from the 1970s or 1980s – and at the same time it reminded me of a caterpillar …

Pierre Charpin: You’re right. When I designed this particular armchair some 20 years ago I had various objects and images in my mind: Several armchairs from the 1970s and 1980s by Achille Castiglioni, for which he explored different strengths of upholstery foam, the “Sormani” seating system by Joe Colombo, some designs by Pierre Paulin and so forth. Plus a piece by Pino Pascali, an Italian Arte Povera artist, who had created an oversized caterpillar out of industrial brushes. From the outset the idea behind “Slice” was to cut the armchair into three slices, so as to create an additional pouf and work with different thicknesses of upholstery foam. Later on I began playing with colors based on the slicing concept.

So how long could “Slice” become?

Pierre Charpin: If you put one pouf next to another you can extend it ad infinitum, as it were. For my retrospective in Grand-Hornu I put the armchair in front of a mirror, so that when you entered the room the chair looked as if it stretched out forever. The idea references Achille Castiglioni, who used mirrors in a similar way in his office in Milan, as they meant he could see who was entering.

“A chair is a chair, when you’re sitting in it – but first and foremost it’s a shape”, you once said. Given this mindset, how do you design furniture?

Pierre Charpin: I don’t make as many models as, for example, Konstantin Grcic or Stefan Diez. I think while I’m drawing, on other project I don’t first of all give thought to an idea, but start drawing immediately – initially very freely, and with nothing specific in mind. The drawings help me cast ideas aside – I really do throw them away, fini! When I design a sofa, for example, I produce loads and loads of sketches, which also quote sofas by other designers. I have to work that through before actually being able to come up with something new. When it comes to making prototypes my assistants, who know how to operate CAD programs, help me – I don’t know how to.

Is color an issue right at the beginning of the design process?

Pierre Charpin: Of course, because I draw using colors. The colors change and develop in the course of the process.

Have the colors of the re-edition of “Slice” changed from the initial presentation in 1998? Are there fixed color combinations?

Pierre Charpin: Yes, we’ve changed quite a lot: We’ve adapted the quality of the fabric and the size of the chair to present-day requirements – it’s now a bit bigger. I suggested fixed color combinations, but clients are free to make individual choices.

Why did Ligne Roset relaunch the chair?

Pierre Charpin: Michel Roset has been following my work for several years. We are good friends, I have already designed a few pieces for Ligne Roset. Michel had been asking me for quite some time whether we couldn’t relaunch “Slice”. It wasn’t that easy, because the legal situation with regard to the first producer was not clear cut (ed.: “Slice” was initially produced by Cinova and from 1999 distrubuted by Galerie Kréo in Paris). Things were finally clarified this year.

You work with Galerie Kréo, its objects keep on being featured in exhibitions and museums. How would you describe yourself – are you a designer or an artist?

Pierre Charpin: (Laughs) I’m not an artist, I’m a designer. Voilà. Though art is essential for me – I studied Art, my parents are artists. Even though they were a big influence on me, even though I draw, and the drawings can certainly stand on their own two feet – I’m not an artist. I need to draw, because at that particular moment in time I’m dependent on nothing and no one. I sell my drawings too – to friends, but not commercially. With just a few exceptions, for example through Sebastian Wrong’s web shop. But they are not works of art either, but design.

As a young student you worked for British designer George Sowden, one of the co-founders of the Memphis group. What do you think of the Memphis revival?

Pierre Charpin: These are normal cycles, what goes around comes around. Bon. When I was 20 Memphis was a sort of wake-up call for me. That’s how I got into design. There was this wild energy, a rupture in the system. Memphis had the same effect on me as listening to Punk.

And what design stage are we in right now?

Pierre Charpin: At the moment design is like a jungle. There are lots of things, but only a few are really delicious, and some are even poisonous (laughs). In the 1980s, when I started designing, it was a small world. It has grown enormously, design is everywhere. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But there are only a few things that are actually well made and really interest me.

MORE on Stylepark:

As time goes by: Revivals, evergreens and many colors: imm cologne 2016 likes sending its visitors time traveling.
(22 January 2016)

Woven, not tufted: Hella Jongerius goes for carpets: Uta Abendroth spoke to the designer about her five new models for Danskina.
(21 January 2016)