Since starting his Parisian firm in 1998, Patrick Jouin has mastered the art of elegantly marrying form and function.
By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen
Patrick Jouin is a man of many talents. Since starting his Parisian firm in 1998, he has mastered the art of elegantly marrying form and function, creating products for the likes of Alessi, Ligne Roset, and Bernhardt, and spaces for industry greats such as Alain Ducasse. And that¹s just the beginning: he had a hand in Paris' bicycle system and designed the city's public toilets. Most recently, 10 years of his product work was on display in New York (his first exhibition stateside) at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) which showcased the likes of his much-copied cascading glass bubble chandelier for Leucos; a spatula that has a notch so it can rest on a jar instead of on the counter; and chairs made with a new technology called stereolithography, where a laser beam makes the object, turning liquid resin solid. "My practice is going from craftsman to high-tech, from hospitality to big industry like cars," he says. We caught up with the prolific designer in New York, where he talked design as theater, communication as a key to success, and his dislike of things that are fake.
HD: What did you want to showcase with your MAD exhibit, Design & Gesture?
PJ: I showed my work a few months ago in Paris, and it was more about the process of design—the relation of the fabricator, the client, but there was a lack of something. This [exhibition is] to understand why it was designed this way. It's the gesture, the beauty. It's not only form and function, which is already not easy to achieve, but it's also to design a gesture and the beauty of a gesture. Design is not a shape; if it is only a shape it doesn't work. If it is only a function, it's the same. We are trying to go beyond that. Every time I try to find a trick with the object. It is not super obvious; it has to be elegant. It¹s always an organic way to mix gesture, usage, technology, brand in one thing.
HD: You are in town for another exhibition called Set in Style for Van Cleef & Arpels at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, which you designed.
PJ: The Cooper-Hewitt is at the Carnegie mansion, this beautiful house. The mansion is beautifully crafted, more than 100 years ago, and Van Cleef was created at the same time. I really tried to make them speak together, so when you enter, architecture reveals the jewelry and jewelry reveals the architecture. It is natural. The idea is to do something that is a beautiful souvenir, but at the same time, create an emotion. It is not easy to understand this kind of beauty; it needs a lot of sensitivity and you have to be weak and open to be sensitive. I always try to make an emotion, so you open your heart, your mind, your spirit. The same goes for a restaurant. Maybe you have lost something, you are unhappy with your day of work, and today is a bad day, you are in bad mood. You open the door and I have to change your mood. The exhibition is like this.
HD: How did you get involved with the exhibition?
PJ: I have been working with Van Cleef for years. I designed the original store in Paris. [The company] is very close to my spirit: I like this idea of enchantment, fantasy, and femininity. Van Cleef is a good fit for me.
HD: Hospitality-wise, what are you working on?
PJ: We are working on the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, two restaurants and a bar for chef Thierry Marx, his first restaurant in Paris. With a chef like this, who is very creative and cutting edge, that is what we have done with the design. It has to be a beautiful moment, but I don¹t want guests to be uncomfortable. And I want to surprise them at the same time, so they can understand what Thierry Marx is doing.
HD: The restaurant industry, especially fine dining, is evolving. What's your take on the restaurant industry today? Are chefs asking for anything different?
PJ: Here [in New York] it is really incredible—restaurant design has become theater. You make a project and two years after it is gone. I had a restaurant with Ducasse called Mix. It was a beautiful project, but it wasn't the right street, so it is gone. It was on 58th Street—it should have been in the Meatpacking District. What has changed is that now chefs are more conscious—for the chef, it is very important to work with a designer, with an architect, with a lighting designer. It has become a whole experience. Now everything is designed, which is making everything better, and at the same time, it is harder for a designer. The consumer knows much better, and is much more of a critic. When you are a professional, you try to make things perfect, but at the same time, the touch of a chef, a chef's personality, can disappear. You can have the right mood, the right fabric, the right thing, but it is not the chef anymore, and that's not good. There is a devil in every project, you just have to find it. I spend a lot of time with the chef, not 'I like blue, no I like green,' but to really understand what he is trying to create—the kind of food, what a waiter is for a chef, what a knife is for a chef. It is a team project. Context is important. I was lucky to work with Ducasse. He is an incredible professional. He has traveled all over the world and has absorbed so much information. A great teacher.
HD: Is there a restaurant fad that you would like to do away with?
PJ: I don't really like the restaurants that look old that are brand new. They are well done, but they are fake. When you arrive in a little restaurant in the middle of Paris or New York that has not changed in the last 100 years, you say, 'this is so great.' It's like when you see someone with an old car, you think they're nice, even if they aren't. It's the same for a restaurant.
HD: Are you working on any cool non-restaurant hospitality projects?
PJ: We are doing an incredible project for Swatch in Shanghai, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. One level is for Swatch shops—Swatch, Omega, Breguet, Blancpain. After that you have levels where there will be artist studios—artists are coming from all over the world, and Swatch is giving them a lodge where they can create for three weeks or six months. One level has three incredible hotel suites. And another has a restaurant and terrace.
HD: What is the design concept?
PJ: If you were coming there, you don't even want to take off your coat, you just want to start to work. We made a place that is raw and at the same time, well-designed, but if your paint gets on the floor, it's okay. So it's like a New York loft feeling, but with Shanghai energy. There are a lot of books, a lot of places for artists to meet together, the idea of cooking is very important. Inside the studio they have a place to shower, a bedroom, but they can also open everything up and be linked with other artists.
HD: What are some of your recently completed projects that you are most proud of?
PJ: The free toilet system of Paris—400 toilets. [We wanted] to make a little pavilion in the street. The women were afraid to use them, so we tried to make something where you feel secure. We are working for Ubisoft, making electronic games. We are working for Alessi, designing a new fruit bowl. We are also working on the taxi sign for Paris. We have changed the system, so when a taxi is free it is green, and when they have someone it's red, and you can see it from far away. Before it was white, but it was impossible to understand.
HD: You have designed so many products, but what do you love about hospitality?
PJ: It makes us think a lot. Empathy is very important, so we don't design things for us. When I design something I will use it and see if I like it. But that's not enough [for hospitality]. You have to think about everyone. That's incredible. When you do a hotel or restaurant, you have one shot, one prototype, you can imagine one moment—it is almost the opposite of industrial design. It is an experience, and you share this experience, this thought or this dream that is unique, with someone else. It is an incredible human experience.
HD: What is the key to a successful collaboration?
PJ: Communication. Some chefs are not used to looking at drawings; their emotion, they don't know what to say. They will say, 'oh it's great,' even if they don't like it. You have to find a way to speak together so everyone is happy at the end. It will cost the same to make it well or not. I try to be very sensitive. Every time it is a different story. You have to reinvent yourself—you don't want to copy yourself. That is the fun part.
Pictured from top left: Patrick Jouin (photo by Giacomo Bretzel); Restaurant Lafayette Organic; restaurant at the Plaza Athenee (photo by Pierre Monetta); Le Bar du Plaza Athenee; Oth Sombath; Ether for Leucos/FDV; Reed for Leucos/FDV