Interview with an exceptionally gifted architect, graphic designer, creative director, narrative designer and the co-founder of be-pôles.
What informs your work? What inspires you? What stories do you tell through your creations?
To me, inspiration’s a challenge. I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t really bother to go out and search for it any more. They’re happy to just look at each other. That must be reassuring. But, in the end, it’s inbreeding. It’s way too comfortable.
If you want to be strong, you need to work outside closed systems and explore other avenues. For example, literature opens up new doors to me all the time. A book like Zola’s L’Assommoir is full of vocabulary that you can play around with. Some words - like society - have meanings that allow me to draw a picture of new places in my head without ever having seen a single image.
Of course there are exhibitions as well, but - as a collective artistic source of inspiration - I need to be able to search for and find that little something, sometimes really tiny, that catches my attention.
Nature is my newest terrain. I go into deep-thinking mode when I’m faced with a problem. That’s why I try to put myself in situations that shake me up. It puts me in a state of positive nervousness that makes me want to produce something.
Which people or artists are your role models?
It changes over time. In terms of pictorial artists, I’d say Cy Twombly. In my head, I’ve got images from a book - A House is not a Home by Bruce Weber - where you can see Cy Twombly’s house perched on a cliff, and you really feel this fusion between the artist, the place and his art; everything is so mixed up that you can’t tell what came first.
More directly related to my own work is the illustrator René Gruau, famous for his drawings for Dior. He’s my maternal grandmother’s brother. They used to talk about him when I was very young, but they didn’t show me any of his work. And much later I discovered the full extent of it, which is all the more impressive because his style is so distinctive. His strong style and sense of colour have had an impact on my work.
What’s the best compliment someone can make about your work?
When they say that a place or a brand I’ve worked on has been there for a century. I like things to be permanent. I’m anti-fashion. I say that with all due respect for fashion and trends, which bring an energy that’s vital. I’ve simply chosen to focus on the foundations.
Is there a city or destination that inspires you or speaks to you? Apart from Paris.
I’d say Chamonix. I feel surrounded by stories there. It’s like living mountain literature. You’re at the heart of an adventure. It’s incredible to look up at the peaks when you’re down in the valley. The town’s full of tales. It’s a powerful place. It’s like a city drawn in the Mariana Trench.
But I would have liked to say Paris. I’m still amazed by the beauty of this city. There are layers upon layers of it, all making it what it is, and trees that have been there for centuries. To be honest, when I’m cycling around the city, I sometimes feel like a knight on his horse, because this city is so exhilarating.
How would you describe your approach to life?
I try to make it as natural as possible; I don’t want it to be staged. Otherwise there’s no sense of wonder. I never want to feel apathetic. I stare wide-eyed at the world, searching for inspiration and a sort of wonder I can find in everything. You have keep that child-like quality about you if you want to feel extraordinary things.
When I get on a plane, I try to look at it through the eyes of a child again, as it was my first takeoff, that’s the sort of naivety and incredulity I’m talking about.
What are your favourite subjects when it comes to your creative approach?
I’d start with colours. I’m always on the look out for them, like Delaunay and Josef Albers, who still inspire me today. Typefaces too. Helvetica is a subject in itself, as are 18th century serif typefaces. I’d also say a lack of resources. I think it’s a wonderful challenge to start from very little and end up generating lots of energy. Finally, and most importantly to me: functionalism.
Which visual identity do you admire the most? Or would have loved to have done and would like to do?
In fashion, the soundest construction is Hermès, in each of its components. Because identity goes beyond the merely visual. At Hermès, there’s a real coherence between, say, the logo, the stitching and the folds in the leather. Each point of contact is a brand experience in itself.
I would have liked to have worked with Aésop. Its founder inspires me a lot. They have a unique relationship with architecture. By refusing to expand its product range at any cost, they’ve freed themselves from systems. I would have loved to have been at the start of a project like that.
What’s your favourite graphic form?
My form is a homothety of the DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung) format generated using the golden ratio. I always base myself on this format grid. We keep coming back to this idea of functionalism, to this need to marry form and function.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced or will face as a graphic designer?
As I said before, it’s already a constant challenge not to get sucked into passing fads.
Do you have a ritual in your line(s) of work?
Sport and drawing - I put them on the same level. I use sport to process thoughts a lot - I either forget things or I memorise them. I can’t explain how it works. Let’s say the parts are recorded somewhere. And they’ll get triggered at some point. It’s my way of sorting data and giving it a structure. One of my teachers used to say to me: “An architect is an eye and a line”. You need to be able to see but also retranscribe things - to stop and look through the drawing. It’s my way of absorbing what’s around me. I know that if I stop and draw something then I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
What about graphic design annoys you?
When it’s fashionable. Student porfolios that are all the same.
We keep returning to a sort of collective algorithm that governs everything, a mise en abîme[SEM1] , or an image within an image, of graphic designers who look at graphic designers, who look at other graphic designers.
You’re an architect by training but you’ve gone on to become a leading graphic designer. What other job would you have liked to have done?
A zinc roofer on the rooftops of Paris. So I could climb to the top of buildings, and have the right to build a cabin on the rooftops, and picnic as I look out over Paris, and be permanently on the summit.
Do you have a favourite place where you go a lot?
A rooftop, actually. In the 9th arrondissement at Be-Pôles, in Montmartre, at home... I need to be high up, so I can choose whether I come down or not.
What’s your favourite object? How much does it weigh?
I have two. A 5B pencil, fairly thick, and a B6 Moleskine notebook. I’ve always numbered my notebooks. I’m at number 118.
What has weight in your life?
My wife and my family.
Which LE GRAMME object(s) do you own? How do you wear/use them?
I have the 43g Ruler, which I use all the time. It’s on my desk, I often roll it around without even thinking about it... I also have a 23g brushed pyramid guilloché bracelet, which I admit I don’t wear all the time. I’ve noticed I’m rubbing off the decorative elements over time.
If you could give a new form to LE GRAMME, what would it be?
le gramme is eminently solid, precious and raw. I’d like to change its molecular structure to make it a liquid, just as precious as a perfume, in millilitres.
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