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Mathieu Lehanneur

What informs your work? What inspires you? 
I am mainly if not exclusively inspired by what we are as humans: we are like diamonds in the rough. I am convinced that we have not evolved at all since the Stone Age. I have two children—childhood represents humanity in its natural state—and since they were born I have closely observed the way they interact with their environment, with objects: they don’t necessarily choose the toy you’d expect. Ultimately, we are all driven by the same impulses: power, sex, transcendence, belief, nesting… What has evolved are the tools, the artefacts we have available to us. So, whatever type of project I’m working on, I don’t think about the form or the technique at the beginning, but rather the relationship between the human being in their natural state and the surrounding environment. The relationship between humans and things will in turn change the way humans relate to each other—that’s what we have to bear in mind.

Who are your role models, in terms of people or projects? 
It’s not designers who inspire me because what they produce is food that has already been digested, stripped of its essential nutrients. I prefer people like Richard Buckminster Fuller, the American personality whose work spanned architecture, design, mathematics and complex geometric structures. These kinds of people interest me because they weren’t considering their field of expertise but rather the state of the world and the times they were living in. 
This kind of thinking reminds me of that of the Enlightenment which looks at the world as it is and responds proactively, whether in alignment with or in opposition to it.
The only thing of any importance, the only question to ask oneself is: “What response can I bring to this world?”, and that response can be written, theoretical, material or take any other form.

What compliment about your work as a designer do you most appreciate?
What I have heard people say and which is the nicest compliment anyone could pay me is: “That project, that object makes me feel more alive”… Because the most important realisation we can have is that we are alive right now in this world and that it is a miracle, that it’s only by the merest chance that we are here at all… That things—because it’s only things that we’re making, after all—can make us conscious of that is the aim and therefore the ultimate compliment.

Is there a city that inspires you or speaks to you? 
I feel quite good in Paris, it’s a city that has managed to find a balance between a relaxed rhythm of life and yet with enough energy to be able to work. Corsica also comes to mind – a place I’m very attached to although I’m not sure I could live there. I see it as a small extra bedroom in the apartment of my life. My father lived there during the war and I’ve been going there since I was a boy. Only an hour and a half away, the pace of life is slower, but it doesn’t feel outrageously exotic. 
I’m not someone who loves to travel because I can’t stand jet-lag, so paradoxically, the farther I travel, the less time I spend there, even if it means spending just one day there, like when I go to Hong Kong for example.
I’m definitely like the Neanderthals – I never stray too far away or for too long from my cave.

How do you live your life? 
In my life I’m constantly trying—without ever fully succeeding—to work where I live and live where I work. To find the right balance without one eating into the other; it’s never fully resolved and I’m constantly adjusting to get the balance right. Work, life, family… everything changes but I’m always mindful of that balance; you have to be careful how you organise your work and private life. So I’m still trying to come up with the ideal solution. Also, lastly, I like to live and work with few possessions.

What are your favourite materials? 
I don’t have a favourite material, apart from the brain. Projects emerge from a pooling of different ideas—ours and the clients’—and the material is merely a consequence of that. Whether we are talking about marble, plastic, metal or leather, I don’t subscribe to any hierarchy or value scale when it comes to materials, they are just a means to an end. You have to view them all with the same objectivity and level of respect, in the same way as one should respect all kinds of language—from the most refined speech to street slang—equally.

Are there any design projects that you view as models?
The first thing that springs to mind is those public urinals and the ingenious solution to the problem of men getting pee all over the place, whether they mean to or not. The urinals have a little fly printed on the enamel. And instinctively, primally, we can’t help but take aim at it. It is both a minimalist and a maximalist solution, which focuses on the way man continues to see himself as a hunter and his penis as a gun. It’s a formidably effective solution, somewhere between a Dadaist work of art and a purely functional object.
I’m also thinking of another Dadaist object that revolutionised architecture: the escalator. Escalators are pure poetry, coming from the mind of an engineer or a poet, who managed to transform the most static object imaginable into a moving object. It’s the embodiment of the impossible made possible and it has transformed the architecture of shopping centres.

What’s your favourite shape?
The sphere. I’ve never tried to analyse why. The sphere has a permanence derived from the fact that it exists naturally on a very small scale (the cell) and on a massive scale (the planet). It is the alpha and the omega of our world and we are somewhere in the middle. There is in the sphere a true spiritual density, an obviousness. Watch any child with a selection of toys and the sphere will always win. It invites you to touch it, hold it, kick it… it’s constantly calling to us. A sphere is never wrong – whatever it’s made from, it’s always magical.

What’s the greatest challenge you have faced or have yet to face? 
It will simply be, on my last day on this earth, to be able to say that I am happy with the life I have lived that it really has been the life I wanted to live.

Do you have a ritual in your work? 
It takes place before I confront the blank page. I come before the blank page when I know what I want to draw on it. I have to know before I face the blank page. I’m wary of the hand – it has a deftness and a gift for describing form. If you allow it to do its own thing, the hand will sketch things because it likes them or because it can draw them naturally. I don’t put a pen in my hand until my brain is able to tell it exactly what to do and it will obey. We keep coming back to this basic instrument that is the brain, to its ability to imagine and conceive, to change the shape, scale, material in a fraction of a second. The hand serves merely to transcribe the thought, to bring the idea into the physical. 
So, when a project comes to an end, I have to immediately remove all trace of the design process, the prototypes, mock-ups and so on. The project as such has to disappear, so that it doesn’t influence what comes next. As with thinking, drawing, writing or anything else, you have to start with a blank canvas. You have to clear everything out to make room for the new.

What type of design annoys you? 
Predictable architecture, because it smacks of laziness. This idea of the hand I was talking about before is a way of avoiding predictability. When someone, be they a singer, artist, politician or whatever, becomes predictable, they become boring and you lose interest in them. This is also true in our line of work, especially since the things we make outlast us and therefore must be even less predictable.

If you weren’t a designer, what job would you be doing? 
I would probably have tried to create a form of work somewhere between psychology and surgery, which, non-hierarchically, could make use of the tools of both without making one superior to the other.

Do you have a regular haunt?
I’m most often found in my office. It’s laid out on two levels – on the lower floor I’m with the team and on the upper floor it’s just me. I alternate between sociability and the utmost unsociability – this arrangement enables me to manage these two states of being. 

What’s your favourite object? How much does it weigh? 
I would say my watch: an Audemars Piguet that was a gift. I didn’t have a particular fascination for watches or accessories of any kind before. It’s quite a weighty object; I take it off at night and when I go through airport security. In those few seconds, I miss that weight on my wrist; the imbalance that it created and which I had got used to but now is not there. I couldn’t do without the weight now. When I put it on in the morning, it’s cold and it takes a few minutes to reach my body temperature. There is this inertia of the material as it adjusts its temperature which I find quite beautiful. The relationship to temperature is interesting because our existence relies on this temperature that stays constant regardless of the outside environment. The only time when our body temperature will adjust to the outside temperature is the day we die, when the body no longer responds to maintain a constant temperature. That is what I find beautiful about objects – the object dies and is brought back to life when you bring it back up to your own body temperature.

What carries the most weight in your life? 
The grams that remain, what I will leave behind. Perhaps not much because I’m not one for accumulating things. I’m thinking more about my descendants. What carries weight for me is what will remain after I’m gone, that’s what will maintain my temperature. I don’t believe in a second life, nor in eternal life – I’ve chosen to put all my money on this one.

Which LE GRAMME object(s) do you own? How do you wear or use them?
I have a 5g Sterling Silver cable bracelet and a 21g plain wristband bracelet in Sterling Silver. The form of the wristband enables me to put it on and take it off at will, and every time I get to experience that change of temperature I was speaking about earlier.

And if LE GRAMME were a thing, what would it be? 
It would be a key without my knowing which door it’s meant for. One which has the potential to access something outside the realm of reality and which, as an object, is something that is nice to look at, have and touch. A key is something that can be read on two levels – functional and symbolic.

Photographer: Antoine Harinthe
Words : Chloé Prigent

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