Constance Guisset: Renaissance Woman

There can’t be many designers who studied at ESSEC business school followed by Sciences-Po Paris, interned at Japan’s parliamentary body and still managed to graduate from ENSCI design school by the age of 30. But when you realize that Constance Guisset started her studio in 2009 and a bare year later was named one of the ten designers of the year at Maison & Objet, Now! Design à Vivre and was awarded the Audi Talents Awards – you realise Guisset is a breed apart. Since then she has worked for brands ranging from Petite Friture to Nature & Découvertes via travel accessories for Louis Vuitton Malletier, not to mention stage design for ballet and concerts, interiors for Accor Suite Novotel plus scenographies for Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Her work has also been chosen for the Design Museum/Phillips auction Time for Design on 28 April alongside luminaries like Thomas Heatherwick, Ross Lovegrove and Frank Gehry. Here the incomparable French designer reveals her love of movement and the secret to her multidisciplinary practice.

You worked in Japan – is that aesthetic in your design?

For sure. I was only 20 when I went, which is an age when you can be very influenced. I went for its aesthetics and I am sure that, along with other influences, it is part of the formal background of what I create today.

You are totally multidisciplinary, from jewellery to furniture via set design. Is that deliberate?

I am very curious and I like working on many topics. If I’m asked to do something I like to go ahead. For example with the stage design, the choreographer Angelin Preljocaj had read an article about my piece Funambule [tightrope walker] and was looking for someone to work on his solo show, Le Funambule. He thought it was a great coincidence, so we met. I’d just had my first child – she was only 2 weeks old – but I said ‘ok let’s go for it!’ It was a bit crazy but it worked. I knew nothing about set design, I was very young but he really helped me gain confidence and improved my way of working with space and light. Three years later he asked me for another stage design and then a scenography for his exhibition. Each project has been introduced by a kind of coincidence and it’s developed from there – from a small set design and scenography to bigger gallery shows. I’m very open to new experiences, I feel that being a designer allows you to work on many different things. It’s always a question of people. When you meet people you plant seeds, you can’t tell which will grow!

Constance Guisett Article

Guisset’s set design for Angelin Preljocaj’s Les Nuits, 2013. All images © Photo Guisset

Do you work to commission or for pleasure?

Even when I work for commission I’m working for pleasure! I can’t do a project if I’m not happy with it. When you work for commission you have less freedom for yourself, but either way you always have to work within constraints.

What kind of constraints?

When I design an object I think of material, environment, ergonomics, use, I think of the editor – is it close to his line, which is very important – is it the right object at the right time for the right price. Market is very important, the way it is distributed… there are many things to consider when creating an object. Even if I’m working freely there comes a point where I have to ask myself these questions.

You seem to return again and again to folded and floating shapes like Vertigo and Chantilly – does this satisfy something in you?

The idea of movement is very strong in my work. There is nothing static. It’s something that is really important to me – I feel a little annoyed when I see a fixed, dominating shape occupying a space, I like the idea my shapes could be somewhere else, that they could move with the wind. Also there is a kind of grace or elegance, a respect to the people who will use the objects, which is very important. Objects that look too sharp, strong and tough, objects that don’t respect the body, they make me angry. My objects have to respect the body.

Constance Guisett Article

The Chantilly lamp (pendant and table), made from oak plywood and recycled polypropylene, is super-light and very strong

You use colour, which is unusual. Why do you find it interesting?

Colour is not one of my formal aspirations but still I think it’s very important – we need to accept it more or we are going to live in a very beige world. Colour is about mood – it can be happiness, sadness, it feeds emotion, which is why children are very close to colour. Other designers don’t do it because it’s a risk; I make mistakes and wonder if a piece is right or wrong but I think it’s our responsibility as designers.

Constance Guisett Article

Spin carpet, 2013

Has having children changed your vision of design?

I confess it didn’t change my aspirations or way of designing too much. You realize that things must be more robust and stronger or that sharpness on a coffee table is a bad idea, that sort of thing. But I am the same person. Something that did change my attitude to design was doing hotels for Accor – I learned about contract desires, questions of the market, materials strength, all of which changed the way I design. Having children? It changed the way I work – but not design.

Constance Guisett Article

Accor Suite Novotel reception area, 2015

Your Vertigo lamp has become iconic yet remains very affordable. Is this important to you?

When you design objects it’s always a dilemma. Either you design and make objects in France and it’s expensive and for special people – and I respect that and work for French design companies. On the other side I think design should be more affordable. Everyday things should be well designed and I am fed up with things that are not. So I try to do objects for companies that are not expensive. I’ve done an oil diffuser and backpack for Nature et Découvertes, a desk for La Redoute – these things are cheap and open to everyone. Some designers are not comfortable with the idea of being mainstream but I like the concept that anyone can buy it. Chantilly makes me very happy – it is made in France but it is affordable. I changed the way I designed it to make sure it was cheap and I was happy with the way it worked.

Constance Guisett Article

The Flamingo desk, made for La Redoute, 2015

What was the genesis of Vertigo?

It’s actually one of the first objects I ever did, as a student. I was looking at small spaces with a lot of height and thinking about intimacy: intimacy is not about having four white walls but shelter. It doesn’t have to have a strong presence – just something big and light. It’s so popular it’s escaped me and is living its own life!

Constance Guisett Article

Guisset’s iconic Vertigo pendant lamp, 2010

What inspires you?

Nature, movement, light… Movement is the most important. When I design I feel an object’s rhythms and that’s how I approach its proportions. Grace in general, and delicacy.

What will 2016 bring?

I have about 50 projects including a scenography, a big installation of industrial design and my own exhibition at MUDAC in Lausanne. I’d love to do a restaurant! Why do so many restaurants look the same when you can do so much with lights and atmosphere? I could really do something interesting!

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