Interested in “disturbing the status of things”, Gilles Caffier makes objects that seem to defy the limits of the materials from which they are made, from leather-covered ceramics to sea-urchin-like vessels covered in wooden spikes. Born in France and graduating in textile and fashion design, he began his career in high-end fashion, and the parallels with avant-garde couture clothing, rooting in research and experimentation, are clear. Here he explains more about how he works.
How did you get started?
I studied in France and moved to Tokyo when I was 22, working for different companies in textiles and fashion. I decided to work on my own six years after, creating my own textiles and fashion studio; I moved to product design two years later.
How does your fashion background inform your product design work?
They are related, of course – lines, textures and colours. My fashion life taught me a lot, especially from living in Tokyo in 1985…
I have always created or planned whole collections; in them I am creating a mood that represents what I feel. All the pieces I create are connected to each other and could be set up in many different formulas, which is the same process as fashion. Interiors need deeper research, somehow, as you plan for pieces to be timeless.
Are there overarching themes or big ideas that you are exploring?
I work mainly alone and I don’t need many people around me; I am quiet and need space. The themes are the ones I find, or the ones I search, and study. This a quiet, personal way to go. I have changed and moved, but I always keep in mind the different steps of my career and use them to confirm my character.
What inspires the forms in your work?
I have a reputation of being a good “mixer” – of design, functionality and materials. I have also a world vision which is mine, then I mix these elements of life. I am attracted by materials nature can offer, accidents of nature, scars. Elegance is in anything.
Do you start by discovering a technique or material, and work out a form that will suit it – or do you start with form and then think about what material would suit it?
I am a good observer and it can take a long time for me to work with materials or techniques. It has to be a story to create things unexpected, and this takes some effort as well. I always work on many pieces in the same time, as it’s important to coordinate these different elements, so the lines, materials and colours come out naturally in a good balance
Are you self taught in any of the processes that you use?
Yes, in many cases: I think that I create gaps, differences, which make pieces work together. Experimentation is necessary, and it requires permanent research and effort. I started working with ceramics many years ago, and found I could make ceramics look like something else… that’s what makes me feel that there is a way to disturb the status of things, which interests me.
What have been your biggest challenges?
To still have energy to express myself continually, to share things with my team, to work in difficult conditions sometimes, and to be able to create anything from nothing.
What part does technology play in your work – do you design and make things by hand, or use digital means?
We use our hands a lot when working with ceramic, leather and wood, but we sometimes use some technology too, to complete pieces. I am open to working with new technologies, but it’s always difficult to approach that world when you are from a different world, that of an alternative artisan.
What have been some of your memorable commissions?
I worked on some commissions when I started, such as a vase for Donna Karan, a series of marble pieces for Calvin Klein, and ceramics for Harrods (in the 2000s). I had the opportunity to be ‘exclusive’ to a few concept stores, such as Joseph, Brown’s, Corso Como and Link. It all shows my work’s connection with fashion.
I will make bespoke piece or customise existing ones to fit a space. My market is mainly interior designers, architects, hotels, and private properties, all around the world.