Sebastian Conran talks about his recent collaboration with Japanese makers
One of the highlights of January’s MAISON&OBJET Paris was the Gifu Collection created by Sebastian Conran. The project brought together a group of 10 makers and manufacturers from the Gifu prefecture of Japan with the London-based designer, and the results are frequently fascinating. ‘I just got a phone call one day, saying “we’d like to come and see you”. A party of three people arrived with examples of some of the products from the area,’ Conran explains, when I ask how he came to be involved in the project.
This initial meeting was followed by a couple of reconnaissance trips. On the first, he visited 30 potential collaborators before whittling his list down to 10. By the second, he and project leader Jonny Freeman arrived with what he describes as ‘sketch designs, loose ideas, just basic approaches to find out more about what we would do. It was very much balls in the air. What we wanted was a consistent pair of eyes, but it shouldn’t feel like they’d all contributed to a range. Each maker had their own product.’
The companies they worked with ranged from Jyusengama, a small three-man pottery in the Tajimi region of Gifu, to Kai Industries, a global corporation renowned for its cutting tools. And each maker required a different approach. Jyusengama, for instance, produces an extraordinary crystalline glaze. ‘We wanted a very simple-looking product, so that the glaze would be the hero,’ says Conran. ‘We’re not looking at the form, it’s just a canvas for the glaze.’
Others, meanwhile, were pushed into unfamiliar territory. Ozeki, famous for the paper lights it made with Noguchi, had never worked with timber before; traditional Masu box-maker Ohashi Ryoki has produced trays, caddies and a knife stand aimed squarely at the western market with its finger-jointed technique; and Washi paper manufacturer Kaminoshigoto created a range of quirky notebooks, which include both gold- and green tea-infused paper.
‘It’s very much a collaborative effort,’ concludes Conran. ‘Creativity comes from everywhere. It’s our job to edit or curate the range.’