for the multi-disciplinary designer christian ghion, particularly the cultural assets of the ancient egyptians and greeks are timeless as well as future-oriented. on the occasion of the “nespresso design contest 2008”, where he participated as a member of the jury, the french designer talked to pool about the meaning of design in general and about why he is especially fond of vases.
what was your motivation to become a designer? was there a formative experience in your childhood or did you simply plan it?
no, not at all. after i finished school, i decided to go to university to study law, simply because i didn’t know what else to do. i also thought it would be nice to be an architect, but people advised me against it. they told me it was a difficult job, that i wouldn’t earn any money and that it would be hard to get good commissions. so i decided to get a degree in law, and after five years decided to work as an auctioneer. i mostly auctioned furniture, and gradually that furniture started to interest me much more than law – and so i decided to return to school at the age of 24. this time, i studied design and graduated after three years. i was 27 when i started to work. at first it was a bit difficult, but with time things got better – and that’s how i ended up being a designer.
how does your working process develop? do ideas arise rather spontaneously, or does it require elaborate planning?
it depends on what i’m designing. if it is purely about design, in terms of design for furniture or objects, it happens rather spontaneously. however, if i’m designing a restaurant, i have to put a lot of detail into the planning.
what means most to you – the past, the present or the future?
i think that would have to be the present. i really don’t want to know what will happen in the future! many designers believe they have to think for the future. for my part, i don’t want to plan for the future but for the present. i prefer to consider things that happened in the past. designer philippe starck once said: “the only right way is the future”. however, i think it’s not possible to take this path into the future without taking into account the here and now. sometimes it makes me scared to see what designers are coming up with today. i like to call it a “dramatic situation”. for instance i refuse to design futuristic-looking things that look like cockpits with bathroom and toilet. for me, that’s not the future, that’s just negative.
future doesn’t necessarily have to be totally modern. quite the opposite is true. sometimes i prefer the style of previous times. i designed so many restaurants around the world. when the owner of a restaurant in france once said to me “christian, please leave out the napkins, it’s supposed to be modern,” i said “please don’t!”. when i go to a restaurant i want to find a tablecloth, nice glasses and other classic items like these. in this case, i simply refuse to be modern. otherwise you could just go and put a plastic cup there, or other “bad things” like i call them … i try to preserve small, fine elements and details. for me, that’s just part of today’s culture. after all, it took a long time for these things to develop into our cultural assets. i’m thinking of the cultures of ancient egypt or greece in particular. these were important periods for mankind that have contributed to us becoming more intelligent and educated.
does that mean that you don’t create your things for the future, but do indeed want to change the present with them?
of course i also work for the future, although i’m designing things for the present. for me, the present and the future are pretty much the same thing in this case, because the future is very close to the here and now. i just don’t take into account what people might like in five years’ time or think about what i could create for this time. i think that’s ridiculous. i try to change the present with my objects. however, i don’t want to change things just for the fun of it, because i think if you produce something that’s not better than what was there before, it’s better to give it up. i don’t want to see new styles or modern things if they’re not better than the things of today.
what object or thing brings you the most happiness in life?
i love small objects and design. for instance, i’m absolutely crazy about vases. i’ve got a huge collection of them because vases are my favourite design objects. i love to design vases, no matter if they are made of glass or other materials. i’ll explain the reason behind my passion to you: at first, a vase is only a dead object for me. when i think back to my childhood, i think of my grandmother. she always hid her vases in a cupboard. she only took them out when someone brought her flowers. however, i think that these objects should be visible all the time. i want a vase to be something special, something interesting – no matter if it’s empty or filled with water. i don’t want it to be hidden. for me, it is really interesting to work on an object that actually has no purpose when it’s not filled with flowers. i want to change it, so that it can also have an effect on its own – like a small sculpture. another reason why i love vases so much is that they are a coffin for flowers. as soon as you pick a flower, it will inevitably die in a matter of days. so to speak, a vase is the last resting place for flowers.
what a nice thought …
i’m fascinated by this coexistence of something beautiful like a flower in bloom and something very sad like the flower’s death. i like to think that i’m preparing the funeral for the flower – and that’s why vases are my favourite objects.
what are your hopes, wishes and dreams for the future?
a couple of years ago it was one of my dreams to design a restaurant, a thing which eventually became reality. this experience taught me many things. right now, i dream of designing a hotel. not a big hotel. for me it would be perfect to work on a small, private hotel in paris, with no more than thirty, forty rooms …
what does design mean to you at this point in time, and how do you think it will change in the future?
design is very important and at the same time unimportant. if for instance someone asked me if i saw myself as an artist i would say no. and even if i was an artist – „artist variété“ in french – i would only be a pop singer, nothing more. sometimes i try to tell myself that it is important. but at the same time the world wouldn’t collapse without design. there are so many things that are more important. design is like the cherry on top of the cake, not the cake itself. we should always keep this in mind …
how do cooperations such as the “nespresso design contest”, in which you were part of the jury, come about?
i got to know the nespresso team a few months ago. they approached me to be a member of the panel. being part of the jury involved a two-day stay in paris, which was really interesting. now they asked me to design the new capsules and a complete set of accessories for their coffee – it was a fruitful encounter, so to speak. i like the nespresso team; of course they always want to sell more nespresso machines … but they’re doing a perfect job and are very open towards new things. it really was great fun to have taken part in this project.