My Kachina dolls embody my childhood urge to travel
Kachinas come from North America, where they were made by tribes such as the Hopi as representations of divine spirits. The earliest examples are a thousand years old and made of stone. Mine, which date from the late 19th and early 20th century, are made of wood and decorated with feathers, beads, fur and felt. I’ve been collecting them for more than 25 years, and love them for their very graphic design. They also take me back to my childhood. Growing up in Brittany in France, I always wanted to travel. On my way to school there was a travel agency and I’d often come home with a brochure and start to plan a journey. Most of the places I wanted to visit contained traces of lost civilisations in the forms of sculptures and totems – Easter Island, Egypt, parts of India. These dolls are symbols of that early desire for faraway places.
This Jansen table reminds me of my father’s carpentry
This table, which I bought about ten years ago, was made in the early 1970s by Maison Jansen, a design house in Paris. It has several qualities I love. The first is that it’s an entertaining table: you press a button and it opens and closes, almost like a game. The second is its beautiful shape, like a cut stone. It also reminds me of my father. He was a carpenter and was always showing me the beautiful things he made. Only recently have I realised the impact this had on me. As a teenager I was attracted to open, loud and funny people like my mother. My father was quiet and solitary, always listening to music on his own. I think that’s why I never acknowledged his influence at the time.
I decided to start my own company
because of André Arbus’s lamp One day in 1991 I was on my way to have dinner with my friend Bruno when I stopped at a local antiques dealer. I wanted to buy this lamp, which features a big hand in bronze holding two cones containing bulbs. For some reason the dealer didn’t want to sell it to me. As I tried to persuade him, the conversation turned to my career. At the time I was working for other designers, and hadn’t thought of starting my own business. In fact I had stopped designing shoes in favour of landscape architecture. The dealer then told me about a shop nearby that was vacant – he said I should rent the shop and do my own thing. I went to dinner and told Bruno about this, and at the restaurant we decided we should do it. So it’s because of this lamp that I started my company. Eventually, the dealer sold it to a man in London I happened to know. I bought the lamp from him instead.
The Atmos clock shows the possibilities of creative invention
I was once asked to design a watch for Jaeger-LeCoultre, a company in Switzerland. When they came to me I said I needed to understand everything about making the watch. I went to their atelier and at the end we visited their museum, where this clock is displayed. The person I was with asked me how I thought it worked. I said I had no idea. I thought about the name, Atmos, atmosphere – the atmosphere must be doing something to the clock. It turned out that the clock had no mechanism and no battery. Its movement is powered entirely by tiny changes in temperature. A warming of one degree will power the clock for two days. As a designer I’m always trying to be creative and precise at the same time. The way this clock embodied those qualities was a huge inspiration.
Jean-François Lesage’s Tiger rug represents true collaboration
I got to know Jean-François Lesage, the French embroiderer who made this rug, at auctions in Paris. I have now been working with him on embroidered shoes for years. To work with someone you need to have the same visual language, the same taste, and Jean-François and I have that. This rug he made is a case in point. He lives in Chennai in southern India, and I was visiting his house once when I saw this rug. I love taxidermy, but the idea of walking over a dead animal makes me feel uncomfortable, so this embroidered tiger seemed perfect.
Pyrite inspires designs that are sometimes invisible
I have collected minerals for many years. I often find that when I look at a stone in a shop I see an amazing sculpture, yet when I get home and take it out of my suitcase all I see is a lump of rock. They don’t reveal themselves too easily. You have to light them properly to show them at their best. This is an idea that I try to work with when I’m designing. Christian Dior once said, “I want shoes that can be visible or invisible.” A shoe should be both beautiful and subtle. Not all of my work respects that idea, but I like it very much. Take the red soles of my shoes: sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t.
As told to Simon Willis