Design Parade 6 in Hyères

Jean-François Fastrez, Variations on a Kettle © Veronique Huyghe

The sixth Design Parade in Hyères highlights the changing relationship between manufacturers and designers

One Sunday afternoon in July, as the cicadas hummed in the warm summer breeze, Stefan Diez stood under an umbrella pine on the front lawn of the Villa Noailles. Addressing the attentive audience, the German designer, acting as the President of the Jury, announced the winners of the Design Parade Grand Prix, bringing the three-day design festival to an end.

Created in 2006, Design Parade started 20 years after Jean-Pierre Blanc, the Villa Noailles’ charismatic director, organised the first annual fashion and photography festival at the house designed by French architect Robert Mallet Stevens in Hyères, on the Cote d’Azur. While the fashion and photography festival, taking place at the end of April, each year has become an event of international renown, its younger sibling, despite being one of the most pleasant dates on the global design calendar, still has to work on its international reputation.

Consisting of exhibitions, outdoor talks, picnics, book signings, even a pétanque contest, at its heart is the exhibition of ten young designers and the Grand Prix is awarded to one of them. This year, two people shared the prize: French Jean-Baptiste Fastrez and Icelandic Brynjar Sigurdarson (see their winning proposals in the photo gallery). Both were given a one-year research residency at porcelain manufacturer Sèvres, another residency at Marseille’s International Centre for Glass Research, a place at the Vitra Design Museum Boisbuchet workshop, a €5,000 research grant by the Parisian design gallery Galerie Kreo and Sigurdarson is also taking part in this summer’s Camper “Master Class in Master Crafts” workshop in Majorca. Next year, both will be back at Villa Noailles for their solo shows.

What sets this award apart from many others is that it doesn’t just support young designers by promoting the results of their work. It actively connects them to (mostly French) partner companies, research institutions and galleries — that is, it helps them work more, and better. In so doing, it fosters product and furniture design not as an industry destined to the production of context-free, high added-value commodities or exceptional problem solutions, but as an activity concerned with responding to shifting contexts of manufacturing and distribution.

This approach is something that Europe, a continent in a manufacturing and financial crisis, sorely needs. So how are the designers who came to the Design Parade — most of which are European and either work or study in Europe — addressing the needs and wants of the continent’s manufacturers, and vice-versa? How can they bring together traditional crafts, the heritage and savoir-faire of century-old companies, the disruptive impact of new technologies as well as its many possibilities?

A day earlier, in one of the festival’s talks, Stefan Diez earnestly admitted, when talking about his Chassis chair for German firm Wilkhahn, that: “It’s not very efficient to work for five years on a chair,” while adding how his job as a designer is less about designing and more about “coordinating teams.” Sadly, it also too often ends up being about “convincing a lot of people” not to give up on a project. Calling for new sales and distribution models for designers, he cited as an example the discrepancy in royalties he gets from the polyester bags he designed for Authentics, vis-à-vis the Tyvek bags he developed with his wife, Saskia, who sells them online and through a limited selection of shops and makes them a higher percentage on the sales.

Should designers then give up on industry altogether? Of course not. Nevertheless, the polished look of a design exhibition in a Provence villa should not fool students and young professionals that there isn’t a long, competitive, often frustrating road ahead. Diez, who teaches at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, proved wary about this perception — and went so far as saying: “Students who study industrial design don’t take it seriously enough.”

In another talk at the festival, French designers and past Grand Prix laureates Antoine Boudin and François Dumas discussed self-production as a feasible scenario for designers who are willing to bypass the industry and able to make and sell their work. But as their own experiences prove, this tactic produces results that, exceptions aside — such as Dumas’ ingenious Sealed Chair, made with open moulds and an oven — are often amateurish, even naïve.

As Diez announced Jean-Baptiste Fastrez as one of the Prix winners, he said how his project, Variations on a Water Kettle, was “a welcome bridge between the industrially made and the handcrafted.” Combining the same set of plastic and electrical components with different glass, ceramics or plastic bodies, Fastrez’s kettles are disarmingly simple in their use, but in turn suggest endless possibilities for how they can be made, sold, distributed, fixed, improved, given or exchanged. The 26-year old Frenchman still doesn’t know how these designs could make it out in the world, how they can bridge user and context, manufacturing and market. But as Diez himself admitted after the ceremony was over, “Fastrez may not have an answer, but he made a very good question.” It is the lasting support of events such as the Design Parade, its organisers and partners, that can help him find a good answer. It is the lasting support of events such as the Design Parade, its organisers and partners, that can help him and other designers find the answers we need.

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