Photos by Phil Dunlop
Words by Tanja Pabelick

 

Philippe Malouin’s studio is located in the London district of Hackney, found by heading north from trendy Shoreditch until the artistic murals give way to hastily sprayed graffiti, supermarket shoppers wear shell suits and microbreweries are replaced by greengrocers. Some say Hackney is the new Shoreditch, now gentrified to the point of theme-park quirkiness; others have a different opinion. Philippe Malouin, whose meteoric career has taken him from celebrated new talent to one of the foremost designers of our time within a mere decade, has his ­studio in a shared artists’ centre. The Canada-born London resident has amassed numerous accolades from the creative industry including Wallpaper Magazine’s 2018 Designer of the Year. A winding corridor takes us out of the perpetual London drizzle and into Philippe’s studio, filled with the scent of freshly sawn wood and paint. The long room houses a workshop, store-room and workplaces. But not for much longer; Philippe opens the interview by telling us of his plans to move to Shoreditch.

 

 

Let’s begin at the beginning. When did you first discover design and realise that it could be the career for you?

Phillipe Malouin

When I was growing up in Montreal we had a workshop, and I used to love making things there. But apart from that I was pretty rudderless. When I left school, I signed up for a design foundation course where we were taught photography, graphic design and product design, and I was immediately attracted by industrial design. I became a student at Montreal University, where the course taught the kind of industrial design that involves planning gas reservoirs for Bombardier or complex extruded plastic products; projects where we had to think very carefully and rigorously about material and production.

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You emigrated to Europe not long afterwards.

Phillipe Malouin

All the time I was learning how to calculate structural loads and produce technical drawings, I was thinking If I get really good grades, I can win a government grant for an international exchange programme. So I got top marks for a year, bought my ticket, flew away and never went back.

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You studied in Eindhoven, the design school that has been the cradle of many a famous designer but is known for its extremely idiosyncratic perspective on design. What made you choose there?

Phillipe Malouin

First of all I went to France for six months and did an internship. Then I started to work for Frank Tjepkema in Amsterdam, who was designing for the Dutch designer collective Droog at the time. Droog was a bunch of revolutionaries that brought democracy to design. Whether you liked or hated their highly individual aesthetic, every piece from their collection had a directness of form that could be grasped immediately. They created readymades from things you pick up in the DIY store. I was fascinated by all this, and Frank Tjepkema told me, Forget Canada you have to go to Eindhoven. Although the semester had already started, I was able to get an interview at short notice, and got an offer to start the next day. I said yes without even sorting out anywhere to live.

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What do you think makes the courses in Eindhoven so special?

Phillipe Malouin

Eindhoven’s approach to product design was radically different from that in Montreal. Everything, but absolutely everything was taken apart and questioned: why we produce things the way we do and, in fact, why we produce them in the first place. But the central focus was always on the product. Eindhoven today is often different from back then; now there’s a lot of research and exploration, ideas and experiments. It’s a hotbed of anarchistic creative processes which home in on an off-the-wall theme, and the results are then incorporated into a collection of objects. Don’t get me wrong it’s not my intention to criticise this very intellectual approach to the design process, but it’s just not my thing.

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After studying in Eindhoven, you moved to London and set up your own studio relatively quickly. How has success changed your work in recent years?

Phillipe Malouin

Well, it’s not that you graduate and are then immediately transformed from a no-name independent studio into a successful agency. You start off by experimenting. As you gather experience and win a few major customers along the way, you change the approach you take to reach your solutions, and start working more strategically. But it’s still important for us to take the time for collaborations now and then, or to design for galleries like Salon 94 in New York, where we can exhibit artistic or sculptural works.

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Post Office is your second studio for interior design, which you deliberately operate as completely separate from your design studio. Why is that?

Phillipe Malouin

Interior design and product design are two completely different disciplines for me, involving different strengths. One focuses on physical laws, and the other on a system within which people move around and communicate. The two professions are rooted in the same country, so to speak, but have different backgrounds; that’s why I separate them.

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Is your work process-driven, experimental, on demand? I’m thinking here of Press Mirror, for example, which looks like a discovery of form that resulted from an experiment.

Phillipe Malouin

Yes, that’s exactly what happened. We were compressing a piece of metal tubing during work on a different project, and I picked it up and knew immediately that it would become a mirror. But it wasn’t until Umbra Shift approached us and asked about ideas for accessories that it came into its own. We took the prototype down from the shelf and said, Sure, here you are.

 

 

The walls of the tiny studio are crammed with shelves from floor to ceiling. At the front of the studio, larger objects stand like museum exhibits, chairs and tables in various stages of development that reflect the evolution of their form. Behind Philippe’s desk is a shelf full of smaller objects and numerous studies resulting from his analyses of materials and processes. While Philippe recalls how the mirror was designed, he shows off the first prototype.

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