Much of the magic of travel has been lost because of the speed and efficiency of flight, Aurel Aebi, co-founder of the Swiss design firm Atelier Oï, tells me during a chance encounter at the Milan Furniture Fair. “Today you don’t really travel anymore,” he suggests. “You just go from A to B. You get on a plane to go to Dubai and then you’re in Dubai; you see nothing in between.
"In the old days, when you travelled, you stopped, you slept in a hammock, you sat around the fire… you soaked in the atmosphere, you had moments." Aebi wonders whether some of that magic can be reclaimed through the power of design. "Perhaps objects can help your spirit to travel," he says. "They can transport you."
And with this passing thought, Aebi captures the essence of Louis Vuitton’s Les Objets Nomades collection, to which Atelier Oï has contributed.
Objets Nomades is an ever-expanding line of limited-edition furniture, created in collaboration with some of the world’s best-known designers and inspired by travel (in fact, the choice of the word “nomads” suggests something beyond travel – a reference to the art of wandering, of moving from place to place, unencumbered. I suspect it is a reference to the same magic that Aebi has been lamenting the loss of).
Lest we forget, travel sits at the heart of the Louis Vuitton brand. In 1837, a 16-year-old Louis Vuitton arrived in Paris by foot, having journeyed from his home in eastern France. In the capital, he began an apprenticeship with the esteemed box-maker and packer Monsieur Maréchal. At a time when horse-drawn carriages, boats and trains were the primary methods of transportation, luggage tended to be handled roughly – and travellers often called upon specialists to pack and protect their precious belongings ahead of a journey.
After 17 years with Monsieur Maréchal, Louis opened his own workshop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines, and the first Louis Vuitton trunk came soon after. Hundreds of thousands of trunks have since been handcrafted by the brand, and each has a story that is told “through those who order them, those who owned them, and the times in which they were made, as if, once wide open, they are no longer trunks, but albums”, Patrick-Louis Vuitton, Louis’s great-great grandson, has said.
Much like those trunks, the creations in the Objets Nomades collection tell their own stories. Since launching Les Objets Nomades in 2012, Louis Vuitton has collaborated with the Campana Brothers, Patricia Urquiola, Marcel Wanders, India Mahdavi, Tokujin Yoshioka and Atelier Oï, among others. Combining the French brand’s savoir faire with the creativity of these industry stalwarts has yielded exciting results.
The idea of travel is reinterpreted in countless ways – the playful Bomboca sofa by the Campana Brothers is named after the sweets served at weddings and children’s parties in Brazil, and takes the form of clouds and “colourful sea apples”. Mahdavi’s Talisman Table takes its inspiration from the nomads of the Middle East, and features a portable leather-covered base that unfolds like a book, with a removable tabletop. There are hammocks and deckchairs, foldable stools and the Chaise Longue by Marcel Wanders, which the designer refers to as “an unfolding and portable oasis for relaxation”. As he explains: “Three individual modules fit into each other like a puzzle, yet when laid out create a generous chaise longue.” The Bell Lamp by Barber and Jay Osgerby, meanwhile, may look like an old-school transportable lantern, but in fact consists of Murano glass encasing a solar-powered LED light.
For 2018, Louis Vuitton has expanded the Objets Nomades concept to include smaller objects – the charmingly named Les Petits Nomades. These decorative treasures, designed by many of the same creatives involved in the Objets Nomades project, were unveiled at Milan’s Palazzo Bocconi during this year’s furniture fair, in an artful juxtaposition of historic architecture and innovative design installations.
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The highlight of the presentation was a lush field of pink flowers dropping dramatically from the ceiling, each bloom painstakingly formed from leather by Louis Vuitton’s master artisans. For the striking design, entitled Origami Flowers, Atelier Oï cleverly replicated the motifs on Louis Vuitton’s iconic Monogram canvas, with each bloom available in a range of 15 hues. Also part of Atelier Oï’s contribution to Les Petits Nomades was the Rosace vase and Flower Field cushion, which, on a smaller scale, also mimics a field of flowers – this time multihued buds made from folded leather.
To kick off its collaboration with Louis Vuitton, Atelier Oï – which was founded in 1991 by Aebi, Armand Louis and Patrick Reymond (the name is derived from the Russian word “troïka”, a team of three) – visited the Louis Vuitton atelier in Asnières, north-east of Paris. “We saw all the know-how and all the savoir faire. We saw the museum with all the old pieces. And we were really fascinated,” says Aebi.
The idea of working with leather – but using it as a material in itself, rather than just a means of covering other materials – also appealed, since Atelier Oï is a setup that seems almost obsessive about materiality. “In our offices, we have a library with 20,000 different materials. We’ve been collecting all the materials that we’ve found around us since 1991,” Aebi reveals.
“We like to say that we think with our hands. In German, there is a saying: ‘I touch to understand.’ The idea is that you don’t only know something intellectually. It goes from your head, through your heart, to your hands and vice versa. In the end, design is not just a drawing – the form follows emotion. And when you work with these materials, you sometimes feel like it is too much for the material. You begin to speak with the material, in a certain way.”
In this instance, Atelier Oï’s conversation with leather is fluid and uplifting, and leather is transmuted into floral forms that capture the imagination in myriad ways.
André Fu was also committed to transporting users with his first contribution to the Objets Nomades line-up, which was unveiled alongside the Petits Nomades at Palazzo Bocconi. Fu’s Ribbon Dance chair consists of two seats wrapped in a ribbon, to create an intimate, cocoon-like space for two. Most importantly, the seats face each other.
“The first idea that I had was, I really wanted to create a piece that went beyond the perception of an object and becomes a place,” the Hong Kong-born designer and architect explains. “It’s a place for two people to have a dialogue with each other. As you know, we live in a digital age, and nobody is talking to each other any more, so when an object provokes conversation and dialogue between people, there’s something quite magical about it.
“So we imagined this silhouette of these two people, who are so engaged with one another that they are sitting on two cushions that start to float up and this ribbon starts to dance around them,” Fu explains. “Objects have a role in how we interact and engage with each other. They have a role to play and are there to enhance life.”
Aebi agrees. “Good design is when you can capture the interest of someone and you can create a moment. Nice design is not just a dead object, but something that transports you to a certain mood or a certain moment. That’s why I say I like designing moments. Not just objects.”