INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
Amy Knight talks to Christophe Pillet

After a period of self-confessed waywardness at art school in the early 80s, Christophe Pillet started his own design practice in 1993. Now, with a portfolio that spans products and furniture, interiors, architecture, scenography and art direction for some of the world's most prestigious brands, it is his interest in everything other than design - from music to modern literature - that has shaped his most interesting projects. At the launch of his new furniture range for Modus in London, Christophe reveals why he's a 'tourist' in his own field...

Your products have a certain feeling about them; they are often emotive and very refined - even minimalistic - but not in a stylised way.
I've always loved and believed in simplicity... there are ways to express things that are complex in a very simple way, and I like doing that in my work. 'Simple' for me doesn't mean minimalistic, because I'm not looking for an aesthetic of simplicity, just a nice way to be understood - an easy way to be understood. If our work as designers is about talking to people, telling a story, then I imagine the more simply you express your idea or story, the easier it is for people to understand.

Is your work about storytelling then, in a way?
I have not exactly stories, but concepts or meanings - things to say. I believe things could be better, things could be different, and this is why I'm doing more chairs; because if I thought that I had achieved the 'right' one, the definitive one, I wouldn't do another one because I wouldn't have the necessity to do it. When I'm doing a chair, it's just one word in a sentence, one element in the building of the idea or environment where I think we would behave the best way...

Do you think that your approach has changed in the past twenty years?
I hope that it's changed and I do everything I can for my work to change. What I like about this job is starting almost from scratch every day, and in every project. I really try my best to do each project as if it was the first. This is what I like, what's exciting - not having to repeat yourself or build a 'style'. But things have changed for sure, because in 1993 design was not really a big thing like it is today... now we have a lot of responsibilities on our shoulders. So it's still very exciting, but it's more strategical and less insouciant.

Do you think that our approach to furniture has changed, as a society?
The everyday world of lifestyle is very conservative, because you're projecting your own evolution in your furniture. When you're buying a sofa it's not like buying a jacket or a coat - it's almost the same price, but we don't have this relation to 'building your world' when buying clothes. But you are building your existence when you’re buying furniture. Furniture is one of the very few things that you can give to your children, that they will then give to their children... there is this patrimonial value and after thousands of years that is still here as a culture.

What is the concept behind your Sezz chair range, which launched earlier this year?
This chair was part of the design for a hotel in St Tropez - it's in an area I've been living in for twenty years, so it's my home. I wanted to have the sort of 'substance' of holidays in the south of France, and instead of making a nice coordination and choosing the colour of the carpet and the colour of the wallpaper, I started to think in a more Impressionistic way, asking myself what is the substance of the emotions of a holiday? You have the sound of the waves when you're lying on the beach, the sound of a fly in the afternoon when you're having a nap, the dry texture of the hair and the smell of your skin when you are sun-tanned - it's something very specific which relates to you this idea of holidays.

Are you influenced by artists or writers?
I am influenced by everything. And of course I'm influenced by writers, by artists, by musicians... Not only in an emotional way, sometimes it's more in the structure - the articulation, the syntax - which helps me sometimes in 'writing' products. I'm also influenced by musicians - not only the music, but in the way they manage to produce this contrasting evolution... how it happens that people believe in a thing and evolve in another direction, then come back - but when they come back it is with the intensity of another experience, which makes it different. This is also why I like certain filmmakers - not only one film, but also the oeuvre, the way they're building something.

I think if you go away from what you're doing and absorb and experience things from other perspectives - whether you’re a writer or an artist or a designer - that makes for the most interesting results.
I didn't actually expect to be a designer at the beginning. I wanted to be a musician... I went to art school in the south of France and everybody was an artist or a 'communications' person, and I was neither... I was going to the beach with girls and windsurfing, then playing music at night, but then I had to invent myself a status - a personality. At this time it was the beginning of the 80s, and I decided to be different from the others, to be a designer, because it was a bit creative but more pragmatic maybe. But it was a game; it was for fun. So I started 'faking' becoming a designer and people started really believing that I was one, so one day I had to do it! I had to really design things and not just try to copy, or just talk. The reason I'm saying this is that I still feel that I'm a bit of a foreigner in this field - a little bit like a tourist. And what I love, since this strange beginning, is that I just follow like a curious visitor...