Behind The Design: Inspiration Trips

We sat down with Polly Dickens, Creative Director of Habitat, to talk about why designers look to Paris for inspiration.

You went to Paris earlier this year, can you tell me why you went there?

We primarily travelled to Paris to attend the Maison & Objet trade fair. We also went to look at stores in Paris, these included La Trésorerie, Merci and Le Bon Marché. Clare [Askem, Managing Director of Habitat] and I had a good day seeing the shops to get an idea of what’s going on.

What season were you working on?

We were working on, unbelievably, Autumn/Winter ‘17! We work 18 months ahead so, at Habitat, you have to keep 3 seasons in your head: the season we’re trading now, the one that’s coming up and the one after that. So, to put it into context, we’re back into Christmas again. I’ve been doing this all my life and it’s still a shock!

How does going to Maison et Objet help the design process?

At the show, we were looking specifically at trends. We’re not really there to look for new suppliers. A certain amount of our Christmas range however is bought from our existing producers, whom we will see at Maison & Objet.

So, I’m looking for things like colour, technique, material and any kind of general directions that may help inform what we decide to do going forwards.

White and grey plates

Anything specific you can divulge?

We saw colour trends, glass finishes, glaze references, hand embroidery techniques and upholstery shapes. These findings will be translated into the strands of our ‘orientation’ document.

What is the orientation document?

It’s really an inspiration pack, because it happens before design. It informs the design of the season. We produce one every 6 months, very much in conjunction with the buyers. They will decide on a kind of shopping list for the season and we work together to make sure the designs produced are, first of all, what the business requires in terms of price, range and material but, equally, in terms of trends and direction going forward. Every Tuesday we have a meeting and the designers present their sketch work and we agree together, as buying and design, how we’re going to progress it. That applies to colour and pattern as much as product design.

What I have seen at Maison & Objet will be absorbed into the orientation document for AW17. This was presented in April and for the 4 months after that there will be a design process, then development trips in August and September to review samples.

Did you find anything that really excited you?

There’s a company called Asiatides who I’ve worked with in another life and they always have a wonderful collection of oriental, Asian inspired product with a contemporary twist. The owner, John Charles Chappuis, travels constantly, developing exquisite pieces often using traditional crafts.

Traditional crafts

They have a huge stand which they put together in such an exciting way. They have nothing to do with Habitat really – it’s ethnic and vintage-inspired and very decorative – but it’s a wonderful place to visit and to absorb something completely different. It’s always a stand where I like to linger.

Other things that caught my eye were an ikat sofa at Missoni. The trend section was called ‘Wild’ and there were some beautiful handmade masks there. There was also a distressed, overdyed flokati rug.

Black and white patterned sofa with colourful cushions

And once you hit the shops, what did you find there?

Merci is well known and is always talked about. It’s the way they put things together; they can mix contemporary, vintage, ethnic. They were doing a whole thing on health and fitness. How they get their collection of products together I don’t know! They had all these witty and extraordinary bits and pieces all to do with fitness, all well designed and funky and interesting. They’d displayed them on blue ping pong tables so when you looked down from above it looked so striking. It was a lovely thing to admire as it was so unexpected.

Le Bon Marché is lovely because they stock incredibly beautiful, top-end ranges. It’s been re-done in the last couple of years and I’ve known it for a long time, through visiting every year. It’s always had a wonderful food hall, but now it is just unbelievable. There’s really nothing in London that’s anywhere near it. You could go mad in there! In designing the new Tottenham Court Road store, notably the lighting department, a lot of the inspiration came from visiting stores like Le Bon Marché and La Trésorerie. Inspiration is everywhere!

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