Although the idea of reinvention has been around forever, it’s only within the past few decades that remix culture has come into its own; that is to say, we’re living in a time when boundary-breaking, mix-and-match mash-ups—across disciplines, places, and times—feel the most relevant. When I look at Émilie Voirin’s D’après Collection, I can’t help but think about this distinctly 21st-century, archeology-as-invention approach. Just as a DJ composes by sampling, D’après Collection takes iconic Western design forms—chairs by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Gehry, Verner Panton, Eero Saarinen, and Michael Thonet—and reinterprets them through humble materials and handcrafted techniques associated with the East. While the one hemisphere has traditionally placed the highest premium on originality, the other carries a reputation for flagrant copycatting. Voirin’s project spans both worlds while bringing about something new.
Voirin was first inspired to produce the collection in 2008, while attending a workshop in Beijing for her Master’s studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. There she befriended fellow designer and classmate Jérôme Nelet, and the pair collaborated on reimagining the Eameses’ famous LCW Chair (1953), swapping the molded plywood for rattan. They wanted to see what would happen aesthetically, structurally, and proportionally when hand weaving tries to replicate the work of machines. “The interpretation added a new layer of understanding when looking at the original masterpieces,” notes Voirin. “For me, it’s important that aesthetics go hand in hand with the backstory. Concept feeds aesthetics and vice versa.” The D’après Eames was first exhibited at the Ambiente Fair in Frankfurt later that year.
Following the successful reception of the first collaboration, Voirin branched out on her own to create a full collection, adding three more reinterpretations, namely D’après Panton, D’après Gehry, and D’après Thonet (all 2008). Five years later, she introduced D’après Saarinen (2013). Just like D’après Eames, each of the new additions replaces a design icon’s innovative-at-the-time material with rattan or bamboo .
Voirin’s bamboo take on American architect-designer Frank Gehry’s corrugated cardboard Wiggle Side Chair (1972), for instance, exaggerates the expressive, sculptural, organic form of the original. D’après Thonet, meanwhile, modeled after Michael Thonet’s No. 14 Café Chair (ca. 1859)—one of the most successful products in the history of industrial mass production, according to Vitra Design Museum—mirrors its antecedent rather directly. And the low-fi rattan of D’après Saarinen achieves what Eero Saarinen’s state-of-the-art, 1950s Tulip prototype could not: his intention had been to create a chair in a single material, but the technology was not there yet when he conceived the design.
D’après Panton is the most impressive reinterpretation from the collection, both aesthetically and structurally. Vanguard Danish designer Verner Panton was passionate about plastics and other new materials, which he exploited to achieve vibrantly colored, biomorphic forms inspired by Pop Art. His iconic Panton Chair (1960) was the first cantilevered chair made from a single piece of plastic, and Voirin’s version in earthy rattan beautifully complements the design’s gravity-defying twists.
Voirin’s material and structural experimentations position her work firmly in the Western design lineage established by the Eameses and the other modernist visionaries, but her engagement with questions of originality could only have come about in our current globalized world as seen through the lens of the designer’s travels to Asia. “When I was in China, I was struck by how reproductions are often made without much respect for original materials and proportions,” notes Voirin. The collection’s original name, Madeinchina, was intended as a comment on counterfeiting as well as the country’s excessive reliance on cheap labor and products for export to the Western world.
By reproducing and reimagining such historically iconic and beloved designs, Voirin runs the risk of being criticized for eschewing originality. However, with this collection, Voirin transcends certain culture-bound notions like “timelessness”—proving not only that standards can always be remixed, but also that our perception of what is contemporary is in constant flux. “Design is like a time machine," Voirin says. “It uses bits from the past, bits from the present, and propositions for the future. Reinvention across borders is blurry, but there are distinct trends and changing ethics when it comes to production. Most importantly, I think it’s about adding a new context with new parameters, materials, and thoughts.”
Voirin's work has been exhibited in prestigious museums all over the world, including Paris’s Fonds National d'Art Contemporain. D’après Gehry and D’après Panton are part of the Design Museum Neue Sammlung’s permanent collection in Munich, and D’après Saarinen has been acquired by the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Rachel is a California native who's currently in Berlin getting her Master's in Lit. In the rare moments when she's not reading and writing, she's on the hunt for Berlin's best craft beer. Her passion for travel has inspired great adventures—around the world and at home in her kitchen.
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