Design as a second life. After studying Political Sciences and Marketing Management, Alain Gilles went on to work in the financial world for J.P. Morgan. But one has to live his own life. So, thanks to the moral support of his wife, he went back to studying industrial design in France. He assisted Xavier Lust in his creations, but was eventually hired by Quinze & Milan before graduating. He worked for Arne Quinze for two and a half years as designer, developer and project manager on several high profile projects for world-renowned architects and editors. He opened his own studio in 2007 in order to pursue his own dreams and develop his personal approach to product design, furniture design, and art direction. He has since started to collaborate with several international editors such as Qui est Paul?, Urbastyle, Galerie Gosserez, Buzzispace, Bonaldo and Casamania. Born in Brussels, he has lived in Maryland, the south of France, and is now back home living and working in Brussels.
Some things that have either had a direct or more remote influence on my perception and drive to design…
1. Silly pictures 1 (plane interior)
That is what my friends usually say, when they have no clue what I am taking a picture of… In most case they do not understand what it is I have seen that could be nice and worthy of a picture! I get a lot of my ideas when I am walking down the street or driving on the highway… and, of course, when I visit different places or other countries because the details are fresher, newer. Sometimes, it is not even the picture that matters so much, but the idea or concept that I saw. I don’t like drawing, so as use my camera as a notebook. For me, it conveniently replaces the small sketches that people would usually do to remember a concept, a vision. In my “formative years,” I use to take slides… not very convenient at this time… now I can just use my iPhone!
2. Silly pictures 2 (shop window)
These quick pictures are all about remembering a concept, a color, a texture, a shape… or just an atmosphere. What is funny is that I don’t really take that much time to look back at them… but they are there somewhere in my mind because I have taken the picture. This way of doing date back to the time when I was living a different life… when I was not in the design world yet. Since I had no chance of realizing what I was thinking or dreaming about, I feared I would forget the idea, hence this frenzy to take all these pictures that where no more than a Post-It to remember the concept or thought.
3. Blake and Mortimer comics
Being from Brussels, I was raised on comic books. After all, Belgium is the country of Tintin, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke and plenty others… the country of the “clear line” as people have defined it. My mother even used to read comic books to me when I was a child and couldn’t read yet. Among those comic books, “Blake and Mortimer” has always had a special place in my heart (written by Edgard P. Jacobs). Their adventures are set in the 1950s, and even though it very much depicts the world as it was then, it is always slightly surreal… today we would say retro-futuristic. The author really uses a unique color palette in which the colors are not always true to reality. The vivid memories of these colors combinations have been translated into the choice of colors on the Big Foot table for Bonaldo and the very recent Collage Tables — where colors that are not generally used together are next to one another. But I also like comic books such as “Yoko Tsuno” or more recent ones like “Sky Doll” usually for their graphic sense, colors and atmosphere.
4. The movie Playtime from Jacques Tati
Tati is a French director that has only made a few movies during his whole career, but just about all of them have become cult movies. Even though I had seen images or billboards of his work, I only discovered him very recently. But when I saw Mon Oncle (My Uncle) and Playtime I got the feeling that his visual universe and graphic sensibility was very close to what I liked and was playing with in my head. His two best know works are a critique of the post-war modern lifestyle that is still very present in Western societies today. He envisions a future with modernist buildings, houses and furniture where all people are very much alike in their dark suits and where the people are pretty much alienated by the technology surrounding them.
Some of these modernist visuals he uses are very close to the work of architects like Oscar Niemeyer who designed Brasilia, or Richard Neutra. These and the architects they refer to have clearly influenced me when I created the BuzziBlinds room practitioner/movable screens for Buzzispace. As far as movies go, I could have also picked Edward Scissorhands from the great Tim Burton and his depiction of American suburban life and his out-of-this world choice of pastel colors…
5. 3D sculpting…
Since drawing is not my strong point, I start very early with the modelling of my concepts in 3D (I started design too late!). So, in a way, I sculpt the products right on my computer. Just as if I had a mock up in front of me, I turn around the product… go under and above and sometimes even lose sense of the scale. I either see the product in full or in wireframe and of course all these experiences give me new ideas. This is what happened when I created the Tectonic tables for Bonaldo which looks very much like a wireframe model. It is also thanks to 3D modelling that I was able to experiment and conceive the Big Table for Bonaldo, or else I would have never been able to conceive those twisted legs by just playing with folded metal and wood. It also acknowledges to the fact the tools, or method we use can also have an influence on what we created… and in this case, the reinterpretation that the vision in 3D modelling tools generates.