Monkey Business

by agwelch

Profile of the vibrant Spanish designer Jaime Hayon for New Design 124

There’s a worrying moment just before Jaime Hayon takes the stage at a London Design Festival event hosted by BD Barcelona. The ceramicist, artist, and furniture designer (and I’m sure there are more titles one might add to the list besides) mentions to a friend his reluctance to speak for too long saying: “it’s boring to listen to designers.” Not necessarily a ringing endorsement for his upcoming ‘In Conversation’ slot.

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Jaime Hayon with pieces from his Showtime collection

Nevertheless, neither he nor the audience need to have been concerned as Hayon’s enthusiasm proves infectious as he shared with the room (decorated, naturally, with work from throughout his career) his colourful and playful approach to the business of design.

Hayon was in London for the city’s Design Festival this September to celebrate ten years of collaboration with the Spanish design brand BD Barcelona. The relationship between the two is one of those great matches between designer and producer, with BD’s style allowing Hayon space to indulge his effervescent creativity in delivering pieces that straddle the boundary between art and design.

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Showtime Cabinet

This expression perhaps finds its apogee in Hayon’s Showtime collection for the brand. A range of pieces for the home inspired by classical Hollywood musicals sees Hayon playfully rejecting the notion that form must slavishly follow function. The Showtime Cabinet is a fine example: aside from its bright colour options, the cabinet might at first glance appear to be a fairly conventional piece. However, cast your eyes to the legs and you witness Hayon’s unique sense of fun and frivolity: every leg is different from the next as though pinched at random from another item of furniture.

Alongside a sofa, armchair, side chair, and table, the Showtime collection includes a range of Hayon’s ceramic works. These vases have a certain sculptural quality and reflect Hayon’s keen interest in fine art. “I see these pieces as little sculptures,” he says. “With BD it has always been a relationship where it was important to make something that involved storytelling. My BD stuff is more on the border of the art world, where there is more freedom to do crazy things.”

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Work for Haagen-Dazs

Although much of Hayon’s output does show this artistic and sculptural sensitivity, he demonstrates an industrial designer’s attention to detail when it comes to materials and their qualities. “Design is like cooking and a material is an ingredient for the final product,” he comments. “The behaviour of ceramics, of crystal, of metal: every one has something unique to offer. Every material becomes something you can work with to improve the quality of what you are making to make it a little more interesting.”

Hayon explains that for him the creative process begins with sketching; his sketchbook is rarely far from his grasp and his typical response to a brief, he says, is to straight away draw “about nine different things”. Although Hayon’s Spanish identity is meaningful to him, travel is also a significant inspiration; his Monkey Side Table, for instance, is a twist on furniture he saw often in South Africa that featured monkeys as servants.

“I thought ‘Wow, poor monkeys, always devoted to service!’,” he says. “I decided I was going to do a monkey, but this one is not sure whether it wants to serve you or not. You should have seen the faces on the people at BD when I first suggested the monkey!”


Monkey Side Table

Despite initial befuddlement, the Monkey Side Table, which is rendered in architectural concrete, has proved a popular piece for BD and the monkey has even emerged as something of a motif for Hayon, reappearing most obviously in his range of Monkey Mirrors for Galerie Kreo as well as cheekily springing up elsewhere.

Indeed, Hayon’s reputation, broadcast and enhanced by the success of his relationship with BD Barcelona, has earned him the opportunity to spread his creative wings into many areas of designs. He has recently created quirky ice cream cakes for Haagen Dazs and a range of limited edition timepieces for the watch brand Orolog (look closely at the face and you may well see that monkey smiling back).

“People are beginning to look for my style and I am becoming a brand in myself,” comments Hayon. “When I introduce a product with a partner, having a personal signature makes it easier for people to say that you are the right guy to work with.”

One definite element of brand Hayon is colour; throughout his career the designer has chosen to use vibrant, bright palettes (it might not surprise you to learn that an exhibition of Hayon’s work was entitled ‘Mediterranean Digital Baroque’). “One of the first things I realised [in my design career] was that people were often taking themselves too seriously,” he says. “How many square sofas can you see on the market? Do we need any more grey? Colour and the use of form are open doors to happiness: spicy colours for a spicy guy.”

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Showtime ceramics

“Yes, design needs to be functional – we are trying to make nice things and make them functional as much as we can,” he adds. “On the other hand, design must, especially for designers like myself, bring stories to life. Absolutely I’m an industrial designer – but once you know how to make things you can play with them. If you sit on my chairs you will know they are functional, but I try to bring something else to the pieces which gives a certain uniqueness.”