He trained as an architect, but Frédéric Ruyant doesn’t do buildings, preferring to design pieces for chic clients or display in top French museums.Trish Lorenz tries to keep up with the busy Paris-based polymath
At a time when specialism is increasingly the norm, polymath French designer Frédéric Ruyant is an interesting exception. Uninhibited by the self-imposed boundaries of disciplines, his work spans graphics, product and interiors projects. He has created stamps for French postal service La Poste, furniture for high-end brands such as Ligne Roset, interiors for retailers including Galeries Lafayette, and art commissions for museums and collectors. His client list reads like a who’s who of French brands/ Moët et Chandon, LVMH, Jean Paul Gaultier, Baccarat and Lancôme.
Originally trained as an architect (he claims there was no university specialising in design when he finished school), Ruyant graduated from the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris, in 1987. His first commission was to create furniture for a private client and he’s been working in design ever since. ‘I’ve always been focused on objects and the relationship between those objects and space,’ says Ruyant. ‘You have more control in design and there’s a faster turnaround to the projects. With architecture, you’re continually in development, you rarely see an end result.’
Ruyant works and lives in Paris, but is nothing like the stereotype of a smart Parisian designer. Casually attired, crumpled even, he’s self-deprecating and manages to be both passionate about the art of design and seriously laid back. He jokingly calls himself ‘an architect who doesn’t design buildings’.
‘I created one building, a pharmacy for a village in Africa,’ he says. ‘It looks like the kind of house you draw as a seven-year-old, two windows on either side of the door. But I have a mounted picture of it in my office to remind myself that I did create a building once.’
Ruyant, however, has no hesitation in describing himself as an artist. Alongside his varied commercial work, he rigorously devotes half of his time to personal projects which, while design-led, are inspired and created for expressive rather than commercial needs. ‘I always say I’m an artist who has taken design as my way of personal expression,’ he says. ‘I need to spend time on my own work. There’s no real choice; I’m driven to it.’ A number of his pieces have been bought by France’s National Fund for Contemporary Art and can be seen at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and in private and public collections around the world. And while his personal work informs and develops his commercial projects, that’s not its primary purpose – nor is it always a straightforward process. ‘It’s easier to design for someone else,’ says Ruyant. ‘It’s always much easier to create when it’s not in the image of yourself. It’s a question of managing and getting rid of your ego, which is difficult because design is very much involved with self-image.’
In both his personal and commercial work, Ruyant says he’s inspired to create objects that that are firmly of the moment while also referencing the past. ‘I think it’s important to acknowledge the time in which we live, the culture of now, but a big part of my inspiration comes from looking at the links and connections between objects and childhood,’ he says. ‘I like to recreate the imaginary world which we live in as children through my furniture. People are attracted to my pieces because they evoke common memories.’
Much of his work has a playful quality, including his latest collection for Ligne Roset (out this September) – a series of coffee tables that fit together in multiple, puzzle-like combinations. Tea Pavilion, a piece in his Wood collection and currently on show at the Ozz Gallery in Paris, is a high single chair designed to seat several people, with a Wendy-house feel, while his Running sofa, for the Peyroulet Gallery in Paris, resembles a comforting hand. Ruyant is also willing to experiment with materials and forms – his perfume bottles for LVMH, for example, look like hi-tech audio systems, subverting the category’s penchant for the feminine.
This year Ruyant is busier than ever. Last month saw the launch of his own-brand limited edition range of Néos vases. He has created interior concepts for French coffee shop chain Coffea, which will roll out across 40 stores nationwide over the course of the year. A rug collection for specialist Toulemonde Bochart launches in September, as does a series of products for French homeware brand Eno, which he describes as ‘ironic, humorous but functional objects for the bathroom and kitchen’. He is currently taking part in a group exhibition at Parisian store Via and a personal project will be on show at the city’s Tools Gallery from January next year. Ruyant claims it will mark another departure. ‘It’s in stark contrast to anything I’ve done before,’ he says. ‘I’m experimenting with new materials and deconstructed abstract forms.’
It’s a career that proves that ideas and talent transcend boundaries, and Ruyant provides inspiration for all designers who have the urge to try something new.