‘I’m a beach bum basically,’ confesses the Paris-based designer Arik Levy, whose studio, LDesign, produces work that encompasses interiors, graphic design, signs, furniture and product design. Levy is actually referring to his ideal scenario, which is hanging out in his holiday home in Siphonos, Greece.
Even so, he was no slouch when it came to designing his new Intangible collection of vases, highball glasses, tumblers, ice buckets and lighting for deluxe French crystalware manufacturer Baccarat. ‘When I took on the project, I decided to spend one week in every month sleeping next to the factory,’ says Levy, who wanted to steep himself in the culture of this Lorraine-based company that has turned perfection almost into a religion. Any piece of Baccarat glassware found to have the slightest imperfection is smashed to smithereens.
‘I wanted to really understand the Baccarat artisans’ skills,’ continues Levy, who believes that designers today are becoming increasingly alienated from the design process. He tries not to be sanctimonious about this, however, and says, ‘They often just present a drawing to a manufacturer, then evaluate the prototype and that’s it. I like to understand how something is made. At Baccarat, I wanted to meet everyone on the factory floor and learn to use and programme the machinery.’
Levy – who studied industrial design at the Art Centre Europe in Switzerland, and who has, with LDesign, created furniture for Ligne Roset, Zanotta, Baleri Italia and Vitra – devoted a considerable amount of time to the Baccarat project. It normally takes Baccarat three years to produce a new collection, but with Levy spending so much time in the factory, Intangible was created in 18 months.
Levy’s hands-on approach dates back to his childhood. Born in Tel Aviv in 1963 to Bulgarian parents, he was ‘always inventing things as a child’. ‘I wanted to understand how things worked,’ he recalls. ‘I was given a skateboard once and burnt the wheels. My grandfather said, “Why did you do that?”, and I said, “I want to smell its flavour”.’
The last of these statements is typical of the fanciful way Levy speaks, which is a surprise, given the extent to which this soft-spoken, low-key designer also extols the practical side of designing. Yet in the literature about Intangible, Levy invokes Gandhi, saying approvingly that, ‘He likened the relationship between the means and the ends to that between the seed and the tree, seeing the connection as inviolable and therefore intangible.’
He also waxes extremely lyrical about glass, suggesting ‘This sublime material, that goes from the appearance of liquid to a hardness comparable to that of stone, and through which light moves freely, has totally changed the way I look at sand in Greece, where I spend each summer.’ Such a philosophical justification of design seems unnecessary, especially given that the Intangible collection stands up as chic in a contemporary, sharp-edged way. If the highball or tumbler aren’t featured soon in the pages of Wallpaper I’ll eat my hat – and the collection certainly doesn’t need florid descriptions to be taken seriously.
The pieces, partly made by water-jet cutting, are engraved with bold, geometric, abstract horizontal incisions or leaping swirls. There is also a candlestick that resembles a stack of ice cubes, which Levy likens to ‘apocalyptic architecture’, by which he means buildings that move when hit by an earthquake.
Intangible cleverly straddles two markets – in sharp contrast to the glassware, the idiosyncratic Phantom light comprises a single baroque chandelier arm with an electric bulb that, detached from its normal context as part of a conventional chandelier, looks appealingly surreal. ‘The arms can be suspended individually, or a whole lot of them can be grouped together in any way you like,’ explains Levy, who was first approached by Baccarat when one of the company’s employees saw a show of his work that included the Rock coffee table, which looks like a giant diamond. The idea behind the creation of both the classic Phantom light and the crisp-looking crystalware is ‘to bridge old and new’, according to Levy.
Certainly, the glasses give an insight into what Baccarat is capable of commissioning, despite its reputation as a bourgeois brand. Leave aside Levy’s floridly expressed, chin-stroking thoughts about the Intangible range, and you’re left with an elegant line of crystalware that is refreshingly free of any pass-the-port pomposity.