We are gladdened to have recently been featured in Luxurious Magazine, our interview covering topics from inspiration to luxury brands and innovation:
Sebastian Conran is internationally recognised as a design innovator and has held notable positions including teaching at University of the Arts London and Royal College of Art, as well as being one of the founding trustees of the International Design Museum. During the past six years, he has dedicated his time to building a five tonne sculpture crafted from the authentic nose of an original Concorde plane. We caught up with him to find out more.
LM: What are your primary sources of inspiration?
SC: I am inspired by everything around me, but in particular through conversations I have, cycling to work, traveling abroad, flea markets/brocanté, emerging technologies, sports equipment and exhibitions of art and sculpture – Brancusi and Boccioni especially. One thing I do notice is that I rarely get inspired when sitting in front of a computer screen. I believe you can’t go through life watching the world just with a pair of Google goggles on. When it comes to the online world and social media, I do find Twitter useful for finding out what others are thinking and discussing. I am also inspired by those I have met throughout my life. My greatest inspiration is people such as Scottish sculptor and artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, inventor and engineer Alex Moulton, and designer and creative Michael Wolff, who have all acted as mentors, and of course my parents who have set a benchmark for success! Although it is important to be aware of trends and the zeitgeist – as Josiah Wedgwood once said: “Fashion is more important than merit.” However, personally I strive to lead rather than follow.
LM: Your sculpture ‘ICON’ is based on the nose of a Concorde aircraft. What were your thoughts behind the design?
SC: I was aiming to create a work of beauty and consequence that reflected the intersection between culture and technology. The result turned out to be a supersonic sculpture that seemed appropriate to be called ‘ICON’. When thinking about the design of ‘ICON’ I wanted to highlight the different dimensions through a combination of mirrored and matt surfacing, fully showcasing the shape of the design. The highly polished steel base on which it stands, reflects an iconic image of the nose and its surroundings, basking the structure in light. The reflections change constantly as one walks around the piece, providing the observer with several different perspectives of the piece. Although my core work is as an industrial designer, which is trying to marry the visceral human emotional to the rational ‘form follows fabrication & function’, ‘ICON’ is a celebration of the intersection of art and science, which to some extent is what the Concorde aeroplane became to represent too. This ethos of emotional-meets-rational is a light-motif of my career, particularly more recently now that the medium of culture is becoming digital. It is so important we harness and harvest available technologies and create what will be in effect a New Enlightenment. I believe this intersection of the liberal arts and technology is key to enhancing the experience of human life.
LM: ‘ICON’ is valued at £12 million. What are the primary components which give this work a particularly significant value?
SC: This valuation was originally provided by the insurance company prior to us putting the sculpture on display at Royal Ascot racecourses. It is based on a number of factors including scarcity, provenance, precedent, resources expended, risk involved, quality of design and craftsmanship and most importantly the result, which is a five-tonne, seven by three metre stainless steel sculpture.
As with all art, value is subjective and intangible. This value of £12 million is also relative to what similar works might command, which begins to make it look somewhat of a bargain.
LM: Which luxury marques do you/have you worked with?
SC: During my career I have worked on many areas in the luxury industry including a range of hand-crafted leather travel goods with a motoring flavour for Connolly, the interior of McLaren Automotive road supercars, laminated-steel expert-quality super-sharp chef’s knives for Chroma that have particularly well thought-out handles, Moet and Chandon silver and crystal glasses and a Philip Treacy bottle stopper as well as an anodised aluminium and cedar wood travel humidor for Pleades that takes 15 large cigars each individually sprung to avoid damage in transit. I also completed the interior design of luxury 65 ft yachts for Sealine, a centre of excellence for Rolls-Royce Aerospace, where the brief was to create the feel of a James Bond film as well as various pieces of consultancy for Moulton Bicycles and The Conran Shop. One of my most interesting projects was to design the interiors and customer experience for British Airways’ last Concorde fleet, making the development of ‘ICON’ a full circle moment for me and one that I am very proud of. The challenge with Concorde was to design the ultimate in luxury, all the while being confined to such a small space.
LM: What does luxury signify for you personally and does it heavily influence design or your way of thinking for certain projects?
SC: The quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, once said: “Simplicity is the ultimate in sophistication,” and I very much agree. To me luxury is not about excess or extravagance, but doing and making things in the finest and most beautiful way possible, often painstakingly by hand. For example, to the eye, ‘ICON’ is a very simple structure, yet it is incredibly elegant and complex in its design. The creation of this piece took over six years, so this project was really a test in patience, perseverance and hard-work and the polishing alone took over 60 days to complete. In another era, my motto might have been ‘In Simplicitate Elegantia Est’ or ‘Elegance lies in simplicity.’ However as we can see with the creation of ‘ICON’, this can be a lengthy process and can also be incredibly complicated to achieve.
LM: Are there any high-end products, which represent particularly ground-breaking innovations for you (e.g. superyachts, watches etc).
SC: I have always found that the problem with buying the latest innovation is that very soon it can become superseded, which is always disappointing. Personally I tend to go for classics that I know will last such as the 2005 Wally Yacht and Tender, the 1965 Lockheed SR71 Blackbird plane, a Bell 47 helicopter, a 1930 type 47 Bugatti car, and a 1975 Ducati 750SS Corsa motorcycle. I appreciate items that are still highly functional but were once massively innovative for their day, such as the 1938 Minox camera; 1972 Rolex Submariner watch and of course, the 2013 Apple iPhone 5.
LM: And about you Sebastian, what are your biggest luxuries in life?
SC: For me, the biggest luxury in life is having the time to work on things I really enjoy and lovely people to share it with. One of my luxuries is working in a spacious, creative studio with lots of light, as well as having a large well equipped workshop with a car lift. When it comes to my home life, my luxury is having a nice spacious home with a 65 ft stretch of living space, a 100 ft garden full of fruit trees and off street parking [one of the greatest luxuries in central London]. It’s also an easy walking distance from some terrific restaurants in London.
LM: Do you have any favourite 5-star destinations or hotels?
SC: I have stayed in some great hotels over the years but recently my favourite has been the Wythe in Brooklyn, New York. I am also a big fan of The Bowery Hotel on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Fasano in Sao Paulo (Brazil), The Peninsula in Shanghai (China), The Grand Hyatt in Roppongi (Tokyo), The George V Hotel in Paris (France), and the Gritti Palace in Venice (Italy). In London, my favourite 5-star hotel is the Lanesborough, where I was born at in 1956.
LM: Are you a collector of any high value items (e.g. cars, antiques, watches)?
SC: I am hugely passionate about driving and have previously owned several classic cars from the ‘80s including a beautiful 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB and an elegant black 1956 Fastback Bentley, reputed to have belonged to Elizabeth Taylor. I have also owned several 928 Porsches, a 911, an Alpine Renault A110, and a RS 200 road going group B rally car, fabled to do 0-60 mph in 1.98 seconds. Now I have a Conran limited edition Conran Cube, which I helped design, much more sedate and practical for today’s traffic, but it still wins lots of compliments – especially from tall passengers. Although my motor-cross days are rather over, I still own a KTM 690cc SMC supermoto, a 1956 Matchless 500cc competition scrambler and two 350/450cc ‘70’s Ducati street scramblers. I enjoy working on them myself, and with the Internet this is all much simpler to get parts advice and information. These days my passions are a bit simpler and I focus on the exquisite Moulton Bicycles, which I have seven iterations of and enjoy riding daily.
LM: What is your background and career highlights?
SC: I was born on April 5th 1956 in Hyde Park Corner, London, at the Lanesborough Hotel. After gaining Maths, Physics, and Chemistry ‘A’ levels at Bryanston School, I studied Industrial Design Engineering at Central Saint Martins. An interesting fact is that I gave the Sex Pistols their first-ever booking and subsequently worked with The Clash, designing record sleeves, posters, promotional material, stage sets, T-shirts and clothing. In 1978, I joined Wolff Olins, the leading corporate and brand identity consultancy, and in 1981, I was recruited as head of product design at Mothercare, a collaboration that transformed the appearance and performance of childcare equipment. In 1986, I started ‘Sebastian Conran Associates’, a product and brand development consultancy working with a variety of international businesses to develop healthcare, luxury, and consumer goods, as well as industrial design. By 1992, I started a separate design and manufacturing partnership with designer Tom Dixon. An exciting moment in my career was in 2008 when I was appointed to the Design Council – the UK’s national strategic body for design, of which I am now a trustee. As a passion, I now lecture frequently and am currently a professor of ‘Design Against Crime’ at Central St Martins. I have also taught at The Royal College of Art and have judged many international design awards such as D&AD, Design Week, Red Dot and The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).
LM: Thank you for your time Sebastian. You have given our readers a fascinating insight into your work.