THE REVENGE OF ART NAIF

Byline: Alison Beckner / Laurent Folcher / With contributions from Miles Socha, Paris / Gabriella Carrubba / Courtney Colavita, Milan

PARIS — From dinosaur-print dresses and pasta-shaped chairs to adorable, toy-like cars, design suddenly seems like child’s play.
After a decade dominated by high-minded modernism and slick minimalism, cutting-edge creators from a wide range of design fields are taking a more lighthearted approach. They’re turning out furniture, interiors and other objects that are colorful, simple and happy, conjuring up carefree kindergarten days.
“I am so tired of clean lines, pure geometry and minimalism. It bores me,” said industrial designer Karim Rashid, whose furniture and objects could best be described as blob-like and whimsical. “We have exhausted these modernist notions. I need to make people’s lives surprising, poetic, beautiful and alive. Modernism is dull and not human.”
Dutch designer Richard Hutten, a key exponent of the Droog Design movement that helped put humor back on the industry’s radar in the early Nineties, said his goal is to create objects that support personal happiness.
“It’s not about being less serious, it’s about enjoying more — the good life,” he explained. “And the good life is not products that show how successful you are, but products you can really enjoy with your friends and family.”
Hutten said the new chair by Jerszy Seymour for Covo, unveiled at the recent Milan furniture fair, exemplifies the trend. He called it “smart, humorous and really fun.”
Most designers said the toy-like aesthetic first surfaced in furniture design. Early proponents include Marc Newson and Tom Dixon, both part of Cappellini’s stable of designers. Curiously, both referenced pasta in their works this season. At the Milan fair, Newson showed chubby chairs resembling rigatoni noodles folded in half, while Dixon crafted a divan intricately weaved of metal resembling a tangle of spaghetti.
“This trend is gaining ground now because people want to spend more time at home and are bored with a decor that is too contrived,” said Giulio Cappellini, designer and chief executive of the design firm bearing his name. “Most of all, they want to live in a cozy home that is joyous, a bit mix-and-matched and comfortable. They want pieces that express a sense of humanity.”
Up-and-coming Paris industrial designer Koray Ozgen charmed visitors to the Milan fair with his “tipsy” tray — reminiscent of a playground swing set, his flat steel vases resembling tiny pillows and his tray-stool combo that can be turned to create four different, playful objects. Ozgen said there are two schools of design today: the slick and elegant products of the global mass market and an emerging group of independents wishing to express sentiment in their designs. The latter school is a counter-reaction to the sober, no-risk designs of the likes of Christian Liaigre or Armani Casa, he said.
“This trend is mainly a mix of retro and a reaction to ‘cool minimalism,’ which is now mainstream design,” agreed Paris-based graphic designer Giorgio Martinoli. “It came out of a need for soft and happier shapes.”
Martinoli said the iMac computer is the ultimate example of the trend in that it what the first time a lighthearted, colorful, toy-like style was applied to a serious device. Today, examples of the look can be found in far-flung places, from the “Romper Room” furniture in the trendy new Costes Bros. restaurant, Etienne Marcel, here, to the fashion runways.
For example, Bernhard Willhelm, who has a consistent knack for charming, whimsical and often adolescent designs, showed childlike dinosaur prints in his fall collection. “Fashion is not serious and you’re supposed to have fun with it,” he reasoned. “If it makes you happy and it makes you smile, that’s always a good way to start the day.”
Even Nicolas Ghesquiere, the acclaimed designer of Balenciaga, said he’s been inspired by the snap-on plastic clothes of Playmobil figurines. The toy brand has also influenced the typefaces in many magazines recently, according to Martinoli. Yorgo Tloupas, a graphic designer and creative director of the new car/fashion magazine Intersection, said consumers find childlike designs reassuring. “Getting into a super-minimal Fabien Baron flat is quite a stressful experience,” he said. “It feels like an isolation cell.”
Tloupas finds fresher designs like Renault’s tiny Twingo, what he calls the ultimate toy car. “It has such a nice ‘face,’ with gentle eyes — even the name sounds like a bouncing rubber ball,” he said. “It still puts a smile on my face every time I see one.”

Editor’s Note: “Design” is a monthly feature in WWD covering all aspects of design, from architecture to consumer products, store design to visual merchandising.

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