French Design Master: "I'm a Kind of E.T."

Matali Crasset talks to FastCompany.com about her development as a designer, and how growing up on a farm keeps her ideas fresh.

Matali Crasset

Crasset with a lamp she designed of whisk wires

Matali Crasset is, undoubtedly, one of the quirkiest product designers working today. It's often hard to digest some of her quirkiest creations--which include a coat rack that transforms into a bed, goofy and futuristic interiors, and a "domestic UFO." In her native France, she's something of a national treasure.

Matali Crasset

On Monday, during ICFF, she sat down with FastCompany.com and explained the thought process behind her new line of baking tools for Alessi. A collaboration with famed French pastry chef Pierre Hermé, the tools evolve as a chef's needs change during the cooking process. But she also talked about her quirky approach to design; her early years working for Philippe Starck; and being an "E.T."

So, how did the idea for this line come about?

I knew Pierre for seven or eight years, and we were friends having good dinner together. With him, eating is always an event. And with my husband, we create experimental dinners. So we started working with Pierre, and we made this knife that you can cut and serve food with at the same time. It was this philosophy of only one object for an entire process. I knew Alberto Alessi and when he heard of this, there was a [gesturing to her eye with a flourish]. He proposed to create a range of products.

How did that design process work? Why these four tools?

With Pierre I was more looking at his gestures and how he works and then I proposed some directions. And he selected things he felt comfortable with.

You've always had such a unique eye for form. How'd you develop your aesthetic?

I'm not interested in aesthetics. If you find a logic, the aesthetics are just a consequence. I start by giving intention to an object and I start drawing only at the end. I don't draw to shapes; the shapes are coming from themselves. For example, with the bowl, I just had a vision of one bowl and I wanted to make it more practical. To be two bowls. And I combined them.

Matali Crasset

Unlike other mixing bowls, Crasset's can be comfortably held, but also rests steadily when laid down.

Matali Crasset

The bowl is actually two bowls--it has a smaller depression, for the beginning stages of mixing that involve tiny quantities of base ingredients.

Do you think the sort of limited-run designs that you're known for has a power to influence the larger issues of the day, such as sustainability?

Yes, by giving one object more than one function. And being more selective of the objects that you choose [as a consumer]. Right now, I'm working on a big experimental hotel in the desert in the south of Tunisia. We will have a kind of renovation of the palm trees. It's a place to connect with them.

Matali whisk

The whisk grows: It's base is a smaller whisk, and an attachment can be added to handle more batter. Pasty chefs usually have entire racks of whisks.

What is your dream design commission?

Nothing! I'm working with the dreams of my partners. I'm not the type of designer that wants to change the world. I just want to collaborate and do good products.

How did you decide to become a designer?

I got a revelation when I was 22. I was studying marketing and we were in charge of a launching a new perfume. I wanted to draw the bottle and the packing. And I understood that people would not understand it otherwise. And so I wanted to know who was doing this work.

How did getting a job with Philippe Starck influence you as a designer?

I started working on electronics with Philippe at the beginning of my career. It was a kind of fairy tale. I started very high. It let me float in the river and have very different projects. I had a chance to create for Electrolux, but it's not like it was one big guy telling the young one to do something. But I was aware I could be swallowed by this big personality, and I was working on my own projects in the evening.

Matali Crasset

Her stirring spoon has a rubber edge for scraping the sides of a bowl, and flat sides so that the spoon itself can be scraped on the side of a pot.

So how do you keep your design sensibility independent from what's all around you?

You know I come from a small village of 80 farmers. I am kind of an ET. I had nothing to do with this kind of culture when I was growing up. For me it's easier to break codes because I'm still not inside. The best you can have in a collaboration is to have this outside look. And that's my position.

Crasset plate

Her serving plates can be adapted to any size cake or pastry by removing sections.

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