When Jaime Hayon debuted his fanciful bathroom range for ArtQuitect in 2005, the design world swooned. The line’s plasticine-baroque styling and Surrealist joie de vivre became the Madrid-born talent’s signature, and suddenly every manufacturer had him on speed dial. In the three years since, Hayon has churned out chairs for BD Ediciones, shoes and stores for Camper, lamps for Metalarte, figurines for Lladró, furniture for Moooi and Established & Sons, fabrics for Bernhardt Design, a new collection for Baccarat, plus a host of installations and interiors. To accomplish all this, he’s lived the life of a workaholic—scarcely sleeping, always on a plane—but at 35, his priorities are changing. I.D. recently caught up with him at his new home base in London’s Soho.
You’ve become something of a design celebrity in a very short time. How have you handled that success?
It’s a constant learning curve. Everything happened so quickly, and I never really stopped to realize that the world knows my work. It’s hard to get to where I am, but it’s also hard to maintain control of your career, to remain a true person, and to enjoy what you do. You have to question what the point of your life is. I’m a simple person and I like to surround myself with friends and family. I’ve tried to spend the last year thinking about new rules and goals for myself because things were getting too crazy, so now I only travel when I have to, I only work on what I have to, and I only work with clients I feel good about. I’m also doing projects now that last two to three years on average, whereas before it was two to three months.
A lot of the long-term projects I can’t really talk about yet, but I’m designing a lot of furniture and will be launching a few pieces in Milan for Ceccotti and Established & Sons, as well as the Baccarat collection. I’m completing the interior of a jewelry store in Kuwait and working on a new flagship concept store in Japan for Camper. Later in the year, my new chair for BD will launch. At some point in 2009, my girlfriend Nienke and I will show a collaborative exhibition called “American Chateau,” which I’m really excited about because we’ve been developing it for some time.
Is your practice itself moving in any new directions?
On the one hand, I think we need to make beautiful products because there’s a lot of shit on the market. But on the other hand, I’m starting to feel a responsibility toward artisans and craft traditions. If someone comes to me asking for a million pieces of plastic crap—that’s not for me. Even if they offer me lots of money, there’s no emotion in it. But if someone comes to me with a little family business in the middle of Tuscany with a special ceramics technique—that’s for me. I’m realizing how happy it makes me to work with specialists, to dialogue with tradition and to know that we can provide the seed to inspire future generations, so that these artisans don’t just stop and close up shop.
How has that translated into your work with Lladró and Baccarat, both of which are historical brands that came to you looking for something new?
I think they appreciate that I have a lot of respect for their history and craft. I take a lot of care trying to understand them. It’s too easy for a young designer to come in and turn things upside down just for the sake of change. It’s dangerous to try that, and it will fuck things up. It’s about finding an equilibrium—you have to immerse yourself in the company and understand everything before you can propose anything. I work directly with the makers to try to evolve their traditional skills.
Both projects allow you to indulge your whimsical, decorative side. But how do you balance that style with function when you’re doing work for companies like Metalarte or BD Ediciones?
I was always confused as to whether I should dedicate my career to fine arts or to industrial design. My conclusion is that I am an artist working in the field of design. I’m a hybrid, but this is accepted because we live in the 21st century, when everything is possible. I like to make things that are playful, humorous, high-quality, sometimes functional and sometimes not, sometimes decorative and sometimes not. My work can morph from something functional and simple into something like a green chicken rocking chair or a sausage rocking chair, which I’m working on now. A really rigid industrial designer will say I’m not responding to the brief! You give them black when they ask for white. But that’s exactly what art does—it tries to play with the materials, engage with emotions, and make you look at something with a third eye.
What are your thoughts on the current Spanish design scene? Is it more fertile now than it was a decade ago, when you were in school there?
Spanish design came late historically. While all of this development was happening in Europe after the war, Spain still had Franco, so when he died in the ’70s, we developed our industries to be very tough and progressive. It’s hard to compete with the big bosses of industry, like Italy and Germany, but in terms of furniture, textiles, carpentry, shoes, and fashion manufacturing, I think Spain is definitely globally competitive now. There’s a lot of industry in Barcelona, Valencia, and the Basque Country. Spanish design is more driven by the heart; it’s probably less qualitative and luxury-driven. But it’s an emerging scene, and the designers there are finally beginning to shape their own styles.
Why did you move your studio and home from Barcelona to London?
I still have a studio in Barcelona with plenty of activity. It operates as an administrative base and a place to meet Spanish clients. I have a technical studio in Italy for prototyping and fabricating. Moving to London was for expansion. My work is becoming more and more international. Clients from the U.S. and Dubai were always asking to meet me in London, so I used to come here all the time, and I like it. It makes sense to be here now.
Are you worried that with the economy in a downturn, your clients are going to take fewer risks?
When something is innovative, there is always fear. Right now, the risks that clients take will definitely be smaller, and they’ll decide very carefully what they want to do. But we’re looking at the positive side of this crisis, because it means there’s going to be less crap. It’s going to be about better decisions and less gambling. People will go for valuable things that have been done with real thinking and have historical value. No bullshit. I’m positive that we are talking about a much more sensitive and much more beautiful movement into the creative world. People are going to start buying more local, more delicate, more crafty. We’ve been seeing hints of this in the last five or six years, but in the larger industry, it’s going to happen as well.
Does the definition of design need to change?
Design isn’t only about industry. It’s changing as a discipline that embraces art, crafts, traditions. Look at how architecture has changed in the past 10 years: Architects are now employed to change the image of cities. Should we appoint Frank Gehry as the Minister of Tourism? The intersection and the evolution of disciplines is interesting to me. It’s in this generation that we’ll start from the beginning again with the acceptance of hybridity. It’s great to be living a part of a new history and witnessing what happens next.
Max Fraser is a London-based design author and curator working across the media of books, magazines, exhibitions, television, and events.
Portrait by Nienke Klunder