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Interview with Ionna Vautrin, Creator of Le bestiaire

A graduate of the École de design Nantes Atlantique, Ionna Vautrin has successively worked for Camper in Spain, for George J. Sowden in Italy and for Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec in France since 2002. After receiving the Grand Prize in Creation from the city of Paris in 2011, Vautrin opened her own studio, and now collaborates with brands such as Foscarini, Moustache, Kvadrat, Christian Dior, Sancal, Super-ette, Lexon, Serralunga and more. Her work exists at the intersection of industry and poetry, and she makes everyday objects simple and obvious, but surprising. Her works are a gentle and generous presence, featuring organic and geometric shapes, a cheerful and colorful spirit, and an intuitive and functional usage. 

Ionna's beloved costume collection, Le bestiaire, will be displayed at FIAF Gallery through April 2, 2016, as a part of TILT Kids Festival and Oui Design, two new programs breaking boundaries within the fields of art and design. 

Dorothée Charles (D.C.): What had you been doing before you opened your studio in 2011?

Ionna Vautrin (I.V.): I graduated as an industrial designer in 2002. I wanted to experiment as much as possible in order to discover all the different facets of the discipline. So I designed shoes for Camper in Spain, home appliances for George J. Sowden in Milan, perfume bottles for centdegrés, and furniture for the designers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec in Paris. At the same time, I conceived some personal projects, including porcelain objects for Industreal, a young Italian company. 

In 2011, I finally decided to open my own studio. It was just after I won the Grand Prix de la Création de la Ville de Paris (Grand Prize for Creation of the City of Paris) for the Binic light I designed for Foscarini.

D.C.: The Binic light has been a huge success. How did you come to work on this project?

I.V.: I was contacted by Foscarini in 2009. They ask me to consider making a small, affordable light that sparked a "coup de coeur." The Binic drawing immediately caught their attention among various proposals. It is made in a nautical style which draws inspiration specifically from the “manches à air” (windsocks) on the decks of boats. A year later, this small light that looks like a lighthouse flooded the market! It immediately was met with great enthusiasm by the public and the press. This project was a turning point in my young career. After that, publishers, editors, and companies asked me to work on different projects for them.

D.C.: How would you describe your work?

I.V.: It is always difficult to talk about one’s own work...I would say it is an encounter between poetry and industry. I try to design everyday objects in a way that is simple and obvious, yet surprising. I conceive them in a playful and colorful spirit, as a warm and familiar presence through both geometric and organic forms, and intuitive and functional uses.

D.C.: In 2015, the Biennale de St. Etienne invited you to create a project for children. How did you conceive Le bestiaire?

I.V.: First, I imagined a fun and accessible exhibition for the general public. I quickly came up with the idea of a collection of costumes linked by the theme of “animals”, in which each piece is designed by a different designer.

The animal world is fascinating for children and adults alike. Each costume is at the crossroads of graphic design, fashion design and the object itself. All the ingredients are there to develop a rich and entertaining exhibition for the public and the designers!

Each costume is created using basic craft paper on which the artists draw an inventive, colorful, or black and white fur and feathers. Most of the artists chose to interpret Savannah animals, exotic birds or marine mammals; imaginary beasts with diverse sources of inspiration and styles, from hyper-realistic to abstract and expressive.

D.C.: Le bestiaire will be presented in New York at the French Institute Alliance Française from January to April 2016. How did you conceive this new show and the associated workshops and ateliers for children?

I.V.: The exhibition is a small zoo! Each costume stands on two feet, and is held up by a circular base. Visitors are invited to walk around the “animals,” and to take them in from all angles. In connection with the exhibition, a workshop will encourage children to imagine and draw the creature of their choice on a blank costume template. Then, they put on their new costumes, and the festivities can begin! The freed animals roar, sing, meow, buzz, bark, coo, grunt, fly, swim, run, jump...

D.C.: Can you describe a couple of the costumes from the collection?

I.V.: Felipe Ribon created a hyper-realistic, pragmatic rat, for which he photographed an actual rat in a medical research center. His "Ratatouille Uncovered" is an open specimen on a dissecting table. Leslie David worked on a Yeti, a legendary animal which beckons us into imaginary worlds! Based on the principle of Rorschach tests, the "Grizzyeti” has a colorful coat and two protruding eyes. Each costume has its own personality and history. I was fascinated by the diversity and creative design approaches to this project.

D.C.: What are your next projects?

I.V.: I am currently working on several different projects, from industrial to artisanal. A collection of oversized stuffed animals entitled Zoo will be presented by a young Danish company, element optimal. Bosa will develop a collection of funny censers, out of which animals spit smoke. Finally, Lexon will soon unveil a new solar-powered garden light inspired by nature.