How Alexander Lamont revives the gilded age of Art Deco through literature, design and craftsmanship

British-born furniture designer talks about his ideas behind sophisticated designs and how he imbues the sublime beauty of Deco style into modern day living.

Surprisingly enough, you can tell a lot from a name, especially in the case of Alexander Lamont. The name of this British-born designer has been associated with the ideas of luxury furniture designs, refinement and craftsmanship for decades through his eponymous brand. His visions and aesthetics have enabled the Bangkok-based brand and Thai craftsmanship to be globally recognised with the luxury clientele from across the world. How could he do it? At the Sunday Salon event to highlight the new store concept at Gaysorn Village, we sat and talked with him to learn more.

Art Deco style has inspired your work so much over the decades, what are the aesthetics in that particular time that capture your interest?

“Art Deco is a huge movement. It includes structures like ocean liners and the Empire State building. My inspiration comes from a tiny group of designers who created things of sublime bravery and beauty. Brave because they went in the opposite direction from where they had come from. They changed how we live through their use of light and space and minimal design. Some of their pieces are very little known but all were made with exquisite craftsmanship.

My favourites include tiny boxes made from carved shells and little mirrors of oxidized glass. These pieces have changed over time. They exist like rare orchids among so much of the powerful deco or modern world, and I would like to make things that have that feeling of humanity and soul. Of all the incredible techniques and materials available in Paris in the 1920’s – probably more than anywhere else at any other time – this small group of materials (shagreen, bronze, straw, parchment etc) was the ‘chosen’ palette of materials by these designers; Paul Iribe, Jean Dunand, Andre Groult, Clément Rousseau and a few others.

I wanted to work in these materials not just because of their selection by these wonderful designers but also because they all have a provenance that goes much further back than the deco period– literally to the bronze age, Edo Japan, 15th century Europe.

I am just one person still working with them, still discovering them and still innovating with them so that I make pieces that are unique but connected to their past while also of the 21st century.”

Speaking about the brand values, you have mentioned Occasion, Intimacy, Lineage, and Nature. Which one is the most important for you?

“These brand values are not a hierarchy but a framework for the different ‘essences’ that underpin the things that are important to us. Together they create a balance and depth to the things we make and the world into which we imagine them living. They also come together and interact. So nature supplies materials and also inspiration. Sometimes that becomes something of great intimacy and delicacy. Sometimes its something more public and entertaining. Our lives are lived in private and public and we face the world in different ways in these different spheres. Most important is drawing from feelings about these spheres to find deeper, more obscure ideas that create more unusual things.”

Can you define the phrase ‘Growing old with grace’ in your design?

“By this, I mean that beautiful natural materials, made in a good environment by people who enjoy their work have good ‘bones’. I can see what will happen to shagreen or straw or parchment in 100 years by looking at the furniture in the Musée des arts decoratifs or the Musée Guimet in Paris or the V&A in London. They have often had repairs but they have changed in a very beautiful way; their skin has a lustre and patina from the age that is impossible to create.

‘Soul’ is a big word to use for furniture but try standing in front of the shagreen Anthropomorphe cabinet by Andre Groult in Paris and tell me that you feel nothing.

Compare this with synthetic materials. They cannot be repaired and they dull and yellow quickly. Something like resin stinks during manufacture so I don’t think anyone enjoys the process of making or polishing it – all the time wearing breathing apparatus.”

KP: Explain your designing process. How do you transform ideas and inspiration into objects?

AL: Inspiration is like a flame that connects something physical (a shape; a shadow; a light effect; a feeling) with something internal (a memory; an idea). Anything can suddenly come together and be brought alive in this way like the flick of a switch. From this connection comes sketches that try to capture the idea in a form and this leads to further sketches and technical drawings and models and prototypes and reviews and finally something that I feel can go into production and be shown.

Please share your vision towards sustainability. Do you believe that luxury lifestyles can be sustainable?

“I don’t think a luxury lifestyle is sustainable for the planet or for society if luxury means consuming more than we need or creating constant waste. Personally, I buy things rarely and very carefully.

As a furniture designer, I have used materials that are made in a clean and non-polluted environment with people who are taught careful ancient processes and are then expected to find satisfaction and pride in their work. We are not making things in a pressured, high-production way. The materials have been used for centuries and can last for centuries.

In my view, a well-made piece of furniture is a far more sustainable and sensible purchase than something made poorly that will be thrown away and need to be replaced.

It’s the difference between a well-made leather show that can be re-soled and re-sold and a cheap rubber flip-flop. There are a lot of rubber flip-flops floating in the oceans along with all sorts of other plastics. I use shagreen that is the skin of the stingray. This fish has been an important foodstuff in SE Asia for centuries and still is here. It is much more affordable for people to eat than seabass, salmon, shellfish and most other fish. Like prawns and lobsters, the skins are inedible but in the case of the stingray, in certain ports, they are not thrown away and are preserved and used. The main problem with stingray is when it is tanned for use in leather. Tanning stingray is a hugely polluting process using heavy chemicals. Our skins are air-dried and hand-filed. No chemicals are involved.”

Can you name your five favorite books?

“Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo, A Time to Keep Silence. Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Levelling Sea by Philip Marsden, and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West.”

Visit Alexander Lamont new flagship store in Bangkok at 1st floor Gaysorn Village.

More information: www.alexanderlamont.com

Images: Courtesy of Alexander Lamont

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