Designer Q&A: Tom Dixon

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With a new Tom Dixon space opening up soon in Hong Kong, we revisit a conversation with the designer at Maison&Objet this past January, when we discussed his latest collection of soaps, how he keeps it fresh and what’s next up in the pipeline. Tell us what’s new at this January’s Masion&Objet?  

Well, what’s completely new is soap and bath, meaning waterproof lamps, washing-up liquids and bathroom accessories. So, it’s soap. But even there we got it wrong because we sent out some washing-up liquid to Americans, and of course it doesn’t exist in America- there it’s called ‘dish soap’, so they were using it in the shower thinking it was bath gel, and apparently really liking it!

Anyway, to get back to the point of it all, we know from our experience doing spas and bars and restaurants and hotels from the interior design perspective that a) we have to specify soap and b) that smells involves the whole interiors. I’ve come to realise that interiors aren’t just about the shape and the colour or the comfort of things, but space is really about the more intangible things — the five senses.

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Take our moss wall for example, which is really an acoustic wall. One the big nightmares of the contemporary restaurant is that you can’t hear what the other person is saying, and it’s one of those things you don’t notice until it’s bad. So, if you go to a restaurant and you smell the bleach from the night before or the morning’s washing up, you’re not really going to enjoy your food. For me, it’s about trying to expand my repertoire as a designer beyond the obvious and trying not to be categorised. It’s quite nice to be a parfumier this season.

It also makes the experience more multi-sensorial.Who did you collaborate with in developing your scents?

Chemists do it. Getting the correct scent and even the correct base is complex, so we worked with a supplier who were the ‘noses’ to help us to get where we needed to be.

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How did you direct and work with them?

The more inexpert you are, the more controlling you get. So, you have to really understand it, but it’s nice to jump into a completely different universe and learn a lot just from a sort of naïve standpoint.

Loads of people do soap, right? But seldom do people do soap and waterproof lights at the same time. And even fewer people do soaps, lights and the bathroom accessories that you find on the bathroom shelves at the same time. So as we grow and become more confident, we’re able to do things that sit in a slightly different context to what other people do, and that’s what the soap is. So there’s the soap and the washing-up liquid, and that’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for 15 years and no has let me, really.

The kitchen is as an important social space. People invest in their kitchens and just like the bathroom where soap has evolved from a more functional element to a more sensual object or an object of desire, in the kitchen people spend an inordinate amount of money on their counters and plates and what have you, but then they just put a bottle of supermarket, synthetic, usually dayglo-yellow washing-up liquid and they really don’t care when they’ve spent god knows how much getting a beautiful bottle of soap in their bathroom. It was just one of those observations you get, and we’ll see.  I want to be a dish soap magnet — that’s my new plan. I’ve tried everything else.

You’re very busy with a whole array of different projects from restaurants and hotels to new product lines. How do you keep it fresh and inspired?

Well that’s it exactly- the sheer diversity of the projects. And then if I get bored I just add another category or two. If anything, I’m more bored of what we’ve done before and more excited about what’s in development now, and that’s the frustrating thing to have keep showing the old stuff. I don’t know, I’m always so dissatisfied with the old.

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So what’s in development now then, what’s coming up next?

Well for Salone, we’ve taken over Manzoni — you know, all the gallery space there and the cinema. And I’ve been sponsored by IKEA, so we’re going to talk a bit about ‘the future’.  It’s kind of inspired by the digital edge and how business is changing because of it. We’re working with students at the Royal College of Art in London, at Parsons in New York and students in Japan and the we have a bed, basically, that can turn into a sofa, and can turn into a sofa system, and can be refolded back into a bed — double bed, single bed, bunk bed. The idea is that you can ‘hack’ this thing, and it won’t seem so disposable but will be something that you take with you forever and convert it into whatever you need at that point in life. That’s the plan.

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