Odile Hainaut is always looking for design that tells a story—and, as manager of New York's Gallery R'Pure and co-founder with Claire Pijoulat of WantedDesign, she is continually crafting unique opportunities for product designers to showcase their work. Founded in 2011, WantedDesign grew out of the desire for a more interactive and intimate forum during New York Design Week, bringing together manufacturers, designers, students and the public for workshops and dialogue about design. Gallery R'Pure, an offshoot of the consultancy Raison Pure (where Hainaut is Director of Communications), provides the French-born Hainaut with an experimental lab through which to introduce the work of young French and American designers to a wider audience.
How do you find out about new designers?
Number one, seeing them at the fairs during design weeks. The Salone del Mobile in Milan, Maison et Objet in Paris, the London Design Festival and Design Miami—that's one I never miss. You go to meet people, to really concentrate on discovering designers and looking at things. When I'm traveling, I'm always excited. If I come back and I've met or discovered three people, I'm happy. Fairs are key for discovering new talent. You have to be curious.
When I'm traveling, I always take the time to look at galleries, museums and design shows. And I love blogs and magazines. I always buy all the design magazines: Wallpaper, Surface, Ideat, Elle Decor, Metropolis, Intramuros, Frame. I also look at travel magazines in France to see what's happening in the world. As for blogs, I read Core77, Design Milk, Designboom, Sight Unseen, Nowness, Monocle.
Schools are important too. For WantedDesign workshops, we've had a chance to meet students from schools like Art Center College of Design, Parsons, the School of Visual Arts, ENSCI Les Ateliers, ENSAAMA Olivier de Serres, CENTRO Mexico. You learn a lot and you understand a lot about the way young designers are working, what are their interests and how they are looking at the future.
Then, of course, people who come to the gallery or send me work. I take the time to read the e-mails or look at the portfolio when someone sends something.
The Props series by Frederick McSwain—part of the exhibition Off the Grid at Gallery R'Pure last spring
What kinds of design are you looking for at the moment?
I try to be as open as possible, like a blank page. There are more and more students in school, more and more designers. You can have ten interesting chairs or tables on the market, and sometimes there is even too much product. What is interesting for me is when there is something more than a nice design, when there is a personality behind it. A soul.
I just came back from this very interesting fair in the south of France called Design Parade. I love the venue, a beautiful house built by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens. I love the way the exhibits are integrated and play with the decor. There were about 20 young designers, and for one or two it was about more than just a beautiful design. The sensibility is important, the human thing. In the end, design is for people—and it's from people, and that's sometimes what brings the piece to another level. When you feel that there is something special behind it, because it's a special country, a special person, that special story. There is something emotional. When we talk about design, we talk about material, something you touch and live in—but what touches me the most is when you find something that is beautifully designed and beautifully manufactured, yet there is something untouchable.
What's the best way for a designer to approach you?
What I really like the most is when people ring the bell [at Gallery R'Pure] or come to me and talk to me. Show me things. If it's not possible to meet in person right away, send me an e-mail; images and words are very important to me too. Even if it's just a few lines, it's important for the designer to be able to choose the right words to describe their work or what they want to do with their work. Sometimes you receive a beautiful image and the words that go along with it just destroy what they sent. Language is important. You need the right words to describe the intention that goes with the work. In general, we need to improve the way we talk about things.
And what should he or she not do?
Don't send it if you don't believe in it. Spend time. Sometimes designers are in a hurry to promote themselves before really having the right thing to sell or to propose. It's too bad. I think it's important to really concentrate. There is always a way to improve what you do, but you have to believe in what you do, and you have to be really convinced so you can convince me.
Craft System lamps by François Chambard
Can you tell us about a recent successful collaboration with a young or emerging designer?
Off the Grid, the last exhibition we presented at Gallery R'Pure. François Chambard and Frederick McSwain are both based in New York. I've known these two designers for a few years and I really appreciate the way they approach design and collaboration. They didn't know each other before, but having them collaborate together worked really well, and the reception was great. At WantedDesign there are a lot of great designers and we collaborate very closely, but what I'm doing with the gallery is more personal. The year before we had a big group of ten designers working together and this year I wanted to have a small close relationship with the designers, and give them more wall space. It was interesting to give them more room to express themselves and say something, and I really liked the format of two people together.