A rising raft of éditeurs offers designers an alternate, personalized route to production

New Wave

By Chris Chafin

Jérôme Aumont had the misfortune of a good idea. He was in his early forties, and, after two decades of work as a journalist in his native France, he’d landed a high-profile job as the editor-in-chief of the venerable design and decoration publication Maison Française. By all accounts, he should have been supremely satisfied. But something had begun to needle him.

“I met quite a lot of designers,” he told me recently over the phone, “and I had the feeling that most of the people that were working in the design world had a bad habit of putting nice objects or pieces of furniture on—I’m sorry, I don’t know the word in English. Piédestal? Is it the same?” I assured him it was. He had a vision to create something that merged roles of the gallery, the producer, and the shop: something that would host beguiling yet accessible works of design, but also not intimidate those who might be looking to actually buy something. And the designers themselves could make a living in the process.

What if, he began to wonder, he could bring together great pieces of design done by relatively new designers who hadn’t yet been quite able to break into the high-flying world of global design. He knew many of them from his days with Maison Française and elsewhere. Plus, it was in his nature. “I have always been a collector,” he said, ever since childhood. “I collected shitty things when I was kid, but, yes, I’m kind of an obsessed person.” Perhaps there was some way to marry his obsessive urges and do something productive?

What Aumont built was Collection Particulière, one of a growing raft of design imprints created not by designers, or even strictly in collaboration with designers, but by lovers of great design. These businesses encompass all of the steps of the design process from ideation to final sale and everything in between. The owners work closely with designers to create pieces that fit their singular vision. They may also fill out their collections with previously existing pieces that align with their aesthetics but haven’t yet found a distribution platform. Call them the éditeurs, for their particularly French sensibility. These people are moved by the beauty of design, or a feeling of kinship with young designers, or simply addicted to the joy of discovering compelling new works. They’ve been rapidly proliferating for the past several years.

“When we started this in 2010, we had only two competitors in France,” I was told by Alaric Miaume, part of the team behind Paris-and-L.A.-based Specimen Editions. “Now we have, maybe, 15. There’s been quite a boom.” Specimen Editions’ pieces largely skew to the functional—chairs and lamps that play with classic silhouettes, opening them up or rendering them in unexpected sizes or materials—and Miaume sees himself largely as a businessperson.

“One of the qualities we like [in] a designer is [the ability] to provide not only an idea but also a real project,” he said. “Basically our job is to select a project and turn it into a product.” Specimen Editions looks carefully at the materials a designer proposes using for an object, examines the market for gaps, and makes sure a new designer’s style isn’t in conflict with that of someone else. Only then does the company move forward with a new object. In a moment telling of his ambitions, Miaume mentioned that his company “is not big enough to compete with Ikea,” though he seems to be implying, just by bringing it up, that perhaps that won’t always be the case.

Aumont’s goals are less about business and more about vision. The first piece he ever added to Collection Particulière, launched just last year, was the Balka Console by designer Grégoire de Lafforest . It’s a curious object, a long slender piece of wood perched several feet above the ground on thin, dark legs, with a totally flat top and a bulbous leather sack curving underneath one side, like a pelican’s beak. “For me, it was just the true art of what I was aiming to reach,” Aumont said. “Something between the piece of furniture and the objet d’art. Something very sculptural, very mysterious, because most of the time people don’t understand the way it works when they see it the first time.” He had to have it.

So, Aumont sought out de Lafforest and began a conversation that would serve as the blueprint for much of the rest of his work. He explained the concept behind Collection Particulière, and the two worked together on a series of prototypes until they arrived at an original object to include in the collection (a process that Aumont has since repeated with five more designers). A new piece de Lafforest created is the Bricks Side Table—a slightly puzzling set of three rectangular objects with interior slants (shelves, perhaps?) that can be used in a variety of positions, and that become benches, tables, or bookcases depending on their orientation. And, of course, Aumont now sells the Balka Console. “This is the only time I bought a project that was already existing,” he said.

Margherita Ratti, the mind behind the two-year-old brand Great Design, shares Aumont’s passions for extraordinary objects, especially those that paradoxically combine simplicity and mystery. Her aesthetic is embodied, she said, in a bench by a group of three young carpenters working under the name Perron & Frères. Made out of two thin sheets of found maple that reference the rough shape of the tree from which they came, they are separated and joined by “technology that you cannot see,” she told me. That technology makes Un Banc (2014) a uniquely light and strong piece. It’s the one piece, she said, that she wishes she could bring home with her.

A new project is also a new story, a new beginning, a possibility.

Ratti, also based in Paris, does communications work for architects and designers for half of her day, then opens up the gallery space that is Great Design’s home. What animates her to do this? “I love to be surprised,” she said. She relishes seeing new work for the first time, finding new designers with whom to work, and playing some small part in helping make their dreams a reality. “A new project is also a new story, a new beginning, a possibility,” according to Ratti.

It's clear, for each of these éditeurs, the idea of bringing a personally curated selection of stories to life through productive relationships with designers resonates not just as an innovative and flexible business model, but also as passion project. “It’s a beautiful story,” Aumont told me, speaking about his own work, but in a larger sense, really, speaking for all of them. “Collection Particulière, for me, is the most beautiful thing that I could imagine because it’s my baby. It’s my dear baby.”

  • Text by

    • Chris Chafin

      Chris Chafin

      Chris is a Brooklyn-based writer who's contributed to publications like Rolling StoneWiredFast Company, and The Awl. He'd be flattered if you'd consider following him on Twitter

More to Love