Design Feature > Doshi Levien
*An Indian By Design Exclusive*
This post is months overdue. Here’s to the very patient Nipa & Jonathan who I am sure had an amazing showing at Milan, and to all the wonderful people who follow Indian By Design.
Purvi Sanghvi, jewelry designer and an ardent fan of Doshi Levien, introduced me to Nipa and Jonathan’s works. The London based design office led by the husband and wife team was set up in 2000 and has since amassed quite a reputation, most recently being awarded Best Domestic Design by Wallpaper magazine for their work – My Beautiful Backside. Their work is distinct, quirky, fun and very usable. The Doshi-Levien portfolio has plenty of Indian cultural bias coupled with a unemotional industrial bent. Something that makes their work truly progressive and modern for me. Their work includes installation design for the Wellcome Trust, interaction design for Intel, insight and design direction for Nokia, product design for Tefal, furniture design for Moroso and bespoke shoes for London based “aristo” bootmakers, John Lobb. In conversation with Nipa Doshi.
> MOROSO CHARPOY
Nipa says: “A range of four daybeds called ‘Charpoy’ marry the skilled workmanship of Indian seamsters with Italian expertise in industrial production. Charpoy’ meaning 4 legs, is derived from the ubiquitous Indian daybed that recurs in several ‘Avatars’ or manifestations throughout the country; as a stringed bed to sleep on or a daybed for ladies to lounge on and conduct their daily affairs.
Nipa says: “The ‘Charpoy’ is made using cotton and silk mattresses embroidered with the Ancient Indian dice game of ‘Chaupar’. The game itself is like chess and led to the ‘Epic’ Indian war of ‘Mahabharata’, when kingdoms and wives were waged as prizes. The textile techniques used for the ‘Charpoy’ are local to the western state of Gujarat, known for its embroidery, applique and mirror work. Each piece has a completion date and the names of makers embroidered on it. This detailed hand work is contrasted with lacquered under-frames, CNC machined in Manzano, a region of Italy that specializes in precision wood work.”
Nipa says: “The idea for ‘Tools of Inspiration’ presented itself during my collaboration with master textile craftswomen in Ahmedabad, India. The women specialise in patchwork, applique, mirror work and traditional embroidery as they sit cross legged on the floor, using very beautiful utilitarian tools like hand forged scissors, thimbles, marking chalk etc. So the idea came, of gettting them to meticulously embroider their own tools on to a pillow. We extended this idea, creating artworks that represent all the simple objects we use everyday and admire in our studio and home. Some of these objects are anonymous design classics from around the world and other objects tell the story of sensual rituals like making Chai, cooking or sewing.
Nipa says: “We took photographs and scans of a selection of objects and transferred them into accurate CAD line drawings on the computer. Each individual pillow is printed on a thick tracing sheet that is then pierced along the lines. The tracing template is then laid onto the fabrics and a solution is applied that filters through the holes, forming a print on the fabrics after which the the hand applique and embroidery begins. After the applique work is complete, the pillow is stitched on a sewing machine and the open seams are hand finished. Handmade fabric buttons are sewn by hand on to the pillows.”
> MY BEAUTIFUL BACKSIDE
Nipa says: “‘My beautiful backside’ is a seating collection launched by Moroso during Salone 08 in Milan. Inspired by a miniature painting of an Indian princess in her palace, sitting on the floor surrounded by multiples of cushions, ‘My Beautiful Backside’ collection has a composition of floating cushions in celebratory colours and shapes.
Nipa says: “The use of oversize badges for buttons are displayed on the cushion backs, communicating various messages “Jeweling up” the seating in the way you might embellish an item of clothing. This collection is upholstered using felt and wool, reminiscent of couture English suits. We embellished the wool fabric with graphic in silver and gold foiling, introducing an opulent, ostentatious Indian character.”
> THE UMBERELLA PROJECT
Nipa says: “We have not attempted to re-invent the umbrella, as in our view this iconic structure is as simple and effective as it can be. Instead we decided to emphasise the poetry of the tensile structure and play with notions of visual identity and personality.”
Nipa says: “Ascot is an umbrella perceived as hat with its distorted profile and black and white cover.”
Nipa says: “Parachute has a loop shaped handle that adorns the wrist when not in use and the voluminous orange cover shape appears as if capturing a gust of wind.”
Nipa says: “All handles sculpted by Jonathan are translated into CNC machined, high polished, marble like resins. The development of this project is currently on hold as we are having difficulty sourcing a maker for the ribs. These components that largely govern the design of an umbrella are currently all sourced in China or India, where the minimum production numbers are prohibitive.”
Nipa says: “This installation, commissioned by the British Council, is partly inspired by the shops of ancient but still functioning markets in India. Customers remove their shoes, sit on a mattress and spend time talking to the craftsman about what they need. The objects resulting from this transaction are made with great care and are extremely personal both to the maker and the consumer.”
Nipa says: “The atmosphere of the shops yields a strong impression of having entered a world; the craftsman’s world; infused with unique smell, touch and creative possibility. We created an installation that asks the viewer to consider — or buy, as it were — the values and aspirations we observed in these shops. We created a liminal space between two worlds, Indian and European, imaginary and real.”
Nipa says: “Most Indian households use a rounded terracotta drinking water vessel — a matlo — that cools water to 14° below ambient temperature without refrigeration. Our matlo is a slip-cast version which has evolved to incorporate filtration and could be batch-produced from a mould. we propose it as an environmentally sound alternative to bottled water and electric coolers.”
Nipa says: “The dress is made using 6 metres of fine Mul Mul cotton, hand woven in West Bengal. It is Inspired by the Indian courtesan’s dress with asymmetrical neck line that is discreet yet revelatory. The mul mul cotton is vernacular to a hot climate and is used to ventilate the body naturally.”
Nipa says: “During Salone 08 we also presented a daybed called “Principessa” consisting of many thin mattress layers, the top most displaying a graphic array of objects belonging to a contemporary princess (as if she is preparing for a big night out), referencing the Hans Christian Anderson tale of Princess and the Pea. The objects depicted in this jacquard weave, range from plain utilitarian to glamourous, including a hairdryer, sunglasses, necklace and cocktail glass.”
> TEFAL MOSAIC COOKWARE
Jonathan says: “On a research trip to India, we noticed that Tefal were selling European cookware in a country that has a strong food culture of its own so we proposed the Mosaic range, responding to local food culture in Asia and Latin America. We encouraged Tefal to emphasise the cultural layer in their products as well as the technological.”
TEFAL SMART TOOLS
Nipa says: “A space saving solution with tiny Hong Kong kitchens in mind. We perceived the kitchen tools like a bunch of keys. The clip is designed for ease of one handed use when multi tasking in the kitchen.”
HABITAT FLATWARE AND TABLEWARE
Nipa says: “Swallow was our first Doshi Levien project. Commissioned by Tom Dixon for Habitat in 2000, we designed three ranges of flatware exploring the idea of ‘sensual utility’, emphasising the tactile relationship between materials and the human form.”
> MYTH AND MATERIAL
Nipa says: “Moroso invited us to create an installation for their New York showroom. With an irreverent and spontaneous use of colour and materials, our installation presented the influence of Indian visual culture that informs our work. This work originated from a commission from Silvera, who invited us to create a show on the theme of “Colour and material” for Designer’s Days.”
Nipa says: “Ten rugs displayed throughout the showroom, made using layers of bright coloured felt, were inspired by ‘Rangoli’ patterns. Doshi levien iconography in coloured plexiglass projected overlapping light patterns onto the wall.”
Nipa says: “Principessa, My Beautiful Backside and Charpoy featured alongside Sheesha, a range of mirrors created for the installation. The mirrors are screen printed with enlarged graphic diagrams of 5 ways to stitch mirrors onto textile. The mirrors are said to deflect “Nazar”, the evil eye.”
Nipa says: “The mirrors and rugs were designed specifically for the installation and both designs are now being developed for production due to popular demand!”
> WELCOME TRUST
Nipa says: “We were invited to create a series of three window installations to communicate the history and work of the Wellcome Trust to the general public. Each installation lasting four months was housed in two twelve metre windows on Euston Road. One window was transformed into a stage set, and the second contained supportive and provocative words and statements.”
THE FIRST SET
Nipa says: “The first set in the series was a theatrical ‘Wellbeing centre’, featuring a curious doctor surrounded by his artifacts and equipment – a crystal studded doctor’s bag, a healing dress, amorphous hang-ups, the elixir of life, a stethoscope that can hear your soul and entices you to seek health through self reflection and questioning.”
Nipa says: “The window adjacent to the “Wellbeing centre” read “How are you?” with additional words offering the various nuances of the question. Eg. “How is work?” or “How content are you?” or “Are you eating well?” “Tell me, how do you feel?” “How is your heart and your soul?” We wanted this installation to be accessible and humanist raising wellbeing issues that concern us all.”
Doctor’s Case: Featuring in the ‘wellbeing centre’, this ‘bejewelled object of power or healing’ symbolises the unity between spiritual healing and biomedicine. This universal and plural approach to health and wellbeing is reflected in a collection of anthropological objects at Wellcome Trust. Cast acrylic with embedded crystals.
Healing Dress – This paper silk healing dress hangs on the privacy screen in the ‘Wellbeing centre’. Embroidered band aids in silk with sequins refer to biological living bandages used to heal burned skin.
Medicine Jars – These jars featured in the imaginary Wellbeing centre as potions for the human condition.
THE SECOND SET
Nipa says: “The second set was “Café Wellcome” where curiosity is encouraged. We used a combination of product and tromp l’oeil painting to communicate ideas about curiosity and the funding activities of the Wellcome Trust. The tabletops are spinning Zoetropes with animations inside and the “menu board” displays projects and amounts funded by the Wellcome Trust.”
THE THIRD SET
Nipa says: “The third set in the series, “Sanger’s kitchen”, referred to the Sanger institute in Cambridge, one of the leading genomics centres in the world, dedicated to analyzing and understanding genomes. The Sanger Institute’s programs underpin biological and medical research worldwide and the vast majority of their funding is provided by the Wellcome Trust.”
Nipa says: “Based in the city of London, we are surrounded by small jewel like shops, ateliers, specialist makers and artisans who epitomise fine manufacturing. The trades vary from shoe making, to clothing, saddlery and gentlemen’s umbrellas. The trades people draw upon a reservoir of knowledge learnt through practice and experience and passed on through generations. When you visit one of these ateliers you witness an expertise that encompasses engineering, material technology and fine craftsmanship with an acute understanding of the human anatomy. With the generous support of the Arts Council of England, we created a collection of shoes that demonstrate the creative possibilities resulting from the partnership between design and expert making. Our aim is to find the best makers in the world and combine design with their expertise.
Nipa says: “While spending time with bespoke shoemakers John Lobb ltd., we realised that our ideas needed to grow from an understanding of their processes. Learning about the shoe from a technical and material perspective shaped the design directions. We decided that reinventing the shoe was out of the question and that it makes sense to utilise all the skills available at John Lobb and create shoes emphasise their strengths. We wanted to create a range of shoes that can only be made by John Lobb; a collection that can only be made by hand. The name of the project is ‘Apprentice’. However, unlike the conventional meaning of the word, this collaboration was an equal exchange of expertise.”
Nipa says:”This whole cut green crocodile shoe appears the simplest in the collection, but was in fact the hardest shoe to design and get right. We wanted to create an archetype with a perfect combination of proportion, materiality and colour.
Nipa says: “This design brings an urban feminine identity to John Lobb’s expertise in gentlemen’s shoes. Grey lizard with silver glace kid and black patent toe caps that are stitched under the vamp.”
> In conversation with Nipa Doshi.
IndianByDesign: Why do you design?
Nipa: I see design as a way of life, the art of living. I was very influenced by my grandfather who was immaculately dressed, owned beautiful objects and commissioned art. He was so visually aware and cared deeply for his material environment. Engaging with and reinterpreting the material world, adding new layers of meaning is what I love to do.
IndianByDesign: What brings you and Jonathan together and what drives your work apart?
Nipa: The Royal college of Art brought us together in 1995. It is the opposites that unite us. We have distinctly different cultural backgrounds and views on design that when we work together, we create a hybrid between our worlds. Jonathan’s approach has its roots in industrial design, technology, materials, form and manufacture. I bring a strong graphic language and sense of visual culture with an ability to tell stories and communicate through design.
IndianByDesign: How do you perceive India and Indian design? What strikes you as being the most interesting piece of Indian design you’ve seen?
Nipa: I love anonymous design in India, the beautifully formed stainless steel utensils from Ahmedabad, The old post office stationery, chequered and red cloth covered ledger books, all the places where you see an unselfconscious, intuitive and probably untaught design sense.
IndianByDesign: Everyone’s going back to the roots and recreating the old to create new identity. Kitsch is no longer a fresh language. What do you see evolving to form a new modern Indian aesthetic?
Nipa: What is kitsch? I think it’s a definition that is misappropriated for much Indian visual culture by people who don’t relate to a celebratory and rich visual language and are looking for an easy definition for Indian Aesthetic. I don’t like the idea that people automatically associate a bad taste movement with Indian visual culture and it is easy and lazy to write off popular culture in this way, when a lot of it is really sensitive, skilled, humorous and culturally sophisticated. Actually, most of what is perceived as kitsch is not at all. With that said, the language that interests me, is that of the hybrid. The visual language that cannot be placed or defined. The language that talks about plurality of global culture and ideas.
IndianByDesign: The next generation will grow into a world more complicated than the last, will travel more, will be more displaced, will see more cultural mixes. What role do you see design play in keeping identities and keeping the world as one as well?
Nipa: You could say complicated or rich depending on how optimistic you feel about this one. Displacement equals exposure and for me this has only been a positive thing both personally and for my creativity. Travel, globalization, displacement and creativity all bring people together.
IndianByDesign: The Moroso Charpoy and My beautiful backside. What were the first reactions to them?
Nipa: The Charpoys were launched in 2007 in Milan and we were mobbed! I think the success of these pieces happened on a few levels. The hand workmanship of the craftswomen in Ahmedabad was combined with industrial production of Italy, creating a hybrid. This was then placed into a contemporary design context where you least expect to see workmanship of this level or intensity. The Indian buyers at the fair on walking past the stand, did a double take and were so impressed to see a European brand tapping into their culture in a very subtle way. My beautiful backside is sofa deconstructed. It has cultural reference, fine tailoring, hidden detail, playful and sensual materiality, it defies gravity. Although it is a new typology it is also a very commercial and practical piece of design with many layers.
IndianByDesign: How did Tefal come about?
Nipa: On a research trip to India, we noticed that Tefal were selling French cookware in a country that has a strong food culture of its own. We came home and proposed to them a range of cookware specifically for local food cultures. Six weeks of research involved food writers, chefs, studying traditional cookware and a lot of eating out! We managed to find all the information we needed in London where the special food markets for all the different communities enabled us to do a comprehensive study. Our aim was to create a range of authentic pots that people in the countries of origin would choose to use. The challenge was to retain the practical and visual characteristics of the original cookware, while using new materials suitable for contemporary appliances. A traditional terracotta tajine would blow up on a gas hob and the Indian karhai has metal handles that burn your hands. We wanted to redefine non-stick coating as a prestigious material, moving away from its association with the short-lived and disposable. We wanted the mass-produced to feel custom-made. Each pot expresses a strong cultural identity through material, colour and the variant Tefal marques on the bases – which we also designed.
We proposed the idea to Tefal that advanced materials and production technology are now widely available through out the world and that cultural sensitivity and cultural intelligence are becoming more important than ever as a way to distinguish product brands from one another. By identifying with the practical, social and emotional needs of people, Tefal would be better equipped to design products that are culturally appropriate and that physically communicate their brand’s values.
For this project, we hand sculpted all the handles before translating them into 3D computer data for production. We approach most projects in this way combining the handmade with the industrial and mass manufactured. The results are volume produced products that feel hand crafted and sensual. Our project for Tefal won a design award and has also contributed to our title of “product designer of the year” for the Blueprint sessions, a design culture and architecture magazine.
IndianByDesign: What next?
Nipa: In Milan this year, Moroso are launching a new seating range, some tables using anodised fluted aluminium and glass, some mirrors and rugs. We are currently developing a bathroom range of accessories for Authentics. We offered design direction to Nokia for mobile phones that are due to be launched in 2010. We are working with the Centre Pompidou on a project for their upcoming show “Paris Mumbai Delhi”.
Doshi Levien, based in London UK, is the brainchild of Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien. Their website is a journey into their work, their philosophy and even lists things they find interesting that other people created. Contact: Doshi Levien, 49, Columbia Road, London. E2 7RG United Kingdom Email: mail(at)doshilevien(dot)com
Filed under: Indian Craft, Indian Graphic Design, Indian Interiors, Indian Product Design | 21 Comments
Tags: Doshi Levien, John Lobb, Jonathan Levian, Moroso, Moroso Charpoy, Mosaic, My Beautiful Backside, Nipa Doshi, Pricipessa, Tefal, Wellcome Trust