Design's grand dame

Renowned for her minimalist elegance, Andr?e Putman's vast influence on the design world has just reached Dubai's shores. By Charlotte Butterfield

Andr?e Putman.
Andr?e Putman.

Born in Paris in 1925, Andrée Putman could easily have become an aficionado in the music world, rather than design as she excelled in piano at the Paris Conservatory before choosing the visual arts as her vocation. Originally a design journalist, then a stylist, Putman really made her mark on the interior design industry with her launch of 'Ecart International' in Paris in 1978, which specialised in promoting twentieth century modern furnishings.

She has since designed retail spaces for fashion heavyweights such as Karl Lagerfeld, Yves St. Laurent, Thierry Mugler and Cartier in addition to turning her hand to hospitality design with her renowned concept for Morgan's boutique hotel in New York. In addition, the eponymous Putman Hotel opened its doors in Hong Kong in June 2007, cementing Putman's expertise as a commercial interior designer.

Her bulging portfolio also includes the interiors of Concorde for Air France, museums, film sets and an ever-expanding list of design items and products that include textiles, carpet, furniture and most recently a piano! She has recently seamlessly glided into the realm of residential design by designing the interiors of Abyaar's Acacia Avenues in Dubai. Commercial Interior Design talks to the designer that has been called the 'Grand Dame of Modernism' and credited with being one of the twentieth century's most influential and interesting designers.

How did your transition from writing about design to actually doing it happen?

Step by step, little by little, my friends introduced me to incredible people and these relationships opened new doors for me. I was in the world of print but I was already looking for something more. It was only after many experiences of interior design that I was recognised as a designer. I worked for friends as an amateur, of course for no profit.

It has been said that the French have an innate style - why do you think French design has gained this reputation? And do you agree with it?

It is funny that this idea has never crossed my mind, but you are right because regarding my career I started without knowing a lot. Sometimes, courage is needed to make a decision which could shock some, but which turns out to be the right one. And I am not talking about the temptation of surprising or shocking people for the fun of an idea - one shouldn't intimidate others.

I believe this is true in life, and I also believe my work reflects this very much. I have often seen design work, or proposals, which were striking but for the wrong reasons and with the wrong intensity. After all, it comes down to one simple idea: harmony. I know it is ambitious to try to define harmony, and will not attempt this.

Your own personal style has been described as 'luxurious' and 'modernist' - what do you think about this and how would you describe your personal style?

First and foremost, luxury is about freedom of choice, being oneself above all else, especially when one goes beyond conventional rules. To me, luxury translates into infinite attention to detail. I would say a feeling of freedom and simplicity sometimes almost hiding elegant details that you notice later in time. Having a good reputation provides protection but I believe more in surprises and warm atmospheres rather than a strong definition of what you call 'personal style'. I like the idea of being irreverent and free.

You have designed many retail interiors; what are the main principles in creating a successful design for a retail space?

I am now familiar with retail. It is always complicated because of the client's fear of big mistakes, but hopefully I have only achieved successful designs. To design a space, fittings, objects, I think the most important thing is to be attentive to others. It is a form of respect; one must avoid at all costs the temptation to impress, to intimidate, to shock, no matter how strong it is. If human beings do not feel in their element in the concept that has been designed for them, if some brilliant but poisoned theory goes against them, it becomes like a pretentious hymn: it is a failure.

You have been hailed as the original creator of ‘designer hotels' - what do you have to say about this?

I never understand the relationship of these two words together. Our hotels try to attract a modern clientele, who are sensitive to style and innovation, over-indulgent, and in the mood for a total change. At no point, however, has the designer tried to give the feeling of a bourgeois interior. In a hotel, how is it possible to feel as if you are not 'staying at a hotel', but rather a traveller well received, without the illusion of being at or away from home? Enjoy a certain strangeness, an atmosphere, unexpected details and happy surprises. This reflexive approach is mindful of a friendly hospitality. It really guides me.

How do you jump from designing textiles and furniture to boutique hotels?

As I could not find the ideal table taps, (glass, crystal, etc.) I decided to accept many proposals that were offered to me. Through licences, I produced everything needed for a house like carpet, wood furniture. One wouldn't exist for me without the complete program. Everything helps other things. The number of jobs and activities are complementary. The architect and the interior designer can not work separately, they have to talk.

You have recently been involved in designing the residential designs for Abyaar's Acacia Avenues, how did this union come about?

We were approached by Abyaar specifically by the Vice Chairman who is a fan of our work and we discussed the issue and there was instant agreement. We had a mutual wish to create something spectacular and it was a chance for me to contribute and take part in the exciting and ongoing story of Dubai.

What was the design brief for this project and how did you execute this?

We were told that this project was all about the ultimate in Luxury Lifestyle and for Abyaar it all started from the interior design and then worked outwards rather than the common opposite way. Abyaar made it clear that they wanted its customers to feel, see, and sense something totally different, something they never experienced before in Dubai. As you know that is quite tough to accomplish in Dubai but I always like a challenge, it gives me enormous energy and that's why we were chosen!

What is next for the Andrée Putman design empire in term of projects and product launches that you have lined up?

We just achieved a dream house in Miami for a daring couple. In a few months the brand of Anne Fontaine will be on a beautiful space in Manhattan on Madison Avenue after two launches in Tokyo and Paris and we have even just created a piano for Pleyel!

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