“Classic Nowness”: France at Virtual Design Destination 2020

“All influences show a great sense of freedom in this collection. Art is everywhere, as an approach or as references, and that would speak against this French heritage that loves to set up strict limitations for all fields. This collection of French design is free and joyful.”

– François Leblanc Di Cicilia, curator of the French collection, “Classic Nowness”


“Classic Nowness” is part of the Virtual Design Destination presented by Adorno at London Design Festival, 12 – 20 September 2020. Join us for a tour of the virtual environment and collection with curator François Leblanc Di Cicilia in conversation with Kristen de la Vallière of @sayhito_ on Sunday, 20 September at 10:00 AM BST. “Classic Nowness” is kindly supported by the Institut français du Royaume-Uni and the La France au Royaume-Uni.

Entering into the hall of mirrors, a site rich with classical French aesthetics, we encounter an array of contemporary French design depicting the design scene’s eclectic mix of influences. The opulence of centuries past is visible in the materials used, images created, and overall scale of the setting. Walking down the hall, the collection is presented on plinths which reflect the space – both symbolically and literally in their mirrored surfaces. Bright colours and unique shapes draw us to each piece, answering the classical elegance of the room with an almost ironic view into the explorations of the contemporary French design scene. Our vision of French design is shifted to encompass this entire scene – the historical and the contemporary, playing off of one another and evidencing the ever-growing space within which these designers work.

“Classic Nowness”, an eclectic French collection curated by François Leblanc Di Cicilia, shows an unconditional love for materials, sometimes twisting the tradition; shapes and images follow almost at the opposite of a decorative journey to focus on design. Though the aesthetics presented in the space may not be those that designers today adhere to, a focus on craftsmanship, material, and contextualisation is maintained. This experimentation with material can be noted in Bigtime Studio’s “Curtain I”, Maxime Bellaunay’s “A Flanc de Falaise” lamps, and Sophia Taillet’s “Curve” table; while craftsmanship is championed in Dan Yeffet’s marble “OFFSET” lamps, Gwendoline Porte’s “RAIL” series, and Studio BrichetZiegler’s “Pilota” chair. From experiments with alternative materials to new approaches applied to familiar forms, each piece in this collection speaks to a sense of diversity and desire to explore the possibilities of the field of design.

“Classic Nowness” features work by Bigtime Studio, Dan Yeffet, Gwendoline Porte, Maxime Bellaunay, Sophia Taillet, and Studio BrichetZiegler.

Classic Nowness

What are the main themes presented across the works in this collection?

The main themes are works on matter and the key of decoration.

Which three words would you use to describe the contemporary design scene in France?

Full of references
Matter oriented

Why have you chosen classically French, baroque architecture for the scenography of this collection?

I always say to my clients that good contemporary creations can fit everywhere, either [as] art pieces or collectible design. As many people still see French creativity as the old monarchy style, it was like a cheeky wink to the flamboyant environment, with an infused kind of irony or contradiction, coordinated with today’s ideas of luxury.

In your curatorial statement, you reference the heritage of French art and design. In what ways does this collection – and these designers – both speak to and/or against this heritage?

Waouh, this a wide question and I would love to [discuss] that topic with other specialists of design. Like many European countries, we have a long history of creation, all the work to do now is to balance in between a deep respect for it and a research for new behaviours. What would speak for [it] is the commitment to keep alive many processes or know-hows, what would speak against [it] is the freedom of shapes, colours, and artistic approaches of the object.

Respect for tradition is to get back to a good management of resources and a respect for handiwork. A century ago – not so long ago – quality objects were expensive, materials were rare, qualified hand workers [were] very researched, there was no idea to waste as today we seem to re-discover. Marquetry [and] terrazzo are good examples of a creative way to use less or recycle with style! In that sense, this collection shows how the designers today dare to use all materials with respect and [to] a maximum effect.

All influences show a great sense of freedom in this collection. Art is everywhere, as an approach or as references, and that would speak against this French heritage that loves to set up strict limitations for all fields. This collection of French design is free and joyful.

This collection highlights a diverse range of practices: from Bigtime Studio’s investigations of colour and material to Sophia Taillet’s experiments with glass-making to Dan Yeffet’s contemporary twists on traditional forms, among others. Looking forward, which aspects of this eclectic French design scene do you think will continue to develop?

Investigations, experiences, and twist of the tradition: you already noticed what is probably one of the main trends for the scene. Generally speaking, as most of the objects will be dematerialized or to be rented for short term, the collection of items we will keep, will have to be very strong. Functional, [I’m] not so sure. The occidental trend shows the research for items that are pieces of art: well done, expressive, reflective. A long lasting pleasure, better quality, smaller quantities, traceability, and transgressive respect [will] probably define collectible design for a while.

Sophia Taillet, “Curve” Table

With reference to the Virtual Design Destination’s theme, how does this collection respond to the so-called “New Reality”?

It responds to the new reality in terms of today’s environment and the challenges associated with it.

Has your approach to the curation of this collection been affected by the ongoing uncertainty in the world? Why or why not?

Not at all. The world since I was born is uncertain, threats are different and potentially felt more intense due to the media. The design we propose integrates it in a way which is not always very visible. This is a creation of today, a new sense of decoration, a new approach to the matter. To me, at least, it is a better connection to the human being.

Meet François Leblanc Di Cicilia

François Leblanc Di Cicilia is a design consultant, who currently advises Studio KO, Maison et Objet and Boon Gallery. He is well known as a true talent scout. As former director of the Gallery S. Bensimon for ten years, he takes a real pleasure to personally advise designer studios and brands for their creative and commercial development. Recently he curated the rising talents exhibition in France (French and Qatari talents). He falls in love with design and crafts during his 4 years’ mission for the Galeries Lafayette Group at the Decorative Art Museum in Paris. His life’s commitment is to share know-how and creativity to build bridges between people. Highlights include: Japanese and Finnish Season exhibition for the Decorative Art Museum, First creative design exhibition at Le Bon Marché (Paris) and at Lane Crawford (Hong Kong), first Argentine, first Lebanese design exhibition in Paris.

François has worked with more than 250 designers and creators, being the first to exhibit works from Michael Anastassiades, Sabine Marcelis, German Ermics, Marc Dibeh, Sebastian Wrong, Cristian Mohaded, José Levy, Formafantasma, Christian Haas among many others.

Which aspects of curating a collection for a virtual exhibition have intrigued and/or surprised you?

Of course it does, and I am still very curious about the development of such reality. Every move to promote design and designers is a good thing.

What are you most excited to share (ex. thematically, a piece, a designer, etc.) with the Virtual Design Destination audience?

Even if I always keep a commercial eye on the selection, I always select pieces with an immense respect for the client. I really like all of them, I could have them at home or put them in the decorative projects I do. [I have a] big crush for BigTime Studio and Maxime Bellaunay, [two of] my latest discoveries in the last months.

“Classic Nowness” is kindly supported by:

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