Togolese designer, Kossi Aguessy is best known for award winning design for the Stella McCartney perfume bottle. Aguessy who trained in industrial and interior design at Central St. Martins, has worked with Renault, Yves Saint Laurent, Cartier, Swarovski, St Dupont and Branex to create sleek, sensual objects that range from lighting to watches. A consummate artist, Aguessy has exhibited art, sculpture and furniture in Paris, Copehagen, Tokyo, Shanghai and Istanbul.
This interview with Aguessy has been submitted by Tiana Evans, self-described “design aficiando” and “enthusiast.” She has been involved in the design industry for her entire career having been the business director of Studio Sofield for many years. She currently works as publicist with EHKPR, a boutique public relations agency that specializes in architecture and design.
Tiana W. Evans: Where were you born?
Kossi Aguessy: I was Born in Lomé, Togo, a West African country, from a mother of African Brazilian descent and a father of Togolese Yoruba descent. I was raised by my Mum who was in the army, needless to say that was not a very fun education, believe me, but even if art and design were very far from her world, I must say she knows what style means. I must be honest and say that my career choice, not only astonished my family, but somehow shocked them: they did not have any references for what a life in design or arts would mean. I guess people relate to what they know and this is something they did not know. I remember my sisters calling me “ET” when I was a boy. They did not believe it possible for me to achieve a career in the design world because they simply did not know anyone who did it.
TWE: How was art and design present in your childhood?
KA: I was alone a lot as a child and very early on had my own vision of the world. I was curious of everything and everyone and was not seen as a “regular” child. I grew up surrounded by adults and used to think that something was definitely wrong with their world.
I used to imagine the things around me made another way and one day, I don’t remember exactly when, it dawned on me to put the things I had in my mind in drawings. From that point I started to create my own land through drawing, painting and sculpting. So arts and design became present in my everyday life, not because I had someone to refer to, but because I spontaneously started to express myself this way to reconcile what was missing in my immediate environment. It was all natural and as obvious to me as breathing.
When I was six or seven years old I used to entertain myself reproducing Egyptian pyramids. I once tried to realize a mockup of the Babylon gardens even if I didn’t really know (and even now doubt anyone truly knows) what it looked like. A bit later my interests were further developed by the books I read, like Jules Verne’s books and the Torah I discovered in my mum’s library. I use to read very unusual books for a child, but these were the only one I could get access to. We been raised without television and were not allowed to read comics so, I read everything I could find, from Dostoevsky to these incredibly boring love stories books my mum tried so desperately to hide from me. I had not a childhood but a case study.
TWE: When did you decide to become and artist/designer?
KA: I never decided to become an artist/designer I was just an obvious part of my being from conception. I can honestly say that I didn’t choose this, it was given to me, it is part of me. I always knew what I wanted to do, even before knowing what it was called.
After studying product and interior design in university, everything was concrete and confirmed.
TWE: When did you embrace the title of “designer?”
KA: I do not embrace anything, I hate titles, even though I recognize that people need borders to define themselves and their fellow man. We are much more complex than that. I believe in multi- disciplines as I do believe in crossing cultures and mixing people and thoughts to get the best results. I dare think we were designed naturally to be multi- disciplinary and multi-functional. I do things naturally and don’t think about the titles given to what I do or who I am. So designer, painter, sculptor, artist. The issue is not the title but creation.
TWE: What was your first notable project?
KA: It was eight years ago, I was hired to do design work for the launching of the Renault Espace 5. The final result was less “futuristic” than the several of the concepts we’d been through. Nevertheless, was very proud of it.
TWE: How would you describe your aesthetic?
KA: Yesterday meeting tomorrow at a Nature Carnival in a Georges Lucas City lost in the middle of a forest on the Pangea mega continent….that’s it, yes that’s it. [ED: see here for information on Pangea].
TWE: How does your ‘Africaness’ inform your design?
KA: I sincerely can’t define it . I know that it’s there every time I pick up a pencil, but I can’t point to any one thing about my work. Maybe it’s my acceptance and consideration of it that is significant.
TWE: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment this far?
KA: Being able to be amazed by life everyday whatever happens.
As a designer I am given many opportunities, but the times we live in make me question some of the choices I’ve made or the projects I’ve worked on. I am tied to and believe in the sense and sensitivity behind what we [designers] do. I have decided to be even more selective about the things I am commissioned to design, as well as the things I design for myself.
I’m currently working in a very wide range of products – furniture, objects, jewelry, lighting and some high-tech things like a beautiful and efficient environmentally friendly ‘clean’ car concept. This year I also found the way to exhibit some of my paintings and sculpture works after almost 4 years without doing so. 2010 is off to an exciting start.
TWE: You have been nicknamed “the Accident” by your peers in the design industry. Can you tell us how that name came about?
KA: If only I knew the real issue behind this!!! I’ve heard this the first time almost ten years ago in Paris, France from a gallery curator, and I honestly did not understand what he meant at first. I guess it was because when I started people in the design industry were not used to seeing AND liking contemporary work by people like me ……… (sigh) . You know, this place of origin issue matters so much for some. I look forward to a time when the world understands that no matter where something comes from that quality is quality and beauty is beauty. None of this deters me one bit. I am of the world and my work is of the world.
TWE: What does this say about the design industry’s response to African designers?
KA: A lot. Even if things may be slowly changing, people are beginning to associate industry with Africa. Having African roots shouldn’t mean that your work must fit into the category of “exotic” recycled toys for tourists. I live in this century and it is natural for my mixed roots to anchor me in the present and lead me to the future.
TWE: From whom do you draw inspiration for your work?
KA: Nature, including man. I think we are the most beautiful inspiration source I can find around. This bridge between nature and culture brought us to industry. I do not want to forget that. I think we should take advantage of it and use it to get to the next level by creating beautiful and useful objects inspired by what we are and live in. It’s a perfect machine into sensitive, simple design. Human body is the perfect example of this, culture, emotions, needs, music. Everything is inspiring. The issue is how we deal with this inspiration and what we do with it.
TWE: If you could collaborate with anyone who would be at the top of your list?
KA: Actually a lot of people, I fancy Jaime Hayon’s work and philosophy, Ross Lovegrove, Lenny Kravitz, Jay Z, Zaha Hadid, and Georges Lucas and many more. Perhaps we have to plan another interview with this as main topic, because believe me the list is as long as this conversation.
TWE: Who are your style icons?
KA: For me, Style is not a question of dress or accessories but a general attitude that makes someone remarkable, so let’s make it plural here starting with Hugh Jackman. I like this feline way he moves and the undeniable talent that comes across in whatever he does. Karl Lagerfeld, a character of his own, extreme and so representative of our era. Johny Depp.. because …well, this man is a study case, having this nomadic look needs the highest sense of style, the one that comes from the inside. Erykah Badu, she is what I call a “Newbian “somewhat like Gabrielle Chanel they have a way of being that changes everything, you have to respond.
TWE: What books are on your nightstand?
KA: Right now: Immortality by Milan Kundera, Mika Waltari’s The Secret Of the Kingdom, Persepolis Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel and tons of comics.
TWE: What are your three favorite websites?
KA: Yatzer.com because of this incredibly precise selection of design, architecture, arts and fashion works they show regularly, bbc.com for the news and Deezer.com for the music. It’s pretty basic.
TWE: If you, didn’t live in Paris where would you live?
KA: In the Netherlands or Scandinavia, I have a very special relationship with northern Europe because of the efficiency, and the advanced, natural way people there mix technology, craftsmanship, nature and care. It provides a very balanced energy. That for me the essence of tomorrow. And just for the fun, the other reason is that I’m almost 6’4” and only in this particular part of the globe I can go by any shop and buy a pair of jeans without worrying about the size since the standard is as tall as I am. Sounds Silly but it makes a difference in everyday life.
TWE: What advice would you give young designers entering the industry?
KA: Forget it !!! On a more serious note -prepare to battle, and be as exquisite as possible.