“Light in a space is like a shoe that pulls together an outfit”, - Alexandre Joncas, co-founder of Montreal-based design studio d’Armes, has a vision of design that is both remarkable and atypical. Just like his career.
After working for 15 years in fashion, Alexandre decided to go back to school in visual and media arts. He touches the metal for the first time. And it was a thunderbolt! He goes on with a school of construction trades to practice. In his free time, this design enthusiast is already starting to create his own lighting. At the end of his studies, he worked for two years for a design studio, before founding his own : d’Armes.
Interview with a prodigy of lighting!
THE BEGINNINGS OF CANADIAN STUDIO
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO WORK IN THE INTERIOR DESIGN?
My father was an electrician so I have always been immersed in the lighting world. I wanted to be an architect since my younger days! I made installations all over the house, I changed the furniture every week. At 10, I installed neon lights under my furniture in my room. I have always had an attachment for the home, the environment in which we live, I think it really determines who we are.
WHAT ARE THE DESIGNERS WHO INFLUENCED YOUR WORK, THOSE YOU ADMIRE THE CAREER?
There is a group of artists that I admire a lot: the Union of Modern Artists (UAM) created in 1929. I could notably mention Eileen Gray, it was one of the few women in the design at that time, an avant-gardist who dared to try new designs and rethink entire spaces. Otherwise, currently, I really like Basse Stittgen, Tamara Orjola, and Nienke Hoogvliet. They based their research on new materials that challenge Zero Waste and replace certain plastics with organic materials. I also like Flos because they give carte blanche to young designers to create collections. They support and encourage talents.
WHY HAVE QUICKLY WANTED TO FOUND YOUR OWN STUDIO?
I worked for two years for a design studio, I had a lot of freedom, I was really close to the product, I participated in the different stages from the beginning of the creation to the packaging. It was a great experience but I soon felt the need to impose my vision, to create something that looks like me. With my husband, Gildas Le Bars, co-founder, we were complementary and had all the skills to create our own studio. What interested me was to have a global eye on what is happening, to impose our vision of design in both the product and the approach. We wanted to set up our own team, create an atmosphere beyond product design, work in a workshop that is both physical and mental space to create in the best possible conditions. From my perspective, the way of working is as important as the final result! If my team is not happy, it does not work.
CORPORATE VALUES OF THE TEAM
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE D’ARMES?
In 3 words: strength, warmth, sumptuousness. D'Armes is the result of an artistic approach, a mastery of technology, a societal education. Our pieces return emotions, are both delicate and temperamental so that people ask questions while contemplating them. In our design phase, we are constantly wondering how to catch the eye of people, how to make our creations evocative. We have an approach inspired by sculpture. We want to put our signature, create pieces that we notice directly in a room. Without neglecting the lighting, it is the object that is the most important. We attach a great deal of importance to the soul of the object, that is to say to what it releases in terms of emotions and effects in space. Even if the object did not light, it would still make sense. I do not want my creations to be related to an era, I want them to be timeless. When we see our pure lines, we are tempted to call our style minimalist, but it's not really that. We want our works to be refined without being simple.
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS OF A SUCCESSFUL COLLECTION IN YOUR SENSE?
It's first of all the distinction: we want to do what others have not done. Then, of course, it's the lighting quality. Finally, it is to make the luminaire as timeless and refined as possible, so that it can be adapted to different environments (places, styles of decoration and space). We are particularly proud of our Cé series. This model is really timeless and interesting in its lines. I have this impression that it will always be modern.
MORE CONCRETELY, WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MATERIALS, COLORS, AND FORMS?
This is an analysis I made with hindsight, because the choice of materials, colors and shapes comes after the idea of the conception of creation. But I noticed that our designs are very much articulated around the circle, the fire, and the bronze. We do not particularly like color, we prefer raw materials for their timelessness. From our point of view, it's the light that makes the color. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that we are constantly looking to explore new materials.
YOU ARE 5 WORKING IN YOUR STUDIO IN MONTREAL. HOW ARE YOU ORGANIZED?
We have the particularity to mix designers and manufacturers. We are very close, we really work with each other. The designers often go to the workshop to try, to touch the materials, to make prototypes themselves, and conversely the workshop often comes to the offices to consult and work on the drawings. Nothing is fixed, we are really in symbiosis, everyone has a look from the design to the finish on the objects.
DO YOU ATTACH ANY IMPORTANCE TO THE ENVIRONMENT THROUGH YOUR MANUFACTURING PROCESSES?
We are particularly sensitive to that. Long-life lighting techniques such as neon are used, and local suppliers are privileged to comply with environmental standards.
YOU KNOW WHAT MATERIAL SELECTION IS CRUCIAL TO MAKE A BEAUTIFUL PRODUCT. FROM WHICH CRITERIA DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR SUPPLIERS?
We focus on 3 criteria: suppliers must be local, eco responsible, and quality. Finding suppliers is a big percentage of working time for us. We carry out tests, we make a lot of requests for samples and prototypes. But we have the chance in Canada to have high quality standards.
RATHER ARTISANAL OR TECHNOLOGICAL TECHNIQUES?
Both! On the artisanal side, we have adopted the technique of bending neon by hand, we are also working with a glass artist, and all the steps of assembly, polishing, finishing and metal processing are done in our workshops by hand. On the technological side, we are on 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC, or metal repoussage.
WHO ARE BUYERS OF D’ARMES LUMINAIRES?
Our luminaires are sold almost exclusively to professionals: designers, architects, project managers. We also have some individuals who ask us for pieces, fans of designs, collectors. We bought a world map to see where our customers are located and it's crazy: there are points everywhere, everywhere, everywhere! But it we have particular requests in Europe.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
DESIGNERS COLLABORATIONS ARE OCCURRING MORE AND MORE OFTEN. IS IT SOMETHING THAT SEDUCES YOU?
We are working on a collaboration right now! I can not talk a lot about it because there is still nothing accomplished but I can still reveal that it is a French artist... We really want to develop this collaborative part, to imagine exclusive models with other artists.
YOU ARE CURRENTLY FOCUS EXCLUSIVELY IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF LUMINAIRES. DO YOU HAVE PROJECTS TO CREATE FURNITURE OR ACCESSORIES COLLECTIONS?
We have nothing planned in the immediate future but why not do something other than lighting later. The idea of getting rid of electrical constraints, which are very interesting for all that, seduces me more and more.
WHAT WOULD BE THE CRAZIEST PROJECT YOU COULD IMAGINE?
An exhibition in a subway tunnel, a light animation in the dark in synergy with the movement of the train. That would be crazy!
WHAT IS YOUR STATE OF MIND FOR THE FUTURE?
Come what may: you just have to get started and then do it! It is also important to detach from what we created to be able to move forward, get out more quickly what we have in mind otherwise it fades.
D’ARMES / www.darmes.ca