Design doyenne Daniella Ohad recaps her weekly conversations with the legends of design
Daniella Ohad hosts Materials and Furniture: The Legends, a virtual program presented in partnership with Christie’s Education, comprising one-on-one interviews with the world’s most admired designers. For the Design Miami/ Forum, Ohad shares highlights from each conversation. This week her subject is Jaime Hayon.
“It’s been 10 years since my then colleague Mark Wilson and I curated Jaime’s first solo exhibition at the Groninger Museum, celebrating his first ten years as an independent designer. What struck us was his meticulously crafted yet unapologetically fantastic design. Bypassing modernism, connecting Memphis with his own contemporary Mediterranean baroque, combined with the reappraisal of traditional craft and the vernacular, he conjures up a world, not as it is, but as could be if we dare to play.” —Sue-an van der Zijpp, Curator of Applied Art and Design at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
“Drawing is my oxygen,” award-winning Spanish designer Jaime Hayon said during the recent Materials and Furniture: The Legends program. “Drawing is an extension of my own body.” Manifesting his own magical, humorous, and expressive world, Hayon draws everywhere he goes—at home, in his studio, at museums, restaurants, and airplanes as he travels for projects around the globe. His drawings serve as a kind of diary, capturing his experiences, encounters, and sources of inspiration, including, famously, his passion for pop and ancient cultures. While many designers start the process of designing with sketches, in Hayon’s case his drawings dominate the spirit of his final products and define his identity within the landscape of contemporary design.
Hayon is the quintessential 21st-century designer, originating products, furniture, ceramics, interiors, and more that emphasize narrative, innovation, craftsmanship, a global perspective, and an aura of performance. He is a natural storyteller and inventor, fed by the dynamic lifestyle he leads as one of the world’s most in-demand creatives. As the discipline of design has evolved from servicing industry to envisioning a better tomorrow, Hayon’s practice has shifted right along with it.
Hayon was born in Madrid in 1974. Though it was not a popular subject at the time in Spanish society, he set off to study industrial design at IED Madrid. After graduation, he joined the then-upstart design and communication research center Fabrica, which was founded a few years earlier by Luciano Benetton, cofounder of Benetton Group, and photographer Oliviero Toscani in Treviso, Italy, in 1994. Hayon calls Toscani a friend and mentor, who taught him the power of “concept” to transform the design experience. At Fabrica, Hayon directed the design department until 2003, when he founded his own independent practice in Barcelona. After living in London, New York, and Barcelona, he has now settled in Valencia, attracted to the Spanish city’s relaxed lifestyle and proximity to skilled artisans. He currently oversees two studios, one in Valencia and the other in Turin, employing a team of 20 across both locations.
Hayon’s first major exposure as an independent designer was career-defining: his 2003 solo show, Mediterranean Digital Baroque, at David Gill Gallery in London. Featuring fantastic creatures and plastic characters set in a dense, surrealist ceramic forest, the installation demonstrated Hayon’s strength as a visual storyteller, showcased his aptitude for ceramics, and brought him to international prominence. His career took another leap forward in 2009, when he created the centerpiece of the London Design Festival, a two-meter-high ceramic chess in Trafalgar Square that interpreted the Battle of Trafalgar. “Ceramic,” Hayon told us, “is like rice—inexpensive, flexible, and full of possibilities.”
The evolution of Hayon’s work was made apparent in his recent retrospective at the Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània (CCCC) in Valencia, which coincided with the World Design Capital Valencia 2022 celebration. Entitled InfinitaMente, this sprawling exhibition celebrated two decades of Hayon’s immense creativity and held special meaning to the designer since it was his first museum exhibition in his homeland. Seventy percent of the works on display, including objects, paintings, and sketches, were pulled from his own archive, which he meticulously keeps to document his career. Hayon enjoyed visiting the show on the weekends to see the audience's responses.
The exhibition included Masquemask, an installation of seven large tapestry masks that Hayon designed for the Lodz Design Museum in Poland in 2019. The year before, he visited the Lodz Design Festival, where he had an opportunity to learn about the city’s long textile tradition. He was inspired to work with local artisans to produce a new collection. Masks are a recurring motif in Hayon’s work, appearing on jars, vases, mirrors, and wall sculptures, drawing a wide range of references found in pre-Columbian Mexico, Japan, China, and the African continent. “The mask,” he told us, “has represented a connection with lost civilizations and ceremonies, with the societies that created them.”
Hayon’s sartorial style is as bold as his designs. British designer Jasper Morrison told me that they met on a long flight to a conference in South Africa. “He was sitting in my seat wearing a pair of blue shoes and red spectacles. As he moved over I imagined an 8 hour discussion on loud and colorful design. I’ve been a fan ever since.”
Hayon’s limited editions are represented by Paris’ Galerie kreo, where his vibrant palettes and playful aesthetics stand out from the gallery’s otherwise more minimalist program. Working with this top-tier gallery allows him to explore complicated, handmade techniques to bring the most sophisticated and challenging designs to life. His first show with kreo in 2015, Game On, memorably featured exquisitely crafted, cartoon-like forms inspired by sports, taking a cue from legendary French decorator Emile-Jacques Ruhlman, who created a chaise inspired by skis. Gallery founders Didier and Clemence Krzentowski are known for giving their roster of designers copious creative freedom, and Hayon embraces the opportunity to fully express his vision.
When it comes to industrial production, Hayon told us, the rules are different—even when the design process is similar. Everything has to be filtered through the limitations of mass manufacturing. Hayon never listens to the market, though, because he believes that would impede his creativity. On the contrary, he excels at convincing major international brands to ignore their consumers’ existing patterns and try something new, which has led to long-term relationships with companies like &Tradition, Cassina, and Swarowsky. Notably, he is the only Spanish designer invited to collaborate with classic Danish furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen. Hayon knows how to exercise restraint when he wants to, which has been called, “the other Jaime.”
In recent years, Hayon has become interested in megaprojects and large installations, while continuing to freely move between producing limited editions for gallery, products for industry, public-space interiors, and institutional exhibitions. His recent designs for the Hyundai Daegu, which included cultural arts spaces, restaurants, an outdoor garden for a department store, shows that his singular voice shines through everything he touches, no matter the scale. His signature is bringing his extraordinary world of fantasy into reality. ◆
The spring season’s Materials and Furniture: The Legends webinar program has concluded. Stay tuned for the announcement of Ohad’s fall program, coming soon!