From the discomfort zone: Bathing in disruptive aspiration

To establish their supremacy, French kings wanted control over nature too.

Untitled-19 Pyramide du Louvre seen at night.
Written by Shombit Sengupta | Updated: August 31, 2014 5:42 am

Real examples on design perversity form the basis of my learning in the five countries I wrote about last week. Let me start with the ingenious design principles I’ve lived with in France. From these I’ve learnt that every selling proposition has to be aspirational and disruptive.

Nearly every day, coming from Left Bank to Right Bank in Paris, I had to cross the world-famous Louvre Museum. You can’t imagine the controversy at the time of the commissioning of Pyramide du Louvre by President François Mitterrand in 1984. This huge 71-feet high pyramid structure, and its square base with 115-ft sides, was objected to as ancient Egypt’s Pharaoh culture entering the heart of the liberalised Catholic French society.

Not only that, detractors said its architect being Chinese American IM Pei, he perversely stuck plastic American ways in front of a European Palace. Counter-arguments came when the pyramid was first reported to have 666 glass panes, the number of the Beast in the Bible’s New Testament. Actually it was 689 glass segments, but even Dan Brown’s best seller Da Vinci Code referred to this Satanic number later. In reality there is extensive learning here. The expanded museum entrance now effectively guides people to numerous destinations within its large subterranean network. Juxtaposing the Louvre’s medieval classicism with an ultra-modern structure actually established a traditional-contemporary blend that’s both disruptive and aspirational. This stark harmony pulls in 10 million annual visitors and considerably higher revenues for the renovated Louvre.

Japanese businessmen have long been enamoured of French luxury design. They order a special travel bag from Hermes that takes six months to make and costs 30,000 Euros. This stand-up bag opens on the side to accommodate two wine bottles and two wine glasses. There is sophisticated artistry in every square centimetre of the bag. It’s incredible how the Japanese appreciate this authentic, original product from Hermes, saying they come to France especially to buy it. Hermes is undoubtedly a very big French luxury product brand. Wouldn’t you say their paying attention to a niche market of aspirational travel bags for rich Japanese business people is a disruptive way of creating product design?

Artistic living style is not only for rich people. Many French stores sell only disruptive and aspirational objects of art, from low to high price. You can’t ever experience such an unstructured entertaining paradise with preconceived ideas of what to buy or why you are entering. Just watching the unique stationery, home decorations, miscellaneous functional items gives you myriad ideas. One store I visited was selling wooden hand mannequins where all the finger joints can move. These are generally required for learning anatomy drawing or measuring man-machine ergonomics. A shelf here had hundreds of hands. Funnily enough all of them had four fingers pushed down, one pointing upwards. I laughed, making the sales girls immediately get busy putting the other fingers up or down. “We have to rearrange these fingers …continued »

First Published on: August 31, 2014 12:02 amSingle Page Format
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