Julie Richoz lives in the most typical of Parisian apartments. A sixth-floor chambre de bonne (maid’s room), it is flooded with light by windows that overlook a choppy sea of lead roofs and chimneys. This is Richoz’s second Parisian home, and she moved in only a couple of months before we met. Outsize potted plants fill the living room. Contemporary design tomes line a row of shelves. A table, which doubles as Richoz’s desk, is finished by a pair of Enzo Mari’s Mariolina chairs. Born and educated in Lausanne but raised in La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, Richoz relocated to Paris a year ago, keen to sample life in a city that she deems ripe with dynamism and potential. “This,” she said recently, “is a city where lots of things are happening.”
It was a cold December morning, and Richoz, a talented industrial designer who many predict will become an industry star, stood outside her apartment block in front of a gleaming white Lexus CT200h, about to embark on a journey across the city she now happily calls home. Her first Parisian address, in Abbesses, between the Moulin Rouge and the Sacré Coeur, featured young tourists photographing each other in front of key attractions. Her current home, a short tumble down the hill in the Ninth Arrondissement, stands close to the Rue des Martyrs, which, over the past 10 years, has become one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Paris. Streets here are narrow and crowded, lined by vehicles on each side and then by boulangeries and butchers, restaurants and cafés. To drive in the district, a car must be quick, agile, responsive to its surroundings. The CT200h, the marque’s first full hybrid luxury compact, is exactly that.
Richoz, who is 23, drove through the cobbled streets of the Place Saint-Georges to a Montmartre café, where she drank tea and discussed her work. Educated at the École Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne, Richoz makes housewares that are light and colorful, vibrant and sculptural. She has made desk trays that reference the sliding movement of crumb collectors; long hanging lamps that double as mobiles; a collection of spring steel containers influenced by handcrafts like crochet and knitting. She is interested in systems, geometry, layers and materials. And often she is inspired by the kind of everyday observations – a piece of ornate architectural decoration, say – that, thankfully, a designer can readily experience in a city like the French capital.
“What I like about Paris is that you can go from one point to another – go through different places – and there will always be things you haven’t seen,” Richoz explained. “There are always things to discover. There are moments where there are really long avenues, and really large and impressive buildings. And then you find yourself in much quieter, smaller spaces. This is what I like in the city: to be always surprised.”
A few months before we met, Richoz had considered moving to Berlin, traditionally a haven for artists and designers. Given that city’s abundance of space, had she made the move, she would have been able to rent a vast studio space in which to work. (At the moment, Richoz designs either at the Ivry-sur-Seine studio of respected furniture designer Pierre Charpin, one of Richoz’s former ECAL tutors, with whom she works, or at her apartment.) But when she spent a few days in the German capital, she found it “too peaceful,” she explained. “The atmosphere [in Berlin] is really different. There’s a lot more energy in Paris, and I’m starting to feel at home here. I’ve met people, and I’m beginning to know the city better.” (The “people” she referred to are a talented, now tight-knit group of ECAL graduates who have all relocated to the area.)
As the engine of the CT fired up outside the café, ready to begin the next leg of its journey, Richoz continued to talk about why Paris is the right city for her. She likes it for its ambience, its beauty, its diverse cultural mix. What else? “There are lots of galleries,” she said. “And so many museums and things to see!”
Paris is well known as the home of several of the world’s greatest museums. Richoz’s favorite is the Palais de Tokyo, one of the city’s more recent additions. Situated in a dramatic structure built for the Paris International Exhibition of 1937, the museum is renowned for innovative contemporary art. (On the day we visited, the work of French art star Philippe Parreno was on view.) For Richoz, the institution – the building’s architecture, the exhibitions it shows and its iconic location – is a place of constant inspiration. As we arrived, the CT having nimbly navigated both small cobbled streets and wide, sprawling avenues, I was struck by the incidental beauty of Paris. The day was bright, and the shadows on the art deco terrace that connects the Palais de Tokyo to the neighboring Musée d’Art Moderne could not have been sharper. Just over the river stands the Eiffel Tower. At one moment, when the low winter sun was tucked behind its pointy metal tip, it cast long shadows in the sky like those caused by an eclipse. On days like these, Paris has very little trouble making its case.
When Richoz graduated from ECAL, in 2012, she won the Grand Prix at the Design Parade at Villa Noailles, an extremely prestigious competition awarded to young designers for excellence in their field. She won the prize for her student work, which included a series of paper structures she titled Armand. Made from sheets of colored paper laser cut and formed into cylinders, the objects hovered between the categories of drawing and model, and brought her to the attention of the British design doyenne Libby Sellers, the gallerist who now represents Richoz. (Sellers exhibited Armand at Design Basel last year.) Richoz is fascinated by the relationship between two and three dimensions. Often she’ll slice precise and delicate incisions into sheets of material before molding them into forms. In other cases, as with a pair of vase works, Coques and Oreilles, created during a 2012 residency at the reputable Marseille glass museum CIRVA, Richoz layers materials that are more rigid, experimenting with new structural possibilities and limitations. “Glass I really like,” Richoz said of the work, “because of the material, the color and the way it is very luminous.” In January Richoz showed several new glass pieces in an exhibition titled Arrêt sur l’Objet during Passagen, the Cologne Interior Design Week, Germany’s biggest design event.
By the time Richoz had finished at the museum, the city’s light was beginning to fade, so she drove to enjoy the sunset at an architectural peak near her apartment. Once there, it was again a case of Paris being its own argument: the mélange of architectural styles laid out before us, the last of the sunlight picking out everything from the elaborate glass dome of the Grand Palais to the plate windows of the Tour Montparnasse (and the windows of the CT, too), the sun sinking at the feet of the Eiffel Tower. After sunset, a more typical day would have seen Richoz speeding off to spend time with friends in the area around the Canal Saint-Martin, perhaps eating in an Asian or North African restaurant or, if she’s feeling particularly French, ordering boudin, a kind of white-pork sausage, at the Café de l’Industrie, close to Bastille. But that evening she went for a drive, clipping past the city’s lights, enjoying the theater of Paris at night through the frame of her CT’s cockpit.
Richoz’s generation of designers have to make up their professional lives as they go along. Gone are the days of traditional design employment – of permanent in-house work at a reputable manufacturer. But Richoz doesn’t have to worry. For someone of her talent, the new world order has advantages. Richoz’s pieces are light and flexible, and so too is her mind. She has already shown work at the Parisian design gallery Kreo, and Sellers is expecting more work in the future. Richoz is in demand all over the world. Paris is right for now, but chances are that it will be just one stop along her professional arc. Where’s the next one? There’s always New York, or London, or São Paulo or Shanghai. Asked how long she’ll stay in Paris, she replied: “I don’t know, but for the moment, I really like being here.” So Richoz likes Paris, and having spent time with her in the city, clocking the admiring glances she attracted from all quarters, it’s safe to say Paris likes Richoz.
- THIS IS A CITY
- WHERE THINGS ARE
- JULIE RICHOZ RÉSUMÉ
Born in Lausanne
Moves to La Rochelle
Completes a degree in industrial design at ECAL and wins the Grand Prix at the Design Parade at Villa Noailles
Completes residencies at CIRVA, Marseille, and Cité de la Céramique, Paris
Exhibits at Design Miami with Gallery Libby Sellers
Exhibits at Passagen, the Cologne Interior Design Week
- CT200h F SPORT
Strut Rear: Double
ON THE RISE
ULIE RICHOZ, A RISING STAR ON EUROPE’S
INDUSTRIAL DESIGN CIRCUIT, TAKES AN INSPIRATIONAL RIDE
THROUGH PARIS, REFLECTING ON HER LIFE, HER WORK AND
THE WONDER OF HER ADOPTED CITY