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Lenny Kravitz for Kartell

Our interview with the rockstar designer on his debut collaboration with Philippe Stark

by Graham Hiemstra in Design on 18 April 2012

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Each spring Salone del Mobile arrives in Milan, bringing with it the world's top designers, architects and design enthusiasts. Among the many highly anticipated product launches, pop ups and parties, this year saw iconic Italian furniture company Kartell formally introduce a series of pieces designed by both new and known designers, including rock star Lenny Kravitz. Although better known for his music, Kravitz can include designer on his CV, having founded his own studio, Kravitz Design Inc, in 2003. In recent years he's been involved with multiple large-scale hotel projects, a collaboration with Swarovski and now, is collaborating with none other than famed design personality Philippe Stark on a new rendition of his Mademoiselle chair.

Kravitz touched down in Milan to celebrate the collaboration at Salone, where we caught up with him at the Kartell booth. Here we had the chance to chat about his love of design, where he finds inspiration and his experience with Kartell.

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When switching between music and design do you need a break to switch mindsets or find a workspace?

Not at all, I do a lot of design work on the road. I can't be at my office, obviously, like one would expect. So I have to work where and when I can. So that's on the tour bus, on the plane or hotel, backstage, and days off. The design team is just three of us, so they'll come out on the road and whatever project we're working on we'll do what we have to do and then they'll go back to the office and carry on. And then we'll meet up again. We do a lot by computer and all. But no, no break at all. I'm always thinking about design and music.

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Do you see design an alternative way to exercise your creative mind?

I like having different mediums to express myself, I do photography, I have a design company, I make music and I'm doing films now. It all comes from the same place. The thing about design I love so much and why it's been in my life for so long is that for me in making music—or being creative in general—the environment has so much to do with it. Ever since I was a kid I was really concerned with how my room was, even the lighting, how things were laid out. Because it made me feel a certain way, made me hear music a certain way or create music a certain way, just by that feeling. It's all about making your environment so comfortable and inspiring and sexy, that you want to be creative.

With your design studio being based in SoHo you must spend a lot of time in New York, where do you go for design inspiration?

All over. You know I grew up between Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn and the Upper East Side. So I have a real feeling for things that are very luxurious and very upscale, I love the UES between Fifth and Madison from the upper 60s to the low 80s, I grew up loving these beautiful Beaux-Arts buildings and spending time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But at the same time I love Brooklyn—and I'm talking old school Bed-Stuy—and Alphabet City and Times Square, when it was Times Square. I love the whole high-low thing.

Since starting your design studio have you thought about doing collaborations?

Actually most of the stuff we've done hasn't been collaborations. Like the Paramount Bay, the 47-story luxury condo we're doing, that's us. And we're doing a hotel project in Toronto right now, that's us. The only collaboration we've done so far is with Philippe Starck. So, not a bad place to start. I have to say that's been very enjoyable.

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How closely did you actually work with him on the Mademoiselle chair project?

He gave me a lot of freedom. So we basically did what we did and he gave his opinions and edited. And of course the piece was already designed, the Mademoiselle chair, which is completely iconic. He's done his job, right? So it was just about reinterpreting it. But who knows where we will go in the future. We like each other very much, we've known each other for a long time. He's been very supportive. He's one of the people who saw my work early on and encouraged me to really move forward, so that's incredible to have someone like that in your corner. But I'd love to collaborate with more people, yeah.

Your style is definitely bold and very masculine, whereas Starck's designs tend to be more playful and feminine, how did this play in with transforming the chair?

We made the legs, they're not see through anymore. In fact when looking from a distance you don't know if its wood or solid. I just wanted to give it that "thing". Like you said, it already has its playful, you know, feminine edge. So it was just about giving it a bit of… you know, me. And I think they work very well together.

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Talk a bit about your choice of materials.

I like things that are organic and natural, I love reptile patterns and fur—we used faux fur. The nature. You know. On the other end the Bahamas chair, the one that's a woven fabric, it's very organic and a nice contrast to the plastic.

Another recent project you did was some custom wall papers with Flavor Paper, do you think wallpaper is under appreciated in contemporary interior design?

Yes, yes I do. When I grew up as a kid you'd go to your aunt's house or grandmother's house and there'd be wallpaper everywhere. I love wallpaper. It's a really simple way to dress a place up and give it a whole new appearance by just apply paper. I use it a lot. I think that it's getting more popular. And I think people like Flavor Paper who are young and modern are doing really interesting things with paper. It's helping to bring it to the forefront.

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Having now worked with Starck and Kartell, if given the opportunity to work with any other designer—dead or alive—on a project who would it be?

Dead or alive? Wow. I'd probably want to go to Spain and hang out with Gaudi. Yeah, yeah. It was the first thing that I really fell in love with when I came to Europe for the first time. I fell in love with Art Nouveau. And that's where it all really started. Although you don't really see that in any of my stuff right now. But I was a big collector even of the French, of Majorelle furniture. But I think Gaudi would have been really interesting to hang out with, and work with.

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