Luxury tableware brand Michael Aram is known for its lively pieces full of character and thought. Its collections span pretty woodland arrangements, timeless nautical themes and opulent palatial designs.
After a visit to the brand’s headquarters – a buzzing studio and overflowing showroom in New York’s Chelsea district – the proverbial notion of the apple and the tree comes to mind. The face and name behind the artistically whimsical brand is as full of character and thought as his designs.
Here, in conversation with LuxDeco.com’s Features Editor Jade Thomson, the designer discusses his newest collections, his unique position in the decorative arts industry and the place he feels most creative.
Jade: Michael, your New York studio is abuzz with new projects. What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on at the moment?
There are two collections [for Spring/Summer 16] that I’m really excited about – actually, one of them which I can’t stop talking about which is the After The Storm collection.
What I love about that is that it’s a new process. Whenever I can develop something new, it’s really exciting for me because it just allows me to push the material further, which is something that I think I’m uniquely able to do being one of the few artist-makers out there. We own our own production so for me to be able to spend time in the workshop and experiment with materials is such a luxury. So that’s been a fun collection for me in terms of process and, also, aesthetically, it’s where I’m moving.
I always say that whenever we have a new space, or a new house or apartment, I think I do my best work and my family and I have just moved into a renovated apartment that we just finished and I’m thinking about what I want in this space. I’m seeing my thoughts get a little bit bigger and bolder in my work and that collection really reflects that as well. There’s something a little more modern, a little larger scale that I’m enjoying personally and it’s reflecting in my work.
J: That’s true; it’s a very confident collection, which is what’s so great about it.
M: Well, it’s also me in a different voice. And even the title, After The Storm, it’s really about the idea of creation linked to destruction. What comes after those heavy storms. I always talk about the coagulated leaves you find on the road after the heavy rains. There’s something really poetic and beautiful about that.
If you think about the link between destruction and creation, it really is the same. Without one you can’t have the other. And at the end of the day, it’s nature which is beautiful. You might look at [After The Storm] and it looks sort of Brutalist and abstract but, to me, there’s such a link to a nature aspect of it – the story for me is pure nature so I think that’s a different voice for me and it’s a collection which speaks to a different customer as well.
J: What kind of customer would you say that the collection speaks to?
M: Well, I don’t ever think, “Oh, I’m going to design a collection for interior designers” and I always tell the team we can’t ever [do that].
We’re designing something now which is bridal. The ask has come from our store because the White Orchid collection sells really well to our brides but that’s an older collection now. What are were going to replace it with? And I said to my team, “What we cannot do is imagine what the bride would like because we can’t make these suppositions for her” [and] at the end of the day, we have to design for a bride that we like. We want to know her, we want to be her friend.
If you remember Black Orchid, it wasn’t a bridal collection. It had this dark seriousness to it which one wouldn’t automatically assume as a happy, bridal collection and that was the success of it. We just have to create things that we feel connected to that are different and new because, otherwise, what’s the point?
J: It’s obvious you go with your instinct.
M: Yes, well you have to. One of the things I always repeat to the team is “we have to love it.”
J: So, is After The Storm the main Spring/Summer collection?
M: Well, no. The joke I had with the Spring and Summer collections was that “April showers – meaning After The Storm – brings May flowers” which was the Enchanted Garden collection which was the aesthetic opposite of After The Storm.
If you think of the tumultuousness of the After The Storm collection, what does that clear the road for? It clears the road for the first utterances of spring and the Enchanted Garden collection was really based on that first sign of spring – the tendrils coming up through the ground. You can see when you look at the collection, they’re all twisted and curled and unfurled, and even the stones that we’ve used are all tight buds. So it’s a collection which talks about the prominence of spring. That first flush of life that comes which is something that we so eagerly anticipate and is so full of magic and promise.
The collection is so opposite to After The Storm in that it’s pretty and delicate and poetic – there’s such a light touch to it. I feel that the two collections are perfect bookends for each other because they both tell the same story but in a very different way.
J: And you’re currently working on A/W17! How do you go about planning a collection so far in advance?
M: I think the basic thing for me is to design collections which come from within and that have inspirations which are not topical or inspired by what you’re seeing out in the market already. Whenever I talk to young designers and they’re doing tear sheets and pulling things out of magazines, I always scold them and say, “That’s yesterday’s news. Why would you want to create something that’s yesterday’s news already?”
J: You’ve done jewellery, you’ve done furniture, you do tabletop – is there anything you’re keen to explore? Do you have a dream project you’ve always wanted to work on?
M: It’s not so much an idea but, in terms of dream project, to design a dinner service for the White House or a dinner service for an airline, those would be ultimate dream projects for me, which I’m just waiting patiently for!
J: Are there any decor trends that we can expect to see more of this year?
M: If I were to summarise it for myself, I’m thinking bigger, bolder. Certainly a lot of subdued colours; metallic, thank goodness; neutral colours that are accented with metallics.
But then also what I describe as an organic Brutalism – it has that Brutalist quality but it’s organic at its core so it’s less bold – there’s a warmth to things. I think that we’ve seen so much gold in the market that some of us are wondering “when is that going to finish?” I don’t see it ending very soon and I, myself, am still creating pieces in gold.
What I’m doing, personally, now as I’m imagining Fall 17 is combining it with dark bronze which I’m very excited and passionate about. And that goes back to the neutral greys, blacks, charcoals – it goes beautifully with all of that.
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