Hong Kong pop-up flat by Louis Vuitton shows avant-garde furniture by Pierre Paulin

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 April, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 April, 2015, 6:00am

A new private pop-up "apartment" in Hong Kong, by French fashion house Louis Vuitton, is giving the avant-garde furniture designs of Pierre Paulin a new lease of life.

The designer, who died in 2009, was known for redecorating then French president Georges Pompidou's private apartment in the Élysée Palace in 1971. The unashamedly modern ergonomic designs for the six reception rooms shone a light on France's contemporary design industry with sculptural pieces that showcased Paulin's pioneering modular works and innovative use of materials such as plastics, resin and stretch fabrics.

Forty-five years on, Louis Vuitton's installation pays tribute to Paulin's original design for the palace, including the famous curvaceous fabric shell the designer created to avoid damaging the original 18th-century panelled walls.

"Pompidou wanted to make France modern so he requested something that would shock people," recalls Paulin's wife and design collaborator of 40 years, Maia Paulin. "The president said: 'You can't touch the walls or make any noise.' So Pierre designed everything to be built outside the palace and assembled it inside."

In Hong Kong, the layout of Louis Vuitton's "L'Appartement" reflects the palace design and includes furniture such as the Rosace table designed for the president alongside works created for Louis Vuitton's Design Miami event (the Module B bookshelf, for instance), and several new Paulin prototype pieces scheduled to debut at an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris later this year. The furniture was custom-made for the installation.

Paulin's work is enjoying something of a renaissance with his early designs, such as the Ribbon chair, selling well at auction. His organic designs - using an inner structure of steel tubing covered in foam and stretchy fabric to create comfortable, curvaceous shapes - were groundbreaking when unveiled in the 1960s and '70s.

His son, Benjamin, said the designer was strongly influenced by a synthesis of Scandinavian, American and Japanese themes.

"He travelled to Finland in 1948 and was very impressed by how modern design was such a popular element used by normal people and then became a reference for rich people. In France it was the other way around. He wanted to design for everybody."

The idea of collaborating on a private apartment in Hong Kong emerged when Louis Vuitton's creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, asked the family's permission to feature the designer's sculptural Osaka sofa (designed in 1967 for the World Fair in Japan) in a fashion show.

Recalling Louis Vuitton's Charlotte Perriand beach house project (a recreation of the house nearly 80 years after it was originally designed) exhibited in Miami in 2013, Maia raised the idea of a similar project that would include a new vision of Paulin's works.

The project was instrumental in enticing Michel Chalard, Paulin's assistant of nearly 40 years, out of retirement.

The by-invitation space at an undisclosed location in Central (which closes on April 17), with a French chef and a sneak preview of the brand's new fashion collection, is designed for entertaining Louis Vuitton's VIP customers. There are two sitting rooms, a private room featuring The Nest squared mushroom chair, and a dining area decorated with original and prototype designs, including a particularly striking red Fauteuil curved chair.

Paulin's timeless Pyramide shelving unit, which could be configured in different shapes, is also on show, along with a new modular shelving system that sports invisible hinges that allow it to adhere to any curved wall.

"Pierre's works always had a sense of functionalism," Maia says. "He used to say beauty would come if you solve a problem."