In 2002, when your career was already well-established, you decided to move to Japan where you had to start all over again – why?
I visited Japan for the first time in 2000. For a long time, without really knowing why, I had found myself attracted to Japan’s culture and delicate nature. Once there, this initial impression was confirmed and even strengthened. I couldn’t go back to France and carry on with my life as if nothing significant had happened. Therefore, for two years, I alternated between assignments in France and visits to Japan during which I formed a network of contacts. In 2002, I moved over properly and the adventure lasted for ten years.
How do you view this unprecedented experience?
I would say that two phases define this decade: the one of beginnings, and the one of trust. Upon my arrival, I founded a collective with three other designers which we called ‘Postnormal’. We shared an office, the costs and an administrative assistant who was also a translator for us. This association helped us launch ourselves. In Tokyo, I also met someone who worked at Hermès. For seven years, four times a year, I designed and produced their window displays. In 2005, I got my first really important project for Restir, a Japanese company specialised in luxury boutiques, the French equivalent of which would be the concept store l’Eclaireur. The company asked me to design the entirety of the project: its overall design, its logo and style guide, the interior design, the window displays, the merchandising…the opening of the boutique was met with real success. This key step meant I no longer had to go offering my services door-to-door.
You talk about the idea of trust, what do you mean by that exactly?
In Japan, trust and respect are the cornerstones of working relationships. Working with a company on site is a very pleasant experience: everything has its place, time frames are respected and infinite care is taken with each small detail. The client doesn’t ask you why you chose navy blue rather than black, or marble rather than coloured ceramic. They trust you – if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have chosen to work with you.
How can a Japanese client trust a foreigner who does not speak his language?
At the start, I felt like I was constantly hitting a brick wall…I learnt to guess, to understand the meaning behind certain silences…Paradoxically, not speaking the language turned out to be a strength. If I express myself in Japanese, in a way I become a little bit Japanese and men start viewing me differently. Now, in Japan, it’s semantic, men and women do not use vocabulary in the same way, and this strengthens this impression of restraint and even shyness women give off when they talk. It’s an obstacle which complicates the negotiation process. This is why a foreigner – if she does not speak in Japanese – can allow herself to be a little more direct. The price you pay is that it remains very difficult to integrate yourself. In the eyes of the Japanese, a foreigner will always be a…foreigner.
In a field where aesthetics play a key role, has your European culture proved to be an asset?
There are a whole range of references which feed my aesthetic vision. I have always liked wasabi, a Japanese aesthetic concept coming from Zen which is difficult to define in just a few words. It’s a way of accepting the nature of things, their gentle erosion…and to this I add my attraction for minimalist art and French elegance, which I infuse with a couple of sensual touches.
Why did you decide to leave Japan for Hong Kong?
I want to develop my work across the entirety of Asia and from Japan I admit I was unable to do so. Hong Kong seems to me like a more international city which plays a central role in Asia. I founded Laur Meyrieux studio there in January 2012. I built my team, found suppliers and clients. We’ve just finished a beautiful project for Samsung in Korea. It’s encouraging.
What are your sources of inspiration, your passions?
– Zen and its minimalism.
– Any artists who delay with the question of light in space in a relevant way; the installations by James Turrell, Dan Flavin and Olafur Eliasson; Donald Judd’s minimalist works and the spaces photographed by Candida Höfer.
– Qi Gong, yoga and meditation.