Mhairi Graham, August 5, 2013
To Emilie Grenier, the idea of luxury is autobiographical – items inspired by heirlooms that tell a story of traditional craftsmanship and history. “Luxury is the feeling that emanates from rare objects,” she explains, “these products find their value within the stories that they tell much more than by their primary application.”
Grenier recently graduated from an MA in Textile Futures at Central Saint Martins, where she worked with industrial technology to reinvent traditional crafts, and in turn challenge the definition of luxury. Consistently pushing the limits of her design process, she creates opulent qualities from more common objects.
“The underlying question really is: How can we design for the one percent without going to Hell?” Grenier asks of the luxury market today. She looks to sustainable and everyday materials, such as using silversmith techniques on industrial extruded brass to give it a similar appearance to gold or silver, or using feldspar as opposed to rare minerals. “I don’t believe that sustainability should be a box that we check to be on trend. It is our responsibility to address it without artifice. In that sense, it is pervasive and woven into most of my design choices.”
Through this attitude comes Grenier’s work Disquiet Luxurians, which challenges the notions of rarity and value through her use of Feldspar, a prevalent rock-formation that makes up 60 percent of the Earth’s crust, which is often used for glassmaking and ceramics. “Throughout the ages, we have defined ourselves by what we can achieve with the materials that surround us. In these times of economic austerity, I believe that we should redefine our material palettes and playgrounds to better design our sustainable futures.”
Grenier developed her design process with the assistance of Roger Dunkin, head of lapidary at Holt Gems, Hatton Garden. Together they devised and developed specific cuts to transform the “meaningless rock” into luxurious compositions, including an Art-Deco-inspired cocktail ring and combining it with silk-chiffon to create delicate artifacts. “The material is very difficult to work with, and once cut, Feldspar becomes extremely brittle. In true luxurious form, the pieces should only be worn occasionally.”
Grenier’s definition of luxury can also be seen in her work The Lace Collection. Her interest with lace stems from her appreciation of creating something beautifully precious out of nothing. She replicates the artisan techniques using modern materials such as hot metal and wire to create electrical woven structures, alongside deconstructed barbour jackets laser-cut into lace handkerchiefs. “I like to find beauty in the play between soft and industrial.” Grenier travelled from London to Calais to gather lace patterns, which had originally been smuggled into France in 1816. Inspired by their history and intricate details, she translated the patterns using hot metal glue, magnet wire and industrial rope.
Grenier currently lives in London and describes her working environment as “developing experimental material work in Le Creuset pots and working well into the night.” Grenier has always appreciated elegance, mythical fantasies and other worlds, and hopes to travel and further develop her designs and investigation into alternative materials. “Being a designer perhaps allows for my sense of wonderment for the graceful and the precious to exist without too many compromises. I appreciate the nomadic lifestyle that design allows for, although recently my bags have been filled with kilos of rocks and metals…”