Scott Richler of Gabriel Scott on Aesthetics and Engineering in Design
Writer Rosanna Robertson
Images Courtesy of Gabriel Scott
At the intersection of fine art, fashion and jewellery, Gabriel Scott’s London showroom is aptly located on London’s Old Burlington Street – nestled behind Savile Row, the historic home to the finest tailors, and adjacent to the magnificence and opulence of the Bond Street jewellers and fashion houses. The neighbours – which include the diptych galleries of Hauser + Wirth, and the Royal Academy of Art – find a certain sympatico with lighting and furniture design studio Gabriel Scott. Headed by Scott Richler, Gabriel Scott produces objects that reference art and architecture, fashion and jewellery, making it very much at home amongst it’s Mayfair peers.
Having studied architecture, Richler moved quickly into jewellery design and fashion, focusing mainly on accessories, before moving into bespoke furniture. “Architecture school prepares students for a huge variety of things because the education is creatively and historically broad,” notes Richler, whose architectural education informs his designs, imbuing them with a highly technical understanding of structure. Richler’s bespoke designs were often at a monumental scale: tables made in solid brass, a towering pair of crypt doors and imposing custom staircases.
“The work that I started making was artisan-based, labour intensive, and heavy – both in the sense of its weight, and also that it was heavy to tackle, it was a real challenge.” From his studio in Montreal, Richler moved away from the bespoke model and towards something more scalable, all whilst retaining the same “mentality of luxury”. In addition to changing the scale and methods of production, Richler’s also had to adapt his designs so that they could be made by “artisans that were locally-based, but who were not necessarily fully endowed with the skills that were required to do the type of work I was doing before.”
“We make things in lots of pieces, which is very intentional – there’s engineering behind that [system] as it means that you can use artisans or labour that isn’t specifically skilled. We can teach someone how to make very [small], specific things – just like you can in jewellery-making.” Like all good design, Gabriel Scott’s aesthetic developed as the solution to a problem, and their modular design ethos has continued forward, becoming part of the brand’s identity.
“[We asked ourselves] ‘How do we make furniture in pieces?’ – and I say ‘in pieces’ because very often furniture is heavy, it’s all been welded together … The Welles [lighting design] was the real beginning of our modular thinking, [when we] understood its importance in our practice. It came from the idea of wanting to build something that could be made in multiple directions that could grow very organically … We came up with this form, realising that when you assemble it, you could twist and turn it-and then we just had to figure out the materiality. First was metal, then glass, and now we’re experimenting in other materials.”
The Welles system comprises individual polygons – mathematical diagrams rendered in three-dimensions – assembled from flat triangles and squares that tessellate together to create hollow geometric forms, at once angular and circular. Rendered in blackened steel with a brass interior, the forms take on a gothic quality whilst remaining steadfastly contemporary. A white exterior lends the Welles a cloud-like purity, and fabricated in glass it possesses an Art Deco glamour. Much like the cinematographers of Hollywood’s Golden Age who would smear vaseline on their lens to achieve a softer, dreamier aesthetic, the Glass Welles shifts away from the sharp, industrial aesthetic of the original and towards a more tactile, blurry-edged interpretation.
Richler notes that modular, customisable designs mean that a design can be reimagined many times over, becoming an infinite collection rather than a singular piece. “What’s nice about that, for us and for the architects and interior designers, is that it offers more than just one skew in a collection.” This more collaborative approach brings the pieces to life, as they interact with the space rather than simply decorating it. “Some designers will take what we do and will translate it into something so spectacular – we can’t take full credit there, but we can take the credit for the system.”
The Luna series is the latest modular lighting design from Gabriel Scott, named in reference to the alluring, diffused light of the moon. The design itself also makes reference to the space-age design of the 1950 and 60s, with its sleek silhouette and an appealing sense of weightlessness. A linear tube of light, broken into units of varying lengths, is finished at both ends with a smooth metal fixture – a mechanical stopper or vacuum seal, perhaps. This streamlined inner tube is threaded with voluminous glass beads that glide, frictionless, along the luminous core. Curved and tinted, sensuous and sculptural, the glass forms are in contrast to the minimalist inner tube, which is bare in parts and adorned in others. The glass discs and rounds pile atop one another like a pendant when hung vertically, or when horizontal they are dotted along its length like charms on a chain.
A pared-back yet customisable design, the Luna is a resounding success thanks to its concision: the variables – the different shapes, colours and possibilities – are limited, which gives clients licence to play. Richler’s colour palette is restricted and muted, vintage almost. Like a faded photograph, the colours dilute – still detectable, yet watery and unsaturated. “From our perspective it’s about tone, as opposed to colour … [This] is my personal preference – but it’s also a question of longevity. Unless colour is used very intentionally, then it gets tiring.”
“The Myriad is complex, floral, gem-like – [it] has a whole complex language,“ notes Richler of the modular, asymmetric lighting design that bears a striking, if abstracted, resemblance to a tree-branch, heavy with fruit or freshly unfurled flowers. Both the Myriad and the Briolette have a strong connection to jewellery design – both aesthetically and technically. The faceted glass shapes are treated like gemstones, “a diamond would be cut and then polished, and our glass is blown thick and then polished, much like diamonds or rubies are.”
Gabriel Scott’s pronged settings and metal claws offer a glimpse into the engineering, the ingenuity, of jewellery design: ”They’re certainly jewellery-like – the way things are set, and some of the mechanical assemblies – which are [put together] exactly as a piece of jewellery would be.” Many of Gabriel Scott’s elegant designs make use of their equally elegant engineering, with contrasting brass plates and matching flat-headed screws becoming part of the aesthetic as well as the construction. Rather than tricking the eye, obliterating all signs of a design’s mechanics, Richler has a more honest approach – transparent, even.
The influence of jewellery design is also present in Gabriel Scott’s furniture designs, which balance slim metal scaffolds with luxurious detailing, plush textiles and subtle yet delightful gestures. The Boudoir chairs and stools exemplify Gabriel Scott’s position on form and function, and the play between hard and soft: a thin metal tray forms the seat, curving gently upwards on both sides to encase and steady the cushion above. Lined with leather, the foreboding metal form is softened – creating a protective shell, with an inviting interior.
Gabriel Scott’s designs are in harmony with each other, whilst remaining well-defined. The Bardot series of tables and stools uses leather in a similar way to the Boudoir, to soften, pad and protect. Following the outline of the metal base, the leather traces the shape of the circular top, extending a little down the legs – buttoned down with a small brass or copper baton. A cufflink, a horsebit, something found in the mechanic’s workshop – this subtle metal detail speaks again to the interconnectedness of design and engineering in Richler’s work, attaining a sense of refinement and finesse on both fronts.
“There are no direct influences [on my work] – my influences come from pure things, like geometry or materials” notes Richler, whose broad background in design has been built upon a strong foundation of mathematics and geometry, material and space. The late Alber Elbaz’s jewellery for the French fashion house Lanvin was an inspiration, as are the plump, intensely-coloured jewels by Italian jeweller, Pomellato.
Books on artists and designers, piled three or four high on the tables and consoles, are scattered throughout the Gabriel Scott showroom, revealing a little something about their maker. The immense scale and radical simplicity of Richard Serra’s sculptures; the gestural beauty of Pierre Soulages’ monochrome paintings; the playful take on functionality in Verner Panton’s designs. Richler’s origins in Canada, a country whose “design history is less mature” has afforded him a blank slate upon which he could discern good art, good design and good practice for himself – without being weighed down by its history or overwhelmed by its influence. With a multidisciplinary approach to design, Richler’s objects have a certain fluidity – speaking to nature and culture, industry and luxury, the body and the mind.
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