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12 November 2019

Leather and wood creations, meeting with Damien Béal

A true ambassador of French savoir faire and craftsmanship, designer maker Damien Béal welcomes us in his newly opened studio-workshop in Versailles. Through the surprising combination of materials and innovative techniques, Damien makes it his priority to produce quality and sustainable creations.

© Damien Béal

Kreamondo : You completed a cabinet making and joinery training at Les Compagnons du Devoir. Where did this desire to move towards leather and to combine wood and leather in your creations come from ?

Damien Béal : It’s true that my initial training is orientated towards wood but I’ve always been attracted to other materials and other lines of work. During my training, I spent a lot of time in shoemaker and tapestry workshops. It’s in 2013 that I first started working with leather. Upon Erica Stefani’s request – a Master Mosaic maker – I created a bag made out of wood, embedded with tesserae, La Ninetta. From this collaboration was born a desire to integrate wood in everyday objects. After a process of trial and error with various materials including felt, leather’s feel and durability rapidly made it an ideal material to work with. Once my choice was made, I was wondering which was the best technique to use in order to put wood and leather together. Indeed, I didn’t want wood to be a mere ornement in addition to leather but have the two sewn together. Bags such as Le Strict Minimum are hand sewn following a traditional leatherwork technique called “point sellier“.

© Damien Béal

We can see that you undertake ambitious projects (bags, a bike, clocks and much more) ! Do you impose certain limits when designing your creations ? Where do you draw such inspiration from ?

I love allowing myself to work on any type of objects. I’m always thinking about new projects and I keep a notebook at all times with me to write down any idea that might come up. I keep my creative process as open as possible. In contrast, it can occur that a limit is imposed on me when I start making the object. The limit can be reached when considering the cost of certain raw materials or the lack of time to develop each project fully. For that reason, a number of my creations are still prototypes and are yet to find a place in my studio-workshop. In any case, whatever the creation may be, I follow a directive line which is high French quality and the use of noble materials, chosen for their aesthetics qualities and purchased from environmentally mindful suppliers. When it comes to my inspiration, I only need to look around because everyday objects are my main source of inspiration. I can’t deny the influence of contemporary home designs in my work, whether industrial or Scandinavian, and more precisely chairs that I’ve been collecting. As a result, all of my creations follow a sleek style of design, putting an emphasis on the materials themselves and showcasing the creation process.

© Damien Béal

You talk about a need to go back to durable objects that withstand the test of time. How important is the notion of sustainability in your creations ?

I’m often left in shock by our consumption habits and by our acceptance of the lack of quality of certain objects. Nowadays, the general public tends to focus on the price of the things they buy instead of taking a look at the details of what makes a quality object. Therefore, the notions of sustainability but also quality are essential and vital to my creative process. I spend a lot of time questioning my creations in the choice of materials, accessories, techniques… I strive to go back to the fundamentals of what makes an object durable, for which the impact of time embellishes it. I perceive my creations as life companions that I might have the pleasure to see in an antique shop in a few years.

© Damien Béal

Your creations are sold worldwide. Is it possible to talk about a radiance of French craftsmanship internationally ?

Undeniably, French craftsmanship is recognised worldwide. I’ve experienced it myself, there is a keen interest for French savoir faire. Numerous organisations such as Atelier d’Art de France strive to promote our work internationally. As a result, more and more designers makers have the opportunity to sell their work in countries such as Japan, China, etc. However, this international exposure imposes the creator to reflect on his/her development and that of his/her business. Personally, I pride myself on not outsourcing the production of any of my creations. The guaranty of providing customers with objects made in France has meant that I’ve had to control the growth of my business.

© Damien Béal

Could you tell us a bit more about future projects or creations you are currently working on ?

My latest project was to finish moving into my new studio-workshop. I’ve just moved into a new place located on 40 rue d’Anjou in Versailles. This one is much bigger than my previous workshop and allows me to showcase furniture designs, decorative objects as well as leather creations. There, I want to exhibit my ongoing collaborations like the one with Enfants Sauvages, but also new bags that will be presented at the Salon Maison et Objet in January 2020. Moreover, certain furniture that I’ve been working on for a few years will finally have a place. I cannot say too much about my upcoming project but I can let you know that it’s a unique piece designed in partnership with a textile designer…

© Damien Béal

Follow Damien Béal on Instagram, Facebook and on his website to discover his upcoming collections.

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