Sports score at Paris design week

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Bounce on a basketball net seat, swing in a hangglider armchair or perch on a tennis racket stool: style and know-how from the sports world burst onto the playing field as Paris' first ever citywide Design Week kicked off Monday.

Designers from Europe and beyond have started looking to sports equipment -- highly engineered objects by definition -- for inspiration, high-tech fabrics and industrial processes, trendwatcher Francois Bernard told AFP.

Bernard spent the past year gathering sports-inspired pieces from around the world to showcase at the annual Maison et Objet design mecca, which opened outside Paris at the weekend, first of a packed week of design-linked events.

Weatherproof ship sails were stitched into deep, bouncy inflatable garden chairs, a tennis net was strung on a green metal structure to make a bench, a bike seat on a pole was screwed into the ground for a stool, or an armchair was moulded using racing car technology.

"It's really something quite new. These objects aren't beautiful in the usual sense, but they take on values we associate with sport, like resistance, high quality and high performance," said Bernard.

Rucksack maker Eastpak echoed the trend with a blocky red, zippered sofa in the spirit of its ubiquitous packs. "Everyone wants to know where they can buy one," said Bernard.

He said the sports-inspired pieces mark a "real break" with several dominant trends: an obsession with all-natural materials, references to 20th-century design from the 1950s to the 1970s, and a tendency towards single-edition pieces that are more art than design.

"There isn't a piece of wood, probably not even a scrap of cotton in all this. It's all synthetic materials -- but made using clean technology, instead of destroying tropical forests to make cheap garden furniture."

"And these are objects that are intended to be manufactured, not as limited edition pieces."

Mother Earth still got a big look-in at the Maison et Objet fair, but natural tones and materials were increasingly paired with synthetic ones, according to design guru Vincent Gregoire.

Gregoire searched out and displayed dozens of design objects that play on a "meeting of extremes" -- pitting the natural against the man-made, neutral against acid tones, retro and vintage looks against futurism.

A set of porcelain dinner plates was a collage of two halves, one European in design, the other oriental.

Lampshades, tables and vases came in pairs, interlocked, back-to-front or side by side, while a heavy black buffet was cast half in an angular modern style, and half with retro lion's paw feet.

And there was "an extraordinary number of love seats" that were "an excuse for a conversation, for an encounter", said Gregoire.

"In the 2000 decade it was all about extremes, like luxury against fast fashion. These days people are looking for harmony, for a balance between paradoxes, for fusion."

Fellow trend guru Elizabeth Leriche persuaded eight collectors to loan their precious hoard for the show, with collections ranging from the mundane to the exceptional, from plastic bags and toasters to rare masks and artefacts.

"Accumulating objects is a real revealer of people's private thoughts," said Leriche who showed the collections alongside young designers whose work plays on similar ideas, such as a glass cabinet full of butterflies each cut from the pages of a map book.

Modelled on similar events in London, Milan or Tokyo, the organisers of Maisons et Objet, which caters to a trade audience, this year hope to attract thousands of non-professionals to a week of design-linked events.

The French capital is home to some 8,000 designers and related firms -- in addition to stars like Philippe Starck -- and Paris Design Week will see around 100 design houses, stores, hotels, restaurants and exhibition spaces across the city throw open their doors.

© 2011 AFP

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