Michael Anastassiades: Play­ing By His Own Rules

Play­ing by His Own Rules

Azure - - CONTENTS - By Sa­man­tha Tse

The light­ing mae­stro ex­pounds on the power of spheres – and why he doesn’t like In­sta­gram

Michael Anastassiades is deep in con­ver­sa­tion at his North Lon­don stu­dio, a space he moved into last Au­gust af­ter spend­ing nearly a decade op­er­at­ing out of his own house, which also moon­lighted as his brand’s head­quar­ters. He is fin­ish­ing a Skype call when I walk in. I’m greeted by his as­sis­tants and a black Dachs­hund named Sugi. The build­ing, which dates back to 1902, be­came an auto re­pair garage in 1962. Anastassiades ac­quired it three years ago, turn­ing it into an open-plan ate­lier, where the still-raw front area is used as a test­ing ground for prod­ucts in de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing one of his large-scale mo­bile light­ing fix­tures. Fur­ther in, the space gives way to a skylit ceil­ing that floods the in­te­rior with nat­u­ral light. There aren’t many fin­ished prod­ucts around; his house is still the show­room, while this space is for a staff of nine – 10 if you in­clude Michael – who man­age daily busi­ness op­er­a­tions and ex­plore new ideas. Anastassiades’ aes­thetic has of­ten been de­scribed as re­duc­tive, geo­met­ric and serene. It works on the idea of peel­ing away the ex­tra­ne­ous to re­veal a stream­lined po­et­i­cism that has been in­te­gral to the de­signer’s brand since its be­gin­nings a decade ago. There’s a com­pelling mix­ture of moder­nity and bal­ance in all of the pieces, most of which are ex­quis­ite light­ing fix­tures, though the min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic also ex­tends to other ob­jects – th­ese in­clude the bronze Ball vase (2006), which is shaped like a bowl­ing ball, and the Float­ing For­est vase from 2015, which is com­posed of a thin brass cone that rests on the rim of a glass in or­der to prop up a root­ing seed. Re­gard­less

“I choose ma­te­ri­als for their ag­ing abil­ity – how beau­ti­ful they be­come with time”

of scale or medium, Anastassiades main­tains con­sis­tency and clar­ity by jux­ta­pos­ing sen­su­al­ity with strict­ness in the sil­hou­ette. His pen­dant lamps’ sparse lines are soft­ened with that ever-present spher­i­cal mo­tif. Anastassiades, of course, de­scribes his work quite dif­fer­ently. “It’s a con­tin­u­a­tion of lines,” he says of his cir­cles. “For me, spheres cap­ture the ul­ti­mate pri­mal form. You can’t get any sim­pler than that.” That clar­ity has at­tracted the at­ten­tion of such com­pa­nies as Her­man Miller and Ital­ian mar­ble man­u­fac­turer Sal­va­tori, along with design deal­ers like Nina Yashar, founder of Nil­u­far Gallery in Mi­lan. Since 2011, though, his main client has been the Ital­ian light­ing gi­ant Flos. “Michael is a great tal­ent,” says CEO Piero Gan­dini. “His work is al­ways guided by his own per­sonal vi­sion and his own sen­si­tiv­i­ties.” In fact, de­spite a re­mark­able client list, the Cyprus-born de­signer seems al­most aloof to the usual pres­sures of the design scene, even though he is a reg­u­lar fix­ture at Salone del Mo­bile and ICFF in New York. He doesn’t spend much time hob­nob­bing at in­dus­try par­ties, and his re­gal re­serve is some­times mis­taken for shy­ness. In per­son, he ex­presses his pas­sion for his craft with a laser fo­cus that is al­most dis­arm­ing. Af­ter train­ing as a civil en­gi­neer and grad­u­at­ing from the Royal Col­lege of Art in Lon­don in 1993, Anastassiades took on var­i­ous short-term gigs, in­clud­ing a stint at Tom Dixon, which in the early ’90s was a much smaller com­pany than it is to­day. “Back then, Tom was fab­ri­cat­ing a lot of his own pieces, and they were mainly one-offs he was mak­ing for gal­leries,” the de­signer re­calls. “I went there to learn how to weld.” But Anastassiades’ plan was al­ways to have au­ton­omy. Af­ter shop­ping his port­fo­lio around to other stu­dios with­out much suc­cess, he set up his own, fi­nanc­ing his var­i­ous unique projects by teach­ing yoga. “In 1993, yoga was not what it is to­day, nor did it have the same as­so­ci­a­tions as to­day,” he says. “But when I tried one class, I im­me­di­ately saw the ben­e­fits, and

“I don’t like the way so­cial me­dia has en­cour­aged things to be­come su­per­fi­cial. It is a dif­fer­ent type of con­sump­tion based solely on image”

I got hooked.” He trained ex­ten­sively, study­ing first in Lon­don, then with renowned teacher Richard Free­man in Colorado. “I was able to fi­nan­cially sup­port my­self and keep ex­plor­ing my ideas in the least dis­rup­tive way,” he says of teach­ing. “I was also dis­tanc­ing my­self from the world of design, so my process was far from com­mer­cial, be­cause I wasn’t de­sign­ing in or­der to make a liv­ing.” While he no longer teaches, yoga and med­i­ta­tion are still a big part of his life, and in all of his work there is a re­fine­ment that evokes a sense of tran­quil­ity. “I choose ma­te­ri­als for their ag­ing abil­ity – how beau­ti­ful they be­come with time,” he ex­plains. That runs counter to the re­al­ity of light­ing, which has evolved dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years. As light bulbs started to be phased out, Anastassiades had to re­think his method­ol­ogy. His cur­rent work is ev­i­dence of this. More like sculp­tures than fix­tures, his light­ing blurs the line be­tween design and art. “For me... dis­tinc­tions be­tween cre­ative dis­ci­plines shouldn’t be there,” he says. “I pro­duce ob­jects. If peo­ple want to la­bel them as sculp­tures, I don’t have a prob­lem with that, but I la­bel them as design pieces.” While Anastassiades still runs his own brand un­der his own name as an el­e­vated plat­form to cre­ate light­ing, fur­ni­ture and table­top ob­jects, it’s his on­go­ing part­ner­ship with Flos that’s given him the free­dom to ex­e­cute more am­bi­tious projects. Among th­ese is Ar­range­ments, a pen­dant se­ries he de­buted at Salone del Mo­bile in 2017. In it, thin LED strips are linked and bal­anced in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions rem­i­nis­cent of jew­ellery. Gan­dini says he was ini­tially in­tro­duced to Anastassiades’ work in 2011 by Mur­ray Moss of the iconic Moss design gallery. The Soho store was, in its day, one of the most im­por­tant pur­vey­ors of con­tem­po­rary design, and Moss was quick to sup­port new tal­ent be­fore any­one else. Gan­dini was im­pressed with the work but couldn’t re­mem­ber the de­signer’s name. He re­counted the story to Pa­tri­cia Urquiola, who in­sisted it was Anastassiades and that they should meet up. The two met briefly in Mi­lan and again a month later in the back of a Lon­don cab, where Gan­dini of­fered Anastassiades a part­ner­ship. “When you have a guy who has such a strong, pe­cu­liar, in­no­va­tive vi­sion and iden­tity, we just wanted to work with him,” says Gan­dini. “If you look at the prod­ucts he’s done with us, they’re all suc­cess­ful. They’re el­e­gant but also very strong. They re­ally change the panorama and sce­nario of an en­vi­ron­ment.” While most brands clam­our to go global and reach new mar­kets via design fairs, in­ter­na­tional prod­uct launches, and, of course, so­cial me­dia, Anastassiades has kept things sim­ple. “I am aware of the weight that so­cial me­dia car­ries for a lot of peo­ple, but it doesn’t carry so much for me,” he says. His In­sta­gram page, when checked early this year, had only five images, and the last post on his Twit­ter ac­count was from 2013. “I don’t like the way so­cial me­dia has en­cour­aged things to be­come su­per­fi­cial,” he says. “It is a dif­fer­ent type of con­sump­tion based solely on image, and where all that matters is how the per­son gets re­flected in that back­drop. Design is about real things. It’s things that do not nec­es­sar­ily pho­to­graph well that mean so much more to us. I’ve made a con­scious choice to cre­ate some­thing that is in­de­pen­dent of how the rest of the world func­tions.”

Made of pow­der-coated alu­minum, this two-legged LED lamp rests on the floor and stands 1.25 me­tres tall. For Nil­u­far Gallery in Mi­lan, Anastassiades crafted pen­dants that could eas­ily be viewed as art. But the de­signer is in­dif­fer­ent to how his work...

Ar­range­ments for Flos takes ad­van­tage of how LED tech­nol­ogy al­lows light to as­sume vir­tu­ally any shape.

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