Royal Selangor presents its latest collection, Vapour, a collaboration with renowned designer Nathan Yong. Cai Mei Khoo visits the Lion City for the unveiling, and discusses craftsmanship with the Singaporean talent and the brand’s executive director, Y
What do you like best about design? NY: Design is great fun because you get to think about structural problems and come up with a solution. There’s only one truth in beauty and a good designer should be able to translate that from 2D into 3D. Let’s talk about this collaboration with Royal Selangor. Nathan Yong: I tried to design a collection that is modern and decorative. Yet I seldom do things that are purely decorative. I chose a pattern that’s modern and fits into what Royal Selangor can do with pewter. It’s about texture and pushing the skill set of the factory. It’s my first collection for them, aside from the trophy I designed for the brand for the Singapore F1 Grand Prix. Yoon Li: People are attracted to beautiful things. Nathan’s job is to create beautiful things and we are here to make it happen. NY: A designer, without the right partner, can only dream. Work with the wrong partner and they won’t really do your designs justice. With a good partner, sometimes your product can look even better, and that’s excatly why partnering with the right brand is so important. What was the inspiration for this particular collection? YL: We’ve been in Singapore for almost 50 years now and we have a range called Singapore Scenes, which was due for an update. I wanted to move away from the kitschy, more touristy items to something more cerebral, to evoke emotion. NY: When I think of Royal Selangor, I know what patterns they have in their collections. Some are
I think it came out very well. It’s a cliché but I feel people want an element of surprise and in the tea caddy, the ball of wood or marble inside lends that element of surprise. The curves in the cap make the ball look like it’s floating. Your recurring sources of inspiration? NY: It’s about absorbing things, being passionate, curious about life. I don’t have a standard answer when I design. It’s like 4D – the balls are different ideas. Sometimes you hit the mark, sometimes you don’t. Do you remember what it was that first got you interested in design? NY: In my school days, I was shopping for a Discman but couldn’t find one that was beautiful. I didn’t know who created these products then and later found out about product design courses. Industrial design was a new course offered in Singapore back in the day. You won a Red Dot Concept Design award for a mass-produced coffin you designed. Tell us more about that. NY: That was quite sombre. I designed that during the more heritage-based, some are more craft-like. I wanted to reinvent a pattern that can be used in most objects. The lines are very poetic – they start to dissipate further down the object. They’re also functional as they help in gripping the container. Besides the signature house pewter, what were the materials chosen for Vapour? YL: Whenever we work with a designer, we provide a brief and let them know what materials to work with. It was actually Nathan who proposed to use Volakas and walnut. NY: All three materials chosen have different types of texture. Resin is probably more masculine, while the marble and walnut have a sort of heritage feel to them. In my work, I try to include inspiration from the past. Pewter evokes a sense of oldness, and is also very industrial-looking so I tried to balance that with materials that are more minimalistic such as marble and wood. The tea caddy with Volakas is unique. Are you happy with the way it turned out? NY: time of the 2004 tsunami, in a place where there were no proper burial materials. The coffin I designed is actually easy to assemble – a night production can produce 100 pieces – and they are stackable for ease of transportation. It’s all white with curved edges. I would like to be buried in one. Is that one of the more interesting designs you’ve worked on? NY: Well, I also designed a portable toilet. It’s not glamorous but addresses a very real need. It’s meant for people who don’t have easy access to water. I like design that’s not just part of a consumer system but that helps people, too. If you weren’t an industrial designer, you would be ... NY: I would probably be working in a zoo. But I’ve always wanted to be a designer, since I was 16. I said then that I wanted to be as famous as Philippe Starck. I’m quite happy with how far I’ve come. What has been a highlight of your design career thus far? YL: Working with Royal Selangor [ laughs]. NY: The first time I sold to Ligne Roset. All my life I’d wanted to design for an international brand. That was about six years ago and something I can now check off my list. Singapore F1 Grand Prix was pretty exciting for me, too. I was very happy when Yoon Li called me saying, “Let’s submit the design for the trophy.” And our design was selected. The ultimate thing you want to design? NY: A car. There are too many ugly cars out there with the wrong lines and proportion. I don’t get it. Where do you think design is heading? NY: Design is everywhere in our lives right now. I think people have different views of how they want to consume, of how they live their lives. They are now more into objects that have a story to tell. YL: I agree with Nathan. If we can curate a story that’s tight enough, for people to appreciate good design, that’s the next step for us. A few years ago, there was that huge DIY movement but people are starting to appreciate the finer things in life, investing in heirlooms, things that they can pass on to the next generation. Hopefully, we can be part of that movement. Priced from RM280, the Vapour collection is available at all Royal Selangor retail stores and authorised dealers, as well as online at www.royalselangor.com.
Nathan Yong with his collection for Royal Selangor
Yong Yoon Li with Nathan Yong