Alains love for combining the old with the new is obvious in his work as well as in his style. We visited him in his apartment in the heart of Amsterdam, which also serves as his work space.
Meet Alain, self-proclaimed art junkie, creative director and parttime teacher at the Artemis Styling Academy.
Tell us about your background and your earliest experiences with design.
What was your starting point?
Looking back, I realize I grew up in this breeding ground for creativity. My dad was always creating, as an artist and as a restaurant owner. His restaurant also served as an exposition space. When he wasn’t painting, he was building stuff for the restaurant. As a kid, I spent a lot of time there.
My parents tell me I have always had a thing for colours, shapes and textures. I used to draw a lot, I dreamt of becoming a cartoonist. In high school I started customizing T-shirts and old denim jackets. I used to go to the legendary themed party’s at the Now and Wow club in Rotterdam, a 1,5 hour train ride from my home town Nijmegen. I would work on my outfit for days! When I went to high school in the US for a year, I noticed the difference in number plates, road signs, pictograms… it made me aware of the power of visual communication. And of the fact that much of what you see is created by someone, and that this was called design. That’s when my fascination for the design of bars, hotels and restaurants started to grow.
First, someone asked me to design a logo, then some packaging and before I knew it, I was designing the menu for a restaurant.
How did you end up becoming a creative director?
After graduating at the Artemis Academy I did a postgraduate course whilst working in a restaurant in Amsterdam. I had the fortune of meeting people who believed in me. First, someone asked me to design a logo, then some packaging and before I knew it, I was designing the menu for a restaurant. These people gave me the opportunity to start freelancing as a graphic designer while I was still doing the postgraduate course. It was all based on trust, since I didn’t have a portfolio or a website. I guess the way you interact with people, the way you talk, the way you dress, gives people a sense of your taste in design. It was all based on a certain human connection and a matter of trust, which still is how I get offered projects. More than that: I still don’t have an up to date website!
Later on, the graphic design evolved into interior and concept creating. Nowadays, I often put together small teams with copywriters, developers and designers to work on bars, hotels and restaurants like Libertine, Firelli’s, Wijmpje Beukers in Amsterdam and hotel Manna and hotel Blue in Nijmegen. You have to share a certain vision together, but ‘the click’ is what’s most important. Only if you enjoy working together, you’ll get the best result possible.
So it’s a peoples business. What else distinguishes your work?
The old with the new: it’s my favourite combination. My style is minimalistic and I love futuristic and technological elements in an interior. I also try to work with existing elements in interiors wherever possible. I love the poetic feeling that comes with older stuff, whether it’s music, furniture, clothing or a watch. This feeling is fully appreciated when put in a contemporary context. People know I’m always looking for vintage furniture, so I get a call about new finds every now and then. I also collect vintage sunglasses and watches, so I’m a regular visitor of online marketplaces like Marktplaats, Fabrieknl and Catawiki. Whenever possible, I make sustainable choices when choosing materials for a project. The sustainable idea of recycling stuff instead of throwing it away is a big plus of vintage.
You have a lot of magazines on your shelves. Which ones do you enjoy the most at the moment?
I love “the classics” like Fantastic Man, The Gourmant and Monocle but also really dig small indie magazines like Mac Guffin or A city made by people. In the weekend I like to relax with some local newspapers. I always read Volkskrant magazine, Sir Edmund and the PS magazine from Parool.
Do you have a favourite piece of furniture or object in your apartment?
I am still in love with the Auping daybed I found on Marktplaats about six years ago. It’s not super comfy, but I really like the sleek design in combination with the texture of the fabric. The artworks are certainly the most defining objects in my interior. My dad’s paintings are usually quite big, so some of my walls are completely filled up by his work. I recently started to build my own small art collection, by buying work from (young) photographers, illustrators and other artists. The rest of the walls are filled with personal stuff, like photo’s and collages I made myself or vintage pics from my mom’s modeling days.
Why did you decide to start teaching at Artemis?
Since my graduation from Artemis in 2009 I always kept in touch with some of the alumni and teachers. After giving some lectures and being on the graduating jury for two years, I starting teaching there last year. Students have another way of thinking that is so much more free: not yet restricted by budgets or deadlines. I see the same drive to be inspired that I also had as a student, but so much has changed since then. We had to go out and look for print magazines with inspiring images. I used to spend a fortune buying all the new ones as soon as they came out. Only to find out my fellow students bought exactly the same, ha-ha. Students nowadays are only a click away from a never-ending wealth of visual content. This can also feel as a restriction: the more you see, the harder it is to stay true to yourself. If you see someone in London doing something you’re thinking of, this can block you from exploring further. In the end, in this field of work, it’s all about conveying emotions, and that’s what I’m trying to share.
Can you share some of your favourite places with us?
I love the light and the serenity of my apartment, so I really enjoy working here. I used to share a design studio with one of my best friends for about six years. There were always people dropping by to work or just to hang out, and that is what I sometimes miss at home: the energy of having other creatives around me. Luckily, I can find that same vibe at my favourite coffee bar Toki, that I visit nearly daily. The regulars and the locals almost feel like a group of friends or family.
Growing up, the daily question wasn’t what we would eat, but where we would eat. I guess that influenced me, since going out for dinner is still one of my favourite things to do. I often go to De Goudfazant and FC Hyena and on Sundays I usually meet with my friends at Café Thijssen. I also love strolling around town. I often do that before I go to sleep, sometimes while listening to a podcast. Westerpark, de Jordaan and my own neighbourhood around De Nieuwendijk are favourites. In a few minutes, I can either experience total peace by taking the ferry up North, or total chaos in the red light district.
I feel sad when I don’t get my much needed injection of art and culture every now and then, so I made a deal with friends. We agreed to make sure we stay inspired, by visiting an exposition or other cultural happening every month. Which resulted in a road trip to Antwerp and Tilburg last weekend. I also like to attend events of the Young Stedelijk, a support circle of the Stedelijk Museum. I’m always actively searching for ways to feed my hunger for art.
Interview: Janneke Grootings
Photography: Luca Halma
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