The collector: Alejandro Mena, Graphic Designer, Madrid, Spain.
The collection: The designs of André Ricard.
The story behind the collection...
Anyone who was born in Spain in the 1960s has grown up surrounded by the designs of André Ricard. I was one of them. I recall treasuring a green edge rounded bottle of Agua Lavanda Puig eau de cologne at age 7 (unfortunately lost - did I keep it too well or did I just end up throwing it away?). I remember keeping tiny figurine toys in the equally edge-rounded brown and orange box of Cola Cao Vit as well as playing with a wood and metal smoking set laying unused on my mother’s coffee table, and in my early twenties I kept a straight-lined toothbrush because I love the design so much and bought a more normal one to use. I had no clue who André Ricard was and that those objects had been designed by him.
In the early 90s, being an Art student, I started paying attention to design and as at the time he had just designed the Olympic torch for the 1992 Barcelona games he was in the papers and on TV. I could then see more of his work at design magazines and a couple of years later, at a design exhibition I saw his Copenhagen ashtrays on display: colourful, bold shaped, useful, perfect pieces of design. I learnt they were still in production and managed to find them and bought a set of white, red and black ashtrays. It was around 2004 that I started collecting his stuff: first the ashtrays designed for Flamagás, then his Tatu lamp and when I got a book on his work I couldn’t believe what I saw: objetcs I had seen and used all my life had been designed by him. A visit to my parents’ place confirmed this: used toothbrushes, empty perfume bottles, an electric juice press and the wood and metal smoking set I had always liked. I then started looking for his stuff at fleamarkets and on the internet. Some of them I just bought at the local supermarket, such as some perfume bottles or my Tatay dirty clothes basket. A few of them I found during holidays in Paris.
I am now very proud of all the André Ricard stuff in my place, and it plays an important role in my collections. If asked about any favourite items I’d say the Tatu lamp is one of them… well, all of the four lamps are. Then, for sentimental reassons, there are the pieces I found at my parents’ place, especially a triangle-shaped base bottle of Foca Gin I found in their cellar. Another favourite item is the cocktail ashtray because of a funny story: as I was getting more of his stuff I got items I couldn’t date so i wrote him an email and when I asked him about the year he designed it André Ricard admited he had completely forgotten he had designed this ashtray.
Appart from the fact that I grew up surrounded by his designs, what I like about his work is the simplicity and efectiveness of his designs. One can tell he has a love for objects: he feels them, studies them, understands them. In one of the exhibitions on his work there was a part displaying his collection of “traditional objects”: bamboo glove tongues from Japan, African wooden combs, the old fashion one piece clothes pegs used a century ago or traditional Finnish fishing knives.
Then there is something about him I can simply respect and admire. He was trained as a painter and discovered what design was in London, during the Festival of Britain, where he had gone to study English to later join the family company. That makes him a self taught designer. At that time in Spain there were no designers as such. Some architects would design furniture and other stuff for their buildings, as did Moragas and Coderch in Barcelona (or Feduchi and Gutiérrez Soto in Madrid), but the figure of a designer was virtually unknown. He not only started working in this way but kept in touch with designers, such as his admired Raymond Loewy, and design associations in Europe and America, and co-founded the design association in Spain. He’s a pioneer. Nowadays, at age 83, he can easily be reached at his studio, where he still works on new designs and prepares lectures on design, as well as writing books on the subject, and will always welcome whoever wants to talk about his work… or fans such as me.
He has a very individual style. A personal signature since the very begining of his career is the use of basic lines and shapes as well of that of soft rounded edges (especially in the 70s, although they’re to be found all through his work). When he’s asked to find a solution for a problem he finds the answer departing from the simplest possible shape. It’s interesting to study the different perfume bottles he did for Puig over a period of more than 40 years as one can see that departing from the same premises he gets perfect shapes for all of them.
I think that even though he’s not that well known outside Spain (probably because of the kind of designs he’s made: not great furniture pieces but small everyday use items) he’s influenced not only most of the Spanish designers but many European ones too as he was a teacher at the Art Center Europe in Vevey, Switzerland. Just looking at Häberli’s ashtrays for Driade I can’t help but think of Ricard’s.
All images © Alejandro Mena and used with his kind permission.