In Portland, Tom Dixon Checks One Thing Off His Bucket List

Tom Dixon‘s Fat America Tour is pretty much what it sounds like: The Tunisian-born, self-taught London-based designer (and former member of the band Funkapolitan) is stopping at select cities throughout the country to present an improvised music performance with his friends from Teenage Engineering, a Swedish firm that designs pocket-sized synthesizers that make both design enthusiasts and millennial musicians go wild. The aim of the ordeal is twofold: To preview Dixon’s 2019 collections—his FAT seating range and OPAL lighting collection—ahead of their formal debut at April’s Salone del Mobile design and furniture fair in Milan, and to meet his supporters the old fashioned way (read: in person).

Tom Dixon FAT America

Tom Dixon’s OPAL lighting collection and FAT chairs.

He kicked things off in Portland on Tuesday, and yesterday, was hanging around Seattle’s Inform Interiors while his team set up the stage. (Some pieces had gotten stuck in the mail due to recent snow storms, but staffers were working around that.) He’ll hit Vancouver, Los Angeles, Austin, and other cities before ending in New York next week. GRAY sat down with Dixon, who flashed his signature gold tooth as he discussed the vintage Gibson guitar he bought in Portland and the restaurant he’s furnishing in Milan, opening just in time for Salone.

Typically, America isn’t the first to see your work. Usually it’s debuted in Europe, and comes stateside much later. What made you decide to preview your collections here this time around?

It’s been my observation that you get out of America what you put in. We’ve spent the past few years doing changes of studio, trade fairs, moving our shop on Greene Street in New York, and into our new place in London. So it’s been remiss not to come and spend time with the people who look after us. We used to get on the road quite a lot, and I wanted to see a bit more of places I haven’t been to—[yesterday] was my first time in Portland; it’ll be my first time in Austin. And I’m kind of inspired by a romantic view of the rock-and-roll business, in which you get on the road and play the small venues until you become known. A lot of European brands think that you can just chock up product to the U.S. and people will buy it. But Americans have so much choice. It makes sense to go out and meet your customers.

Are there any logistical hurdles to bringing your work to the U.S.?

We normally launch a year later in America because of certification, which is burdensome and expensive. Typically we test things out in Europe, and if they work, transfer them to America. Now we’re trying to do the opposite.

Last year you were famously absent from Salone for the first time in ages, as you opted to focus on your new HQ in London’s Coal Drops Yard and the world tour you’ve embarked on. But you’re going back to Salone this year. What role do you see design fairs playing in your brand moving forward?

With Salone, you get trapped into a rhythm of trying to be more extraordinary every year. It becomes a burden, not an opportunity. Last year marked a recognition that I don’t want to be doing [Salone] for pure entertainment. It was a lot of pressure for me, particularly from the press, to make something that only lasts five days. People don’t consume that way. I’d rather invest in something that lasts for years.

This year, we’re putting that thinking into Milan. We’ve found a restaurant partner, and are investing our time and furnishings into the space, which will be there for us to use and nurture over the years.

Will the FAT and OPAL collections be part of that space?

Yes. That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it. I only have six weeks left.