French designer Anthony Guerrée launches a collection of chairs inspired by the characters of Marcel Proust.
By Rachel Gallaher
The Albertine chair, part of a recently released collection from designer Anthony Guerrée inspired by the characters from Marcel Proust's novel "In Search of Lost Time." Image by Roland Tisserand.
The art world has long had a strong influence on the design sector, and visa versa, often with colors, shapes, and patterns as the dominant crossovers between the two. But for French designer Anthony Guerrée, a deep look into the world of French novelist Marcel Proust’s monumental novel In Search of Lost Time drew out a very specific inspiration for his latest collection of sculptural chairs, each of which corresponds to a character in the book.
“Proust’s gallery of colorful characters is an inexhaustible source of inspiration,” Guerrée says. “Each of the book’s characters possesses a singular way of being in the world, of behaving in society. I used the format of the chair as my way to initiate behaviors and attitudes. One of my main interests in Proust’s writing is the amount of interior descriptions and the link with decorative arts. I was amazed by how furniture could tell us as much about social construct and that’s why I started to transpose my favorites characters of In Search of Lost Time into furniture sketches, mapping and highlighting trough quotes and fragments what was making each of them special.”
The Odette chair in Malacca rattan. Image by Roland Tisserand.
Coming off a 12-day exhibition presented by Atelier Jespers at Cornette de Saint Cyr in Paris, the collection, which consists of 8 chairs, captures the personality, depth, and quirks of the novel’s protagonists. Set late 19th and early-20thcentury France, the unnamed aristocratic narrator recollects experiences of childhood and transition into adulthood while philosophically reflecting on time’s passage and lack of meaning to the world. From the mercurial Impressionist painter Elstir (represented by a tall, proud, wooden rocking chair that appears to have an easel frame as a back) to the elusive Albertine (a gorgeous oiled, solid Scottish oak frame with a woven oat-straw-and-linen rope circular back nodding to the character’s bicycle), Guerrée’s interpretations of the characters into furniture captures their quirks and interests without being too on the nose.
“I wondered whether I could design chairs that, like fictional characters, had personality traits and could serve as allegories or incarnations,” the designer says. “By proposing a physical position, a seat can also convey a social position. The line, the comfort, the proportions of a chair not only suggest a way of sitting, but also a range of attitudes and possible scenarios.”
The Swann chair in in solid bleached ash with a vegetable-tanned neck-leather seat. Image by Roland Tisserand.
Each piece is signed and numbered in a limited run of eight, with the exception of the Odette chair, which is produced in series. All of the pieces are manufactured by Racines Ateliers, a French cabinetmaker in Le Lude near Le Mans, again with exception of the Odette, which is produced by Maison Louis Drucker, the oldest manufacture of bistro rattan chairs in the country, and the Albertine, which is made in Scotland in Orkney Islands by The Orkney Furniture Maker, as it requires a specific weaving technique from that region.
The chairs are utilitarian works of art, and as with many great novels, choosing a favorite can be difficult. For Guerrée, its Charles Swann—in both character and chair.
“Swann is one of the most important characters in the novel,” he says. “Born in a rich and bourgeois family, his social atmosphere is the high society of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. [The fictional town of] Combray’s petty bourgeoisie very badly perceived his marriage with a “cocotte”: Odette de Crécy. Swann is a balancing character sailing between two different worlds. I wanted to pay tribute to Swann’s social agility by designing a reversible chair whose back can be the seat and the seat, the back. This chair also evokes the two ways of Combray: Swann’s way and the Guermantes way.”
Very Proustian, indeed