Emphasising the Everyday

Japanese design is characterised by experimentation, recognising the most conventional objects and reinvigorating their normalised design. By emphasising functionality and simplicity over complex shapes and unnecessary materials, the popularity of Naoto Fukasawa’s (b. 1956) products exemplifies this enduring ethos. Documenting over 100 items from the last 10 years, Embodiment published by Phaidon examines the value of artistic restraint, placing the eventual user as the inspiration for all new commodities. With an introduction by Fukasawa’s friend and fellow designer Jane Fulton Suri, the book explores how the word “embodiment” echoes Fukasawa’s focus, creating pieces which comfort and mimic the human form whilst provoking emotional reactions.

Presenting an in-depth biography and exhibition list, as well as an assortment of large-scale illustrations, the publication acts as a personal portfolio of the designer’s work. Showcasing a mixture of iconic pieces alongside unprecedented photographs, personal remarks and insights surrounding the motivations, inspiration and perceived use of the resulting object excel the reader’s understandings. Furniture, technology, accessories and fashion have all been explored by the visionary, with beautiful raw materials, sweeping lines and smooth, natural finishes uniting the varying products.

Mini Papilio (2009), created for modern furniture company B&B Italia, is based on the larger, extremely popular version of the body-hugging chair Grande Papilio, “shaped like ice-cream scooped from a cup” according to Fukasawa. Drawing further on the playfulness of this curved armchair, he states: “when there’s a group of these arranged together, they resemble the tea cup rides you find at the amusement parks”, implying how inspiration is discovered in the most mundane places and by creating a simplistic form which can be customised with neutral tones or vivid flashes of cushioning fabric, the seemingly typical form of a chair can be excelled into something iconic and memorable.

This ambition to transform the typical into archetypal is key to Fukasawa’s success, relying on unconscious associations and reactions held by potential viewers and buyers. Attempting to hide the newness of prototypes, the practitioner integrates qualities of longevity and permanence, ensuring the product becomes implicit to daily life. This seemingly counterintuitive motivation is further expressed by Fukasawa’s  love of the colour grey, describing it as a hue which “stands between colours that do not harmonise to facilitate their relationship. It would perhaps be better to say that it facilitates neutralisation rather than harmony.” Further splitting the colour into a warm, personable tones and contrastingly cool, somewhat unapproachable shades, the personification offers an insight into the way the legendary product-maker encounters and thinks about the process of design.

The thorough exploration of tone and shape is illustrated further by Fukasawa’s intrigue and consequential desire to create and build the most minimalist construction: a hut. Recounting this experience, he notes how a craving to build something from scratch reminded the maker how “the fundamental elements of happiness lay in an abundance of nature, a moderate climate and ample nourishment.” Once again drawing on the advantages of simplicity, he describes how “abstract ideas in his mind are given a concrete form and are tested as they are elaborated on”, resulting in a sense of freedom for the designer but also the forms which derive. Overall, the minimalist presentation of Embodiment reflects the designer’s obsession with strong structures and clean lines.

Naoto Fukasawa: Embodiment, Phaidon. Released 23 March. Find out more here.

1.Hut, Muji, Japan, 2017. Picture credit: Kentauros Yasunaga, courtesy of Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. (Muji) (page 238-9)