Designed To Delight: The Story Behind The Iconic Louis Vuitton Concertina Chair
“What separates good design from great design?” Shay Alkalay muses, his eyebrows raised as he takes a thoughtful pause. “Good design is something that fulfils a function; it does the job. But great design needs that something extra, something emotional. It does the job, but it’s something you love and it makes you happy. It’s something you want to keep.”
If anything is a testament to this idea of a long-lasting love affair with design, it’s the Concertina Chair that Shay and his wife, Yael Mer (with whom he founded the award-winning studio Raw Edges), designed in 2015 for the first collection of Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades range of travel inspired furniture.
Taking inspiration from the mechanism of an accordion, the chair begins in a flat form before unfolding in a fan-like motion, blossoming into a stunningly simple piece of functional furniture. Continuing the theme, the husband-and-wife team went on to apply the same principle to a table and lighting fixtures for the collection.
Imagination meets innovation
“Yael is very interested in origami, the idea that flat shapes can fold into something bigger,” says Shay.
Four years later and the Concertina chair has become recognised as an iconic piece of modern furniture, having graced many a magazine cover and picked up countless awards.
“We are fascinated by things that change size, expand or shrink, so it was really inspiring to see Louis Vuitton’s early travel pieces, like the maison’s invention of the flat-topped trunks and the trunk that folds into a bed,” Shay says. “I know Louis Vuitton is a luxury brand, and as much as we admire the luxury side of what they do, we definitely relate on a deeper level to the brand’s innovative spirit. The foundation of the company is very much innovative before it is luxurious.”
An inherent knack for innovation is always seen in Raw Edges’ products, which often straddle the line between art and function. Whether it’s a principle or a mechanism, Shay and Yael always make sure to incorporate some element of invention in their pieces—“just to surprise people,” he says with a smile. It becomes clear that the pair work with a quiet confidence and playfulness that’s incredibly refreshing.
“It’s very much about emotion, the feeling you get when you see a piece that draws you in—like, ‘That’s quite nice, it makes me happy.’ That’s why we use a lot of colours and textures. It creates a positive feeling that makes you want to touch it or interact with it. We want our work to be approachable.”
From students to masters
Shay and Yael met at school in Jerusalem before moving to London to obtain their master’s at the Royal College of Art. They were then commissioned for a project in China which, unbeknown to them, would be the beginning of Raw Edges.
“We designed suitcases and we wanted them to be rougher, less sleek,” explains Shay. “We wanted to use materials like leather or felt, with which you could keep the edges raw. Hence the name of the studio.”
Fast-forward 11 years and Raw Edges is now based in North London, and some of the duo’s creations are included in permanent museum collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Doing things differently
And, of course, the pair have continued to contribute to Louis Vuitton’s growing Objets Nomades collection. Their latest addition is Dolls, a series of playfully patterned chairs made up of six chair components: two types of chunky base, three different backrests and a cushion that can be reconfigured how you please. You know, like a doll.
“With Louis Vuitton, everything is handmade; it’s not industrial production, and that’s what has inspired us to create this particular collection,” explains Shay. “We thought, if it’s so artisanal and made to order, why design a chair that’s always going to look the same?”
“That’s why we came up with many combinations and finishes. We looked at a lot of folk art and how different cultures use leather. If you go back thousands of years—to folk museums in North America, Africa or China—you will always find the use of leather. It’s something that was always available, so we took a bit of inspiration from different cultures.”
It’s a concept so perfectly aligned with that of Objets Nomades, a marriage of vagabond spirit with youthful curiousness. “I appreciate Louis Vuitton taking this journey with Objets Nomades,” says Shay. “When you start an idea, sometimes you just have a need to see how it goes. You cannot plan everything in life. It’s all a raw, beautiful process.”