ddB Italy – 06/2013 – The Gentleman Teacher

ddB Italy – 06/2013 – The Gentleman Teacher

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Text by Ester Pirotta for DDB Design Diffusion Bagno e Benessere

June 2013


Within the working dynamics that animate a professional studio, the sharing of knowledge and experience can, even if on different terms, happen in both directions as in the case of Sebastian Bergne and Christopher Coombes. The two english designers collaborated for Bergne’s studio in Bologna in the early 2000’s, and thanks to their similar cultural background the design affinity kept growing.

After about three years of their shared experience, during which Christopher had the chance to get to the heart of the issues that a design project implies. Sebastian Bergne encouraged the young designer to find his own path; a really rare behaviour considering how hard it is to give up a good assistant. This can be a delicate step in the life of a young designer, that can need a little push and a good dose of ambition and courage. Sebastian and Christopher share with us their work experience together.


Christopher collaborated with you for more than three years, what do you think you have given him?

Christopher worked in my studio in the early 2000’s. He certainly learned something from me during those years, but it’s easier for me to say what i’ve learned from him. He was the first young designer with which I have worked who had complete control over CAD as a design tool. Up until then i always had the impression that the computer influenced the formal design result. Working with Christopher i’ve understood that it doesn’t have to be that way. This fact completely changed the culture of my studio, and CAD has been integrated in the creative and development process as a neutral tool.

Do you remember one of the projects the two of you have worked on together?

I remember when we worked together on Natura, a set of pots for Tefal. They are made entirely of recycled alluminium, and have become a successful product both for Tefal and my studio.

Today Christopher is an emerging designer, are there any suggestions you would like to give him for his professional future?

Nowadays if you are an emerging designer you are under a lot of pressure for what you do and how you do it. This could sound like a cliché, but i’d like to suggest him (just as to anyone else) to remain as faithful as possible to who you are. In the end, the most important thing is originality, and sometimes it can be hard to remember when everything pushes us towards comformity.

You are both english, and you collaborated when you had the studio in Bologna: do you think the affinity between you and Christopher can be related to your common roots?

I think that sharing the same language, and the same cultural background helped us to communicate faster and easier. This is fundamental for an efficient creative collaboration.

Do you remember your internship as a young designer?

I studied industrial design at Central School of Art and Royal College of Art in London, and my very first italian experience was in the early 80’s. I’ve worked a few weeks in Andries van Onck’s studio in Milan, and it was an experience that transformed me. When i left Milan i was a completely different person.

What has changed since then?

On one hand, design has only slightly changed in the last 20 years, it is still a process in which you decide how to produce something, basing your work on functional, productive, and cultural criteria. On the other hand, today a designer has to consider (and manage) more elements: sustainability, ecology, growing competitiveness, faster communication, fashion, and a more experienced audience. We could say, the process remains the same, while the parameters change.

On your part, who do you consider a teacher?

Generally speaking i don’t like this teacher-apprentice idea. It seems too stiff for any kind of relationship. A lot of moments, and people have had a great influence on me in different times, so i could say experience has been my teacher.


How did you get to know Sebastian Bergne? What do you remember of the time spent in his studio?

I knew him through a friend who worked with Konstantin Grcic, a good friend of Sebastian. As a designer i remember his ability to convey lightness and harmony in his projects, but as an assistent I can say i’ve worked for a real gentleman, a very refined and fair person.

What has working for him meant for your professional growth?

Many things come to mind; i had the possibility to see his design process create objects that are very simple and light, yet are full of character. I have also experienced a refined management of a creative studio. But above all, Sebastian encouraged me to design my own projects. Well, all three things certainly left a mark on me.

What is the most important lesson he taught you?

I was able to see closeup his ability to play with our perceptions of an object through associations similarities. This gives character to the object and adjusts our relationship with it. I will never have his sensibility, but at least i know that this mechanism exists.

What is your favourite Sebastian project, and why?

My choices are related to our relationship! I like Canteloup because he gave it to me as a present. I like the Natura pots project for Tefal because it was developed after a few years of collaboration, so there was more affinity between us during the design process (he gave that to me too!). I really like his last hairbrush project: it gave me a smile, and i think he really enjoyed designing it. I like to think that you begin to have a sort of connection, a relationship with the object during its design process, just like people when you get to know them.

Are there any analogies between Sebastian’s trademark and yours?

As his ex-assistent i try to avoid analogies with his work. I’m lucky to work with another person, and that automatically leads me astray. One thing maybe: we have to be focused on the associations people make when they interact with our products.

Have you ever thought about the different professional perspectives you would have had if you had gone back to England, like Sebastian did, after the time spent together in Bologna?

It’s hard for me to imagine how it could have been, because since graduating i’ve never worked in England. Sometimes i think about going back to London, but it’s mostly because i miss my friends and family. It’s been tough for me to create a new network of friends and colleagues, and, back then, i thought it would have been almost impossible to build it all over again in England. A lot of people told me it’s really difficult to be a product designer in London, because there isn’t the same network of manufacturers and artisans you can find in Italy: and that most of the work is abroad. A positive thing would have been a closer contact with anglosaxon design, to which i belong, but i like to be a fish out of water. It makes me more creative!

A teacher can also be a professional individual you haven’t interacted with, but with whom you share the same product philosophy. In these terms, who are your “teachers”?

Richard Buckminster Fuller really fascinates me. He invented complete systems that are still impressive today, often thanks to his great knowledge in maths and physics. And always with a critical consideration of his everyday life.