As they have been doing since 2006, Knack Weekend and Le Vif Weekend proclaimed a designer of the year. The choice finally fell on Brussels-based Frenchman Julien Renault, a 38-year-old multidisciplinary product designer. Renault joins a fine line-up of laureates, even including two former employers of his: Alain Berteau and Sylvain Willenz.
So who is this Julien Renault? In his curriculum, we read that he has been operating from Brussels since 2009, where he founded his own studio in 2015 and that he has just moved to the iconic Square Coghen. There, he will move into a historic building designed by Belgian architect Louis-Herman De Koninck.
It is credited that his work is at the intersection of artistic and industrial product design and that he is also a gifted photographer and creative director of Kewlox. He also has long-term collaborations with brands such as Cruso, Hay, Hem, Massproductions and Mattiazzi.
Training in France and Switzerland
Renault was educated at both the Reims School of Art and Design in France and the École Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne in Switzerland. The official presentation states that his work is at the intersection between an artistic, free and personal approach to design and a more systemic, objective and rational one. Although all projects are based on a pared-down vision, they show a strong awareness of the interconnectedness of objects and their environment as well as their unconscious influence on our daily lives.
“I come from the rural region around Paris and migrated to Belgium as soon as I finished my studies at the Reims School of Art and Design and the École Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne,” the man tells us when we contact him. “Belgium is literally a move by a ‘coup de coeur’, as my wife is a Belgian. We moved to Brussels in 2009, where I first worked in the studios of renowned Belgian designers Alain Berteau, for whom I worked for six years, and Sylvain Willenz. I also started working for antique dealer Vincent Colet. In 2015, I decided to set up my studio Julien Renault Objects and since then I have been designing mainly for international brands.”
“Belgium is a country I admire, there is almost always a good click with the people here. I have no desire whatsoever to return to Paris any more. What I find so interesting is that you have a direct contact with people and easily collaborate with ‘artisans’. Just as you can work remarkably well on a long-term basis in Belgium.”
Of course, the first thing we want to know is how this award came to the man. Was this totally unexpected?
“This came as a total surprise and I consider this award a very great honour,” he responds. “What makes it special is that professional success is recognised without you having actively pursued the recognition. The title is also awarded by a jury that is very diverse and with representation across the design world. Like a Marie Pok, Director of the CID in Grand-Hornu, for example.”
“What I personally think is that people saw above all how I built a network in 15 years. A lot of people saw me evolve with my own projects and then it’s nice that something like that is recognised. It is also good news for my existing clients, such as Kewlox, where I have been artistic director for 7 years. It simultaneously constitutes a reward for their belief in me, with international resonance. The latter is important because most of my clients are not Belgian. I hope that this title will also bring me more into contact with the Flemish and Dutch-speaking markets. I may have to become better known there. Unfortunately, I only speak Dutch with difficulty for the time being, which is somewhat made up for by my daughter, who goes to school in Flanders. A piquant detail by the way: it is exactly 15 years ago that Sylvain Willenz was awarded the same honorary title, just when I was a trainee with him. This really feels like a full circle moment!”
And the future?
When we ask about plans for the immediate future, we find that Julien Renault is by no means ‘sitting on his hands’. A series of exciting projects are sticking in the pipeline, after he launched his debut collection at Hay (under the name Pastis) in 2022, among others. Pastis is intended as a tribute to the cafes and brasseries we had to miss during the pandemic years.
In addition, this year at 3 Days of Design in Copenhagen, he unveiled two new collections, Milk and Rod, in collaboration with Nine. Milk is a more industrial design for a carafe and glass set, while Rod shows a more artistic approach to product design, characteristic of the unique dichotomy of Julien’s design approach. During autumn, Nine and Julien will release a third collection together under the name Inline. This will see one design language applied to a collection that includes both wall shelves and side tables. During the recently held September edition of Maison&Objet, he also released a collection of coffee tables for Brussels-based design brand Cruso.
“Next year there will be other new things in collaboration with Hay, but I do not yet know exactly when they will be released,” he responds. “What is great in any case is that Pastis led to a very important collaboration and that there is demand for more. I would immediately like to add that, first and foremost, I want to remain loyal to my regular customers, I don’t want to dodge the market. Whoever works with me must do so because he or she wants to and for the long term. Perhaps most importantly, I value a relationship of trust with clients particularly highly.”
“Julien designs instant classics”
Why was Julien Renault chosen this year? We get an explanation from Amélie Rombauts, editor of Design and Architecture at Knack Weekend, who explains in more detail why the man will serve as emerging designer ambassador for Belgian design for a year:
“In a sea of drops and must-haves that we have forgotten again after a few months, Julien Renault designs instant classics. His furniture and objects do not scream for attention. Their beauty lies in the details you can only notice if you take the time to see them: the curve of a table leg, the neck of a jug, the profile of a wall shelf. In doing so, he not only charms the current generation of design enthusiasts, but undoubtedly the next.”
In 2006, Alain Berteau became the very first Designer of the Year. Since then, he has been succeeded by Nedda El-Asmar, Stefan Schöning, Sylvain Willenz, Bram Boo, Nathalie Dewez, Alain Gilles, JeanFrançois d’Or, Marina Bautier, Muller Van Severen, Vincent Van Duysen, Unfold, Frederik Delbart, Destroyers/Builders (Linde Freya Tangelder), Sep Verboom, Sébastien Caporusso and Studio Biskt. This year’s partners are Flanders DC/ For the Now and Design Nation, with support from MAD, CID Grand-Hornu, Design Museum Gent, WBDM, Wonder & Covered.