In 1999 Jean-Marie Massaud, together with Thierry Gaugain and Patrick Jouin, took part at the Salone Satellite in Milan with an installation called Luxlab.

A green sloping lawn, a reflecting pool and a fireplace with a fire. An eloquent metaphor of a new concept of luxury, seen as wellbeing, connected with immaterial pleasures, like the contemplation of water and fire, in direct contact with nature. Looking back on the work of Jean-Marie Massaud it seems clear that the installation was a starting point for a design path based on redefinition of the concept of life, the proposition of values like time for oneself, space, relationship with nature, expansion of individuality through sensory pleasure and interaction with others. Massaud thinks of materials and objects essentially as stimuli for relations. “Objects”, he says, “are ‘words’. They are used to compose sentences. Phrasing that gives meaning to life”. When he talks the accent is always on the need to educate, the desire to create alternative models of living with respect to the packaged ideas of marketing, the intention to modify the system. There’s is undoubtedly a bit of moralism. But his statements don’t sound like tirades. They are spoken with the quiet tones of someone who has decided to comply with the logic of the productive model, working from inside the system. He is not against brands that have economic power and influence consumers. He makes alliances with them to accomplish, as he claims, “not just artistic direction but also direction of consciences”. The approach seems to work. He has collaborated with major cosmetics firms, designing the brand identity of Lancôme, with stores and spas (2003/2005) in Paris, New York, Shanghai, Seoul and Hong Kong. He has done the perfume bottles for Paloma Picasso and the men’s perfume packaging for Nemo by Cacharel. For Sephora (2000) he has designed not just the retail outlets of the French fragrance giant and its natural products, but also a new concept of beauty, seen as inner harmony and a path through the rituals of care of the body in different cultures, generating bright circular spaces like weightless bubbles. He has redesigned the Poltrona Frau showrooms, translating the values of the brand, elegance, culture, quality and timelessness, into a warm setting that harmoniously combines reminders of tradition (marble, Murano glass, carpets, leather panels) with natural elements, like the big ball of dehydrated moss suspended from the ceiling, or the imaginary forest composed of vertical wooden parts, like trunks in autumn, enclosed in a case of smoked glass with a mirrored base. Like a state, arabesqued wings shape the space, enhancing the products of the collection and creating zones of cozy comfort. The encounter between nature and culture continues in more utopian projects, in works of architecture still on the drawing board, and in the more commercial projects, where he creates atmospheres of wellbeing that point to “that new era of sensitive awareness” he hopes will happen. In the book Human Nature (Time&Style, Tokyo, 2005) published for his solo show in Tokyo during Design Week (November 2005), his projects are presented with titles that refer to man-nature relations. Massaud works to trigger those relations, not just with spectacular works, but also with everyday objects, simplifying forms in favor of sensations, like a subtle magic to make what happens in an artificial context more natural: the water that emerges from a faucet is hidden, conveying the idea of a spring, as in the installation done for Axor/Hansgrohe in 2005, where the bath ritual was proposed as immersion in water that bubbles up directly from the ground. The Aukland sofa designed for Cassina in 2004, or the Outline daybed created for Cappellini in 2001, are gentle slopes; while the Pebble table (Porro 2005), like a stone worn by time, seems to invite meditation. The Truffle seat (Porro 2005) with its openings is like a natural sponge (the original version was in soft polyurethane). The Don’do rocking chair (Poltrona Frau 2005) suggests a different rhythm for time. Purified, lightened objects become a means of rediscovering human and natural values. Moral, educational, psychological, even therapeutic values. Their complexity or richness is never uselessly redundant, but clear evidence of the excellence of the craftsmanship that should be respected and conserved. His works of architecture are landscape portions, camouflaged at times, like the Tanabé house at Fukuoka, Japan (1999). An underground refuge covered with a green cloak, isolated from the street, open to a garden that provides light. Almost a den, but one that is crossed by natural light and visions of greenery. The Volcano stadium at Guadalajara, Mexico, like the mouth of a volcano dig into a hill, has a roof that seems like a cloud floating over the city. His passion for architecture is connected to the childhood dream of becoming an inventor: to give concrete form to thoughts, to give substance to life. Design comes from his vision of architecture: the objects exist as part of a context, elements to create an atmosphere that promotes self-realization and inner wellbeing. Certain formal similarities to natural things do not reflect a stylistic practice of metamorphism, but the desire to erase the differences between nature and artifice, constructing a holistic integration that can be perceived with the senses. Jean-Marie Massaud belongs to the category of ‘demiurge’ designers, but without the grandstanding of someone like Starck, though he admits having been very struck by the latter’s work. He is conducting a blood-free daily battle to promote sustainable progress. To do so, he listens to man and tries to ‘invent’ models that can also be profitable. In this pacific crusade he seeks the complicity of companies, convinced that the designer has a role, not only in the embellishment of forms, but also in the orientation of production policies. His ideas and methods reveal the precise aim of assuming social and ecological responsibilities. He confesses to being “naïve, but also arrogant. Thinking about doing something new means having both attitudes. To be a designer”, he concludes, “you have to ask yourself about the meaning of progress today. The new economy is based on qualitative growth. Objects are destined to vanish, making more room for emotions. So we need to be able to do more with less”. Towards a gentle evolution.