WRITER: Stephanie D’Arc Taylor
Richard Yasmine’s designs blur the line between fantasy and reality. Both functional household objects and carnal statements, his highly charged work seduces through the use of honest materials and sleek aesthetics.
When considering Lebanese product designer Richard Yasmine’s creations, I’m reminded of a video released by the Pantheone Newsreel company in the 1930s. The film features the predictions made by popular designers at the time of what stylish women would be wearing in the far-off year of 2000. The results are a mix of the practical (an outfit that transitions from day to evening by zipping off sleeves), the amazingly prescient (shoes with cantilevered heels, and wearable tech including a hat with a headlamp attachment ‘to search for an honest man’), and the downright fantastic (a wedding dress made of glass).
It’s not the pieces themselves that are similar to those made by Yasmine; the Beirut-based designer doesn’t make clothes or anything wearable, despite his predilection for describing his pieces as jewellery for the home. Rather, it’s the sense of fantastical futurism, of existential unattainability, of wanton, lush impracticality that Yasmine’s œuvre shares with the 1930s vision of future fashion. His pieces are totally unsuitable for the mundane life of the average 21st century human, but neither are they meant to be.
‘Glory Holes’ sports an array of removable brass phallic legs with a solid circular marble top, and is finished off with a matching metal base. The piece, which was conceptualised as a representation of the sweetness of revenge, is totally reversible, depending on whether the user wants a larger top and smaller base, or the opposite.
“I’m not working for the masses,” he says over evening tea at a café in Beirut’s Sassine Square. “I’m not into mass production. I don’t want to see my pieces [for sale] everywhere, and if everyone can afford to buy it, it isn’t special anymore.”
That’s rather convenient, because his pieces are most certainly not for everyone. So far in his career, the work that has garnered the most attention is a side table comprised of two discs of calacatta marble and a gunmetal grey metal sheet. The discs are connected by a series of elongated bullet-shaped columns, of varying widths, made of hollow brass. The brass pieces can be used as vases for flower arrangements, set within the table, or if the table is taken apart, the same brass pieces can apparently be used as dildos. It simply depends on the owner’s needs and wishes on any given day, it seems. Yasmine prefers not to specify the exact price of the piece, but so far he has sold four through his residency at Smo Gallery in Beirut, an avant-garde space created and managed by architect Gregory Gatserelia.
Ashkal is a collection of extra-thin hand mirrors that slot into bases made from marble and brass, each of which was shaped to reference the stained-glass façade of the Sursock Museum in Beirut.
The piece, called Glory Holes, may be the first time Yasmine has made such an overt statement about sex in his work, but he has been toying with the concepts of pain and pleasure, exploring the boundaries between the two, for some time. Another recent project (also a side table) is called Clou, meaning ‘nail’ in French. The table, available either in white Greek marble or black treated iron, is comprised of two pieces which fit together: a flat head nail-shaped piece which tapers down to a pointed end; the end fits into a base which elegantly balances the weight of the table.
Clou’s visuals are a reflection of both sadism and alliance, the designer says. “When we place the nail on its pedestal, it’s as if the nail is hurting the pedestal,” he says, speaking quickly in his breathlessly thrilled manner. “But sometimes we have to feel pain to be functional, to say what we need to say to be useful in society.”
The Clou tables reference nails with a flat top and a sharp end that inserts into a base
Social commentary is important to Yasmine’s designer aesthetic and philosophy. “I like to work on taboos,” he says. “Myself, I don’t have any taboos; I know what I want and what I want from others, and I want others to be confident in themselves as well.”
Yasmine’s desire for others to come to terms with their own needs and expectations is reflected in his liberal use of mirrors in his work. A recent project commissioned by Beirut’s newly reopened Sursock Museum for its chic gift shop is a series of mirrors cut into the shape of old-fashioned vanity hand mirrors, set into bases of marble, brass, or polished metal. Similarly, one of his first concepts was a freestanding full-length rectangular mirror, edged in walnut wood, through which three nail-shaped metal rods have seemingly been forced. A single drop of “blood”, actually red-coloured resin, drips from each nail.
Plugged is Yasmine’s latest collection and it features jugs, carafes, soliflores and lights made of blown borosilicate glass married to brushed solid brass bases.
The functionality of these pieces, much like that of a wedding dress made of glass, is marginal at best. They are there to look beautiful, and inspire the viewer to consider where the fantastic exists in the mundane. “Fantasy, for me,” says Yasmine, “is a mix between the sexual, the magical, the abnormal, the surreal, and also the real things that are taboo.”
Yasmine’s fondness for the unexpected juxtaposition is also reflected in the inspiration he finds in his home city of Beirut (and its neighbourhood of Ashrafieh, which he describes as his ancestral village). “I’ve travelled a lot but I could never live outside Beirut,” the designer says, as his face breaks into a wide smile. “The mix of everything, the contradictions, I love even the street with all the potholes. Now I cannot live on a street without cars honking.