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Aug / Sep 2011
Freedom of Creation

WRITER: Nadine Khalil

Younes Duret is an industrial designer brimming with youthful invention, executed in a humorous, almost playful fashion. With a mixture of contemporary, European-influenced aesthetics and traditional Moroccan motifs, Bespoke reveals how his pieces are the stuff memories are made of.


Born to a Moroccan mother and French father, 31-year-old Younes Duret’s approach to design has always been the outcome of a merger of continents. Casablanca is the cradle of his childhood, Paris is the city in which he studied design, and Marrakech is the one where he founded his design agency - in the midst of its “artistic effervescence,” as he puts it. Ask him which country he prefers and he’ll tell you that he prefers bringing Morocco and France together. What’s for certain is that Younes Duret is a man who moves between the Mediterranean’s southern and northern shores, not tied down by any preconceptions of what it means to dwell on either.

After five years of study at the prestigious school of industrial design, ENSCI Les Ateliers in Paris, he produced a new concept car for Renault, and as a fresh graduate he created his own international design firm, Younes Duret Design, with a distinctively cross-cultural perspective. France, for Younes Duret, was about the learning of a methodology while the cultural forms of the Arab world remain his source of inspiration.

“I enjoy reclaiming those forms in my creations,” he says, “because they have an aesthetic and stylistic richness.” One of the first projects his agency undertook was the creation of a 700-square-metre restaurant and club, smack in the heart of Marrakech. The owner, Marcel Chiche, is also the owner of the perrennially hip Comptoir Darna in Marrakech. “I worked with Marcel and his son Grégory, both have a great knowledge of their trade and were open to innovative ideas. The interaction between their field and mine created a real alchemy and gave us the opportunity to try new things.”

Concurrently, Duret started working on design objects that would later be exhibited in Design Maghreb in Toulouse, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, Salon Internationale del Mobile in Milan, and Tasmeem Lab in Doha this March, among others.

The mix between ancient techniques of craftsmanship and the demands of the contemporary world is evident in his work, all with an integral functionalism. This is matched by a characteristic playfulness. ‘Tarbouche’, for instance, is an inventive armchair, with a form hearkening back to the traditional tasselled headdress, which became prominent during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire. The result is a modern seat that almost resembles a satellite dish, with embracing folds to crown your repose, just as the tarbouche is meant to crown the head. And Duret’s ‘Abu Dhabi’ may be vaguely reminiscent of a chesterfield chair, but its wooden ornamentation at the base is unmistakably oriental. Yet, it is essentially throne-like, or “majestic,” as Duret puts it.

In order to produce his designs, Duret says he observes everyday life to better understand the relationship we have with objects around us, and then creates a surprising usage for them. “The diversion from the main function of an object is the basis of my creative process,” he explains. With the ‘Ransa’ sofa (named after his mother), Duret investigates visual renditions of living space and the smart compartmentalisation of storage by positioning it above a semi-hidden bookshelf, which subsequently becomes its very foundation. You can curl up on this couch with your favourite book in hand, safe in the knowledge that an entire library of reading material awaits you, right beneath your feet. It’s an innovative and creative use of space that offers an aesthetically pleasing means of merging two pieces of furniture with wholly different purposes. By creating a place where you can seemingly levitate above books, Duret’s aim was to evoke a sense of flighty imagination, in honour of his mother. She used to read several books at the same time, only to leave them around the house for whenever she next gets a chance to continue.

The conlicting duality between traditional ornamentation and neo-modern minimalism is apparent in how Duret combines repetitive but intricate patterns such as the arabesque with a bare aesthetic of clean lines and pure finishing. The epitome of this stunning juxtaposition is his ‘Zelli’ library, recipient of the international Design and Design award. This bookcase was inspired by the traditional Moroccan mosaic configurations on the walls of his grandparents’ living room, the colour and geometry of which so fascinated him as a child. He transcribed this memory into the structure of a modern bookcase comprising identical modular constellations, which can be easily assembled together to form a perfect fit or equally separated as unique stand-alone pieces.

There is a touch of the ecological in Duret’s work as well. He created a heating device, the ‘Canoon’, taking inspiration from a traditional Moroccan charcoal oven dish, sometimes also used for burning incense at weddings or traditional rituals. Made entirely of recycled plastic, this heater uses up very little energy. Additionally, you can insert linen cushions filled with natural cherry pits that ably absorb heat, which when applied to the body are said to relieve tension. It probably comes as little surprise to discover that cold nights in the Atlas mountains bordering Marrakech were what Duret was thinking of when he created these portable warmers.

“For me, love and humour go hand in hand. They are my philosophy of life. Everything I do, I do with passion and I add a humorous aspect since we should not take ourselves too seriously. Moreover, industrial design imposes limits that constrain us, because of the machine standards and production requirements. For me, the humour that I insert in my creations is a sort of newfound freedom.” And by not ascribing strictly to the predetermined aesthetics of contemporary design, nor the simplistic modernity of mass production, Younes Duret has achieved exactly just that.

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