The Iconic Designs of Serge Mouille

Industrial design of everyday objects rises to art when elegance reinforces efficiency. Minimal yet richly surrealistic, the iconic work of French lighting designer Serge Mouille (1922-1988) casts a glow on Mid-Century Modernism. Perhaps Mouille's minimalism was partly related to the time of scarcity in which he grew up. It mustn't have been easy to choose a career in the arts during the Great Depression. Yet at age 13, he is said to have surprised his policeman father and seamstress mother by enrolling in the Parisian School of Applied Arts to become a silversmith. He was already teaching metalworking by 25.

Mouille studying his work. (editions Serge Mouille)

Mouille designed lighting from 1953 to 1964. Like nothing seen before, the black, skeletal arms and legs of his creations never settled on the two-dimensional surface. They crept across ceilings and reached out provocatively from walls. The impossibly thin legs of his floor lamps posed precariously as if en pointe. These models suggest a new way of engagement between space, furniture and user. Some of the names Mouille applied to the other designs indicate a focus on human form, such as the squinting, ovoid sconces he called oeil (eye) lamps. They appear ready to blink.

The spider chandelier heightens the drama in this room highlighting the oblong shapes. (Pablo Zamora for Architectural Digest España)

A sketch for the agrafee lamps by Mouille.

Many observers suggest that Mouille was exploring the stick-thin, jointed legs of insects. Indeed, some of the lamps appear as if they could scamper under the chesterfield. His escargot ceiling pendants make one imagine a childhood spent on hands and knees exploring the silvery paths of snails. In fact, he drew plants and animals for hours in the Jardiniere des Plantes. As an adult and a minimalist, his unembellished snail lamp would allude to the shell with a bowl-like luminaire revealing light through spiraling cutouts in its metal.

The eye sconces add a flair of humour to this palm beach home as juxtaposed with a venetian gilt mirror (Peter Vitale for Architectural Digest)

A moment at the Editions Serge Mouille workshop (Manuel Bougot for Editions Serge Mouille)

In 1944, Mouille was part of a group of industrial designers who used scrap materials to produce their austere work. He was also a member of the French Resistance along with his design friend, manufacturer Jean Prouvé, who was ardent about the function over aesthetics. It must have been high praise on Prouvé's part when he commended Mouille's skill with "metal and steel tube."

After he passed away, Mouille raised another wave of hype when his wife Gin established a Editions Serge Mouille in 1999, releasing numbered re-edition pieces of his spectacular designs. It never strays from Mouille’s philosophy which insists on hand-tooling lamps instead of mass production. Partnering with seasoned artisans, the newly produced lamps closely follow the shape, colour and dimensions of the originals. They carry a legacy of a designer, who, like his fantastical works, dares to cross the boundaries in interior design.

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