When Alice falls down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s literary classic, a magical world of wonder awaits. To enter the mind of Spanish artist and designer Jaime Hayon, a modern-day Alice would doubtless be equally enthralled. In a time that can often feel volatile and constricted, Hayon’s world is mysterious and mischievous, filled with optimism and vitality. Hayon is a prolific creator of interiors, art, and design, making work that is frequently vivd, surreal, and invariably personal—a reflection of his colorful personality. Think of him as the Pedro Almodóvar of design. (I hope Mr Hayon won’t mind the comparison.) This Jaime Hayon interview aims to shine a light on his distinct and fascinating approach to design.
A native Madrileño, Jaime Hayon now lives in the sunny Mediterranean city of Valencia. He describes himself as ‘a bit of a rebel’, someone who is energized by uncertainty, and works without structure. This way of being is clearly evident throughout his inventive oeuvre. Hayon’s wonderfully bizarre and mythical creatures are especially endearing, appealing to the childlike mind inside us. Taking shape as tableware, glassware, and objets d’art, they make little sense and therein lies their unquestionable charm. His furniture is bold and exquisitely crafted, and his interiors are visually expressive and deliciously eccentric. Hayon’s designs for the Hotel Barceló Torre de Madrid, La Terraza del Casino, and YP Haus Pangyo Lounge Seoul represent a few of his frankly irresistible, idiosyncratic marvels. More than a designer, Hayon is an artist and his fanciful characters have come to life across a range of mediums. The Hayon Sculpture Garden and Swarovski Carousel are quite exceptional.
In a major career retrospective, and as part of World Design Capital Valencia 2022, Jaime Hayon is presenting ‘InfinitaMente’ (‘Infinitely’) at the city’s Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània (CCCC). Showcasing an array of his aesthetic works, this brilliant retrospective is an insight into the acclaimed Spanish designer’s cosmos.
Writer Gerard McGuickin asks Jaime Hayon in this interview about life on and connected with the marvelous Planet Hayon.
In an interview earlier this year with CC/magazine, you remarked: ‘I kind of live on my own planet.’ What is life like on Planet Hayon?
(JH) I do live in my own planet and admit I’m a bit of a rebel. Fixed structures do not suit me. I need to be able to be free, change plans, and challenge myself. If it’s too easy or comfortable, it starts to make me nervous.
I like to enjoy what I do and need to discover things that are new to me. I have a lot of energy and a need to use it.
Planet Hayon is a surprising one.
A man with a vivid imagination, you have in excess of four hundred notebooks filled with drawings. What stories would they tell us?
(JH) Paper and ink are my air. The notebooks are the place for thoughts, ideas, shapes, and color. You can find all sorts of things: furniture, art, schedules, caricatures, and plans. There are a lot of free drawings, where my hand is an extension of my brain and I submit to what happens on the white page. Each notebook is a moment in time and you can see exactly where my mind and life was in that moment.
I was first taken by your work when I spied the curvy Favn Sofa for Fritz Hansen. You have since designed a number of seats for the Danish brand and created furniture for many pioneers of good design. What sets your furniture apart?
(JH) There are many sides in my approach to design: organic shapes, high-quality materials, the bold use of color. Then there is the narrative—that which is beyond form and function. The part that links with emotions, stories, and fantasy.
Your respect for the preservation of craft and craftsmanship is steadfast. What materials do you find most pleasing, that give you the greatest sense of satisfaction?
(JH) Materials that come from the earth and that age well with time. Ceramics, glass, wood, stone, leather, metals: natural materials have life and I enjoy working with these most.
There are several of your fantastical characters that I find especially charming, for example: the Green Chicken, the Monkey Side Table for BD Barcelona, The Guest for Lladró, and Baile for Bosa. Where do such fanciful creatures come from—what inspired you to create them?
(JH) These characters, among many others, are part of the cosmos that has always lived in my head. For me, they are real and they are part of the stories of a moment, a place.
Take the Green Chicken for example. I came up with this piece in Shanghai many years ago. ‘Chickens’ are what they call prostitutes there. The concept triggered in me a rocking chicken dream of freedom and beauty. Why? I don’t know, but I’m not afraid of going along with these thoughts and they materialize into an object.
There may be people who look at your art and design with a certain amount of disdain, perhaps thinking it is somewhat absurd. I wonder if this matters to you, if it matters whether or not people ‘get’ what you do?
(JH) I really don’t care. There is room for everything, even for me to be free and enjoy what I am. There are many who enjoy it and feel it too. That’s enough for me.
Absurd can be a compliment. Love it or hate it, it’s fine by me. I try my best to remain true to myself and enjoy the work.
If you had to choose between your art or design, could you? And what would it be?
(JH) I don’t see them as any different. I can’t help doing either—my brain is always on that path. Design is an art and art is inspiration.
I couldn’t live without inspiration, color, and beauty, so I guess I would choose art.
You spent time at Fabrica, a place of renaissance, where young creative talent is forged. How important are such freethinking institutions in an increasingly draconian world?
(JH) It was a good school for me and a place where someone like me could learn how to use my potential in my own way. Having the possibility of hitting the ground running, working on different projects with important clients, collaborating in multidisciplinary teams, and learning the importance of communication in everything you do, was essential to my development. Freethinking is the only way to learn for me.
‘InfinitaMente’ is a retrospective of your creative oeuvre, currently on show at the CCCC in Valencia. Standing in that space, surveying the contents of your vivid imagination, how did it make you feel?
(JH) It is a special one. We have made many exhibits and shows throughout the years, but the scale here is really impressive. The space allowed for us to make a very comprehensive retrospective, including installations, art, design, and process. Anyone who doesn’t know the work would get an amazing insight into the many crossovers and the intensity of the process of creating.
Having it in the city in which I live has been great too. I can take my friends, my family, my kids, and share my universe with them. It leaves no one indifferent and that makes me very proud.
You were honored with Spain’s prestigious Premio Nacional de Diseño in 2021, and acclaimed as an ‘undisputed reference of Spanish design at the international level and one of its best ambassadors.’ Where to next for Jaime Hayon?
(JH) What I love most is waking up every day without knowing what is next. I am open to opportunities that arise and to the experiences that make up each day and fill me with inspiration for the next. I rely on the freedom of uncertainty and feed on that feeling. Here I am today, looking forward to discovering what is next.
I’m a massive Dolly Parton fan and have been to her theme park, Dollywood, a number of times. Looking at the phantasmagorical Carousel you designed for Swarovski, would you ever think about having a ‘Planet Hayon’ theme park?
We are always open to exciting possibilities. So you never know.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this Jaime Hayon interview, we’d highly recommend (re)visiting some of our previous articles featuring the work of the iconic designer. Hugely varied and captivating, his work comprises everything from porcelain sculptures to chairs, lamps, artworks, and showroom interiors. We’ve also previously wrote about the 2017 Stockholm Design Week, when Jaime Hayon was invited as a guest of honor. You can also read more about the InfinitaMente exhibition, mentioned in this Jaime Hayon interview.