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Interview with Hervé Descottes, Principal of L’Observatoire International Awarded “Lighting Design of the Year” Title

January 3, 2023

In 1993, Hervé Descottes founded lighting design firm L’Observatoire International in New York after 8 years of design practice in Paris, France. Mr. Descottes has been recognized numerous times by the lighting design and architectural communities and took the time out of his busy schedule to discuss his lighting scheme for the Hermès’ collections at Milan Design Week 2022, winner of the 2022 “Lighting Design of the Year” title.

First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Hervé Descottes. I was born in Dijon, came to America in ’93 and founded L’Observatoire International. I lived in France until my 20s and have always been inspired by my surroundings, my city, the lighting, and the fog in winter. Little by little we have grown to become the successful company and team we are today.

What was Hermès’ original design brief for their collection presentation at the Milan Design Week?

The idea of softness. The lamps were inspired by the shoji shades in Japanese houses, the glow and the warmth. That’s how we started.

Photo Credits: Maxime Verret courtesy of Hermès. 

What was the most challenging part of the project?

Finding the right balance between making the product glow and avoiding unwanted shadows. I really wanted to feel like I was going to be inside of a lamp, feeling the paper’s softness, gentle, and round light. That was the idea.

What does it mean to you to win the “Lighting Designer of the Year 2022” award?

First of all, thank you for selecting me, and thank you for the award. Of course, I’m so delighted. It is always a challenge to be recognized and accepted by your peers. For me, it is a very important award, and I am definitely honored.

Photo Credits: Maxime Verret courtesy of Hermès. 

In general, where does your design inspiration come from?

Every day. Daily life, from the morning sun, the places I go in the evening, the books I read, and the movies I watch. It’s compiling a lot of story images. For me, good lighting and a good project must always be a great story.

Photo Credits: Maxime Verret courtesy of Hermès. 

Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations you can tell us about?

I am very busy. I think we have a lot going on these days. From the expansion of the Fondation Cartier in Paris – a great place for temporary exhibitions – to some beautiful hotel restaurants.

We have incredible designs in the works for the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi. That project is now taking shape, it’s under construction, and when you look at the pictures and understand its scale, it is very impressive. We are also in the process of working on a renovation here in New York, and a beautiful school academy with Jean Nouvel in Singapore. Many great projects, and I feel very fortunate.

What would be your advice to any emerging lighting designers?

Trust your gut and don’t give up! It’s an amazing field. You require a very different type of skill from being extremely technical and understanding the technology. You have to understand your heart, your feelings and be able to find the right balance between technology and emotions.