French designers Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag of M/M (Paris) have a fascination with alphabets and signs, a passion they have fostered and developed with dedication since they founded their studio in 1992. The duo has created and crafted over 50 alphabets, from literal A-Z series to more visual and ambiguous sets of symbols, and these sign systems have become central to its work. The designers’ latest project – a collaboration with Plusdesign Gallery that debuted at Milan during Miart and Salone del Mobile – introduces a new, if not always obvious, functionality to their playful iconography. 

The duo have installed a domestic diorama in the transparent glass tunnel that forms Plusdesign’s via Ventura gallery. It’s a sort of utopian ideal inspired by the living units described by Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé, says Augustyniak, and it was developed from a collection of objects M/M (Paris) designed for Dior Homme in 2014 for the brand’s advertising and stores. 

Andrea Caputo and Luca Martinazzoli, who took over Plusdesign two years ago, had been watching how M/M (Paris)’ work has developed. ‘We love their images, a combination of meaning and seduction,’ says Caputo. ‘We noticed that their production includes several objects; they are never in the foreground of the images, but something links them together. 

‘We met, and they told us about their obsession with the domestic space, and the radical, utopian living unit they wanted to create.’ 

The French duo, meanwhile, sees the collaboration, entitled ‘M/Maison’, as a natural extension of its graphic and typographic work and hopes to develop an ongoing partnership with the gallery. ‘Plusdesign is a great platform to construct a vision within the world of design or objects and define what is a contemporary object today,’ says Augustyniak.

The pieces from the Dior Homme project include vertical and horizontal room dividers, a lighting system and a dynamic seating composition, but it’s a collection of new objects on show that pull the display together, acting as centrepieces of M/M’s idealised home. 

‘We said, “OK, we need something,”’ explains Augustyniak. ‘Is it a plant? Is it possibly a human being? Is it like a friend? Is it a pet? This is when we started to design a citronnier [lemon tree].’ Which, it turns out, could be a combination of all of the above. 

Essentially a series of vanity units, the finished citronniers are compositions of oversized eyes shaped as lemons, installed on a modular metal structure. Blown in Murano by master glass craftsmen, the lemon eyes are combined with smaller foam lemons produced by artist Massimiliano Adami, an expert in the material. The final collection combines semi-industrial and artisanal manufacturing methods that, according to Augustyniak, ‘reflect a contemporary handcrafted approach, but are not nostalgic’. 

The citronniers have a kind of organic abandon, a bonkers modularity, something that Augustyniak likes to call ‘the Pinocchio effect’. He explains: ‘It was like Geppetto creating his child; a master crafting a piece of art, then suddenly it gets out of hand and it gets beyond what you were expecting. I think that’s the beauty of any act of creation. Whether it’s an art piece, a design piece, whether it’s a novel, a movie, or whether it’s an alphabet.’

As originally featured in the May 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*206)