“When I grow up, I want to be a fireman” mused Tom Dixon as a child. His career may not have turned out quite how he imagined, but as a world-renowned designer – with time also spent as a welder, bass guitarist with Eighties band Funkapolitan and sometime night club promoter – the boy hasn’t done too badly. Famed for his stunning furniture and lighting design, including the pylon chair for Italian company Cappellini in 1991, and funky lighting like the jack lamp for Eurolounge, Dixon rose to the prestigious Head Of Design position at Habitat in 1998. Upholding the creative edict “useful can be beautiful and beautiful can be affordable” first decreed by Sir Terence Conran, Tom’s vision was at the heart of his collection for Habitat, VIP For Kids, a range of “very important products” designed by famous names. So, when Junior caught up with Tom as the range was about to launch in stores, we felt we had to ask, why the sudden focus on children?
“Habitat has always done stuff for children” says Tom. “I was looking through some of the habitat catalogues from the Sixties and there was lots of Hula-Hoop playing in the garden, and I wanted to reintroduce that confident outdoorsy feel. And of course Terence had a young family so there was lots of interest in that area and the catalogue was always shot at his home with his children as models”.
VIP For Kids is an extension of the already successful VIP Collection launched in 2004, that featured designs from celebrities as diverse as Ewan McGregor and Monolo Blahnik. The challenge was choosing who to approach for children’s range “Kids think about celebrity too much these days, so we didn’t want to focus too much on that”, says Tom, “The emphasis was more on thinking about what children aspire to and ways to fire their imaginations. In a world dominated by adults, we wanted to nurture the interior lives of children.”
Top of Dixon’s wish list was someone with a space connection, which lead to a collaboration with Buzz Aldrin (apparently Neil Armstrong was a no-go) who designed the Moonbuzz Pendant light. “I had a long transatlantic chat with Buzz, which was fascinating and humbling – just to think that this man has actually been to the moon!” says Tom, his usually sombre demeanour breaking into an enthusiastic boyish grin. “He was very precise about the design of the light – he wanted to rotate once a calendar month. He’s already very engaged with children and his own foundation, so everything is about inspiring children to want to fly to Mars and get them interested in space travel.”
The ethos for VIP For Kids is very much a celebration of the child’s imagination. Was this a conscious effort to reflect the current zeitgeist of holding on to childhood? “It’s naive to think you can reverse trends” says Tom pragmatically, “but I love to think of children creating their own worlds rather than using predetermined products . It’s all about dreaming big dreams.”
Other highlights of the collection include Fripperies, an ornate deco dressing table by Sophie Dahl, and Cu-bed by Harry Potter actor, Daniel Radcliffe, which consists of six soft blocks that can be twisted and reshaped into numerous configurations. There’s also a fabric doll which comes with washable pens by designer Paco Rabanne that children can decorate, then pop in the washing machine and start all over again. “Not that we want to encourage short friendships” Tom assures me.
Actress Kate Winslet designed the secret box: a treasure trove with voluptuous dark blue velvet interior and special compartments. So how involved were the stars with the nitty-gritty of the design? “They are all the sort of people who don’t have time to faff around with a project if they are not committed to it”, says Tom.
And does the designer himself sleep beneath a luminous Moonbuzz at night? “No,” says Tom with just a hint of regret that suggests he really is fond of the moon. “As you find with so many people in my industry, our home is a bit shabby. There are a lot of naked light bulbs”.
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