Jaime Hayon’s Ascendance to Design Sainthood

Known for work that sparks joy and humor, Jaime Hayon is cruising down a fast track to becoming one of the greatest industrial designers of any era.

Jaime Hayon’s JH97 chair for Fritz Hansen

“My work is over-the-top, but it has coherence,” says Jaime Hayon with a laugh. We’re sitting in Fritz Hansen’s freshly rebranded Milan showroom, which is bustling with crowds eager to get a sneak peek at the Spanish-born designer’s recently launched lounge chair, the JH97, during Salone del Mobile. The entire spectacle speaks volumes about Hayon’s influence and staying power as one of today’s top industrial designers. Radiating personality and whimsy, the chair’s round, streamlined contours verge on animalistic, evoking a pelican’s beak—yet could easily fool untrained eyes as a time-honored staple of the Danish furniture mainstay’s universe.

Jaime Hayon

It’s emblematic of Hayon’s approach to both design and the world at large. “I always find a space where I can play with something,” he says. “Otherwise, it simply doesn’t excite me.” Credit that to a no-rules upbringing in Spain. Born in 1974, Hayon absorbed Madrid’s anything-goes energy early on. He compares his neighborhood to a borderless fairground where he first discovered the fruits of collaboration and cultural exchange, experience that came in handy when he directed the design department at Fabrica, Benetton Group’s communication research center, from 1997 to 2003. This culminated in a distinct approach characterized by pure, unbridled exuberance that remains a defining characteristic of his eponymous design firm.

He applies his raison d’être to every project, resulting in successful collaborations with world-renowned furniture brands such as Cassina, &Tradition, BD Barcelona, and Vitra. “I want to learn by doing constantly,” Hayon continues, explaining why his talents extend far beyond industrial design. Over the past few years, he’s teamed with Jasper Morrison to launch fashion label Jijibaba at Dover Street Market outposts around the world, installed multiple iterations of interactive animal-shape sculptures outside Atlanta’s famed High Museum, an added his humorous stamp to the unfussy, yet grand, Barceló Torre de Madrid Hotel. “I don’t believe in imposing myself.”

Barceló Torre de Madrid Hotel

Despite the disparate applications of his aesthetic, you always know a Jaime Hayon design when you see one. Unifying his diverse body of work is an immediately recognizable visual language that incorporates elements of dreamscape surrealism, references to Spanish folklore, and a fixation of the fantastical—a winning combination. Rarely does a body of work straddle the liminal space between art and design with such ease and enthusiasm.

Museums have taken note. His work has appeared in exhibitions at Paris’s Centre Pompidou, London’s Design Museum, the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, and nine more global institutions this year alone. As well, a major retrospective of his work recently opened in South Korea. He came full circle this past year, when Madrid’s Fernán Gómez Villa Cultural Centre presented an all-encompassing showcase of his work called “From the Imaginary to Real”—his first retrospective in Spain.

Tiovivo at High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Aside from his action-packed roster of high-profile product releases and museum exhibitions, Hayon’s insatiable creative appetite and keenness for the curious guarantees that he’ll continue creating objects that spark joy for years to come. “I’ve been working in both disciplines for two decades,” he says. “That obviously will leave some sort of legacy.”

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