- Article by Online Editor
- Photography by Mitchell Photography
- Designer Ross Didier
Ross Didier is in the midst of an office move when I call. Moving out of an old Brunswick space, a cosy warehouse his company has called home since its inception in 2000, Ross Didier Designs is relocating to an area near Heidelberg. “It’s right in the heart of an old industrial area of Melbourne,” he says. “We’re creating an intimate little space inside that will hopefully surprise people when they arrive.”
Surprise is certainly on the agenda today, as we begin to discuss his latest project: a custom job designing the seating for chef Shannon Bennett’s restaurant venture, Vue de monde, in Melbourne. Bennett’s acclaimed French restaurant is on the move, too, shifting from its existing premises on Little Collins Street to the lofty 55th floor of the Rialto Towers on the western edge of Melbourne’s CBD.
Didier has designed a series of chairs for the fitout, custom pieces that adapt his popular oak-framed Tiller chair for a high-end fitout, which is being designed by long-time Vue collaborators Elenberg Fraser. Stained off-black timber legs support seductive leather seats, which are swathed in a soft, fawn-coloured fur back. These Vue chairs, it transpires, are made from kangaroo skins.
“It’s an idea I’d been playing with for some time,” says Didier. “Kangaroo leather is used frequently in Europe to make soccer balls and boots, even helicopter seats. As a material, it’s thin and pliable, tough and unrippable.” Soon enough, Didier stumbled upon an article in The Age about Vue de monde’s relocation, and Bennett’s desire to incorporate more Australian fare into the menu – kangaroo included. “I went straight to the owners and asked to be involved,” Didier says.
Since that conversation, the studio has produced a series of three designs for Vue de monde: the Vue dining chair, an armchair with a gently curving back and a generous expanse of fur; the Vue chef’s chair – a fur-clad variation of the Tiller chair; and the Vue Tiller function chair – the first stacking version of Tiller, a lightweight design with functional metal legs. “They’re like three brothers,” says the designer. “I’ve often referred to furniture pieces as working companions or pets, so it’s a fun interpretation of that I guess.”
The leather upholstery will prove resilient, says Didier – and has given the chairs a beautiful, elegant finish. Thin yet tough, the leather is also full of character, marked with lines where the skin has been clawed and snagged in the bush. “The fur often gets discarded, and we wanted to look into using the whole animal,” he explains. “If you’re already using the meat and the leather, why not the fur too?” Didier clearly aims to explore broader applications of kangaroo fur, no doubt a contentious issue – but in this case considerably more PC than using the fur of a protected species. Though serving as a decorative rather than functional element in the Vue chairs, he hopes it will get the conversation started about using animal materials more holistically – a design adaptation, perhaps, of British chef and staunch carnivore Fergus Henderson’s philosophy of ‘nose to tail eating’.
The Vue project is a collaborative venture between creative minds, and is, in Didier’s eyes, a “dream job”. His studio has grown from the belief that design must be innovative and detailed, but also saleable and functional. Partnerships with global manufacturers, including UK brand Allermuir, which licences the design for the Obelisk lounge, are complemented by the studio’s own manufacturing capabilities – which allow Ross Didier Design to produce work in-house and partner with local distributors, including Corporate Culture and Interstudio. This is all balanced with custom jobs like the Vue commission, which gives Didier the opportunity to experiment with bespoke design elements for a high-profile client.
While the fur may be seen as a cheeky reference to the latest additions to Vue de monde’s menu, Didier’s designs are not a token piece of Australiana. Beautifully crafted, the material choice is appropriate and considered. “The challenge for local designers is to create something that really captures the creative spirit of Australia, without being kitsch or cliché,” Didier muses. His designs repurpose a local – not to mention abundant – material, giving the chairs an unquestionably Australian aesthetic.
“I expect there will be some controversy, but I’m no hunter,” he adds. “I’m utilising a natural resource in a sensitive way, and I’m looking at using every part of the animal – without wasting it.” Sophisticated design, material experimentation and a refreshingly different approach to sustainability: now that’s a creative spirit Australia can be proud of.