darc’s Editor Sarah Cullen talks with Scott Richler about the studio’s first decade in the decorative lighting market, and the newly commissioned Welles chandeliers.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, Canadian luxury lighting brand Gabriel Scott has launched a specially commissioned range of Welles chandeliers that were reimagined by six selected designers and architects.
The redesigned pieces of the best-selling and iconic fixture will be presented during Milan Design Week at a formal presentation titled Floating Ideas.
Inspired by jewellery, the original design for the Welles is an iconic, physical manifestation of Gabriel Scott’s design philosophy – to design and make modular products to custom specifications. Formed of a series of hollowed polygons, which branch out into a modular system of interconnected configurations, the Welles presents a stunning optical illusion. The sculpturally innovative design allows the piece to float delicately, producing a soft light through its multifaceted shapes.
Co-Founder Scott Richler speaks with darc Editor Sarah Cullen about his designer background, and the studio’s inception, along with its design influences.
Richler began his design journey at McGill University in Montreal where he studied for a degree in Architecture, graduating in 1998. “I would recommend the degree to a lot of people, but also not. It’s a hell of a lot of work to go through architecture school, and then there’s no real guarantee of getting a job in the end. It does, however, cultivate a lot of your creativity and knowledge of history, and mixes it all together into quite a good education,” he says.
“But, I didn’t last in architecture very long. I think it was a year and a half after I graduated that I began experimenting with other things.
“The truth is, when I went into architecture, I didn’t know how to draw. I had always had a curiosity and appreciation for nice materials, but I didn’t know I was going to end up making things – that thought had never crossed my mind. It was a combination of my then-girlfriend, now wife, and myself thinking ‘Why don’t I just try this?’, otherwise I would have probably applied to study medicine. I was equally good at sciences so becoming a doctor would have been the safe option!”
Growing up in a family with no other designers, Richler surrounded himself with friends that would challenge his thinking, including Guan Lee whom he met doing his architecture degree and remained close friends since.
After leaving architecture, Richler moved into fashion design, specifically jewellery, accessories, and luxury leather goods in 2006. “Between then and the launch of Gabriel Scott, which was six years later, I was designing bespoke furniture on the side. I had always wanted to return to building a brand that could be exported, distributed, manufactured, and shared with more people. The world of bespoke furniture was just so exclusive that you had a very limited clientele. I wanted to get back into something that resembled fashion in a way. And by that, I mean something that was appealing to more people and had a brand attached to it.
“I initially tried to launch something in the US in 2009, but that was the worst timing just after the financial crisis. However, this was a lead into Gabriel Scott, which eventually launched in 2012.”
Richler and his small team were surrounded by the “usual suspects” such as Bec Brittain, Apparatus, Lindsey Adelman, and Matter, plus many other American makers when the brand launched. “At the time, we were very small, and it was really an introduction,” reflects Richler. “We were just hoping to get some attention; our offering consisted of a small number of pieces like the Dean series of side tables and one light fixture. It was very honest.”
Looking at various design influences over the last decade, particularly within decorative lighting, Richler has observed that around 2012 there was a movement in the US toward independent designers and makers gaining more attention. “I think that in the last 10 years or so we’ve seen furniture and lighting as more of a democratic deployment of creativity. I wouldn’t say that it’s the same for today, entering the market, but I think there was a sweet spot. I think the last 10-12 years have been interesting because trends were introduced into the market that probably wouldn’t have been if it was just up to the likes of Flos or Artemide that dominated. These independent manufacturers for America created more texture.”
Turning to more direct influences on Richler’s designs, he explains how “not all influences are aesthetic”.
“The jewellery and fashion aspect are more of a tectonic influence. The way jewellery works and the way lighting works is similar; you have something shiny, you have a comparison in terms of the parts, and I think one of the most obvious inspirations is the materiality.”
Further to this, another key influence for Richler was to create a range that was formed in an OEM, parts manufactured way. He wanted the products to be created bespoke, but without using bespoke artisans in their entirety. He referred to the manufacturing process as being like that of cars: “The parts for a car are made in different factories, so you have to have good engineering throughout the entire design process, and figure out how you’re going to do that. That was important because I wanted to be able to get the lighting pieces out there, have them shippable, exportable, and realistic in terms of cost.”
Reflecting on the first 10 years of the Gabriel Scott brand and the work produced by the studio, some of the key milestones have involved collaborations with large international design firms as well as the launching of global flagship showrooms.
“Our first collaboration with an international brand, which came right on the back of the heels of our debut launch, was with Rockwell Group, which is why we chose to feature them as part of our Floating Ideas project. They are big hospitality designers, and we were just kids at the time showing off our new line. We got the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac project with them, which was in Quebec, where we created a custom fixture for over the main bar. I think this was a milestone project because it was a moment of ‘Hey, you can do a collaboration with people outside of our league!’”.
In 2014 came the opening of the Gabriel Scott showroom in New York, which was a pivotal moment for obtaining further poignant collaborations thereafter. Notably, a five-storey residential project in the West Village of New York that featured a Welles light fixture in the stairway, which was designed and implemented during construction. “We worked with the architect in order to have this fixture integrated into the build. It was particularly interesting because the fixture sits all the way through the house and has lighting attached all the way through. It was a good introduction and exposure for us to see what we could actually produce and a clear confirmation that the Welles was certainly a very dynamic and flexible piece.”
Another “monster moment” for the team was in 2017 when they first showed in Milan. “It was great because that introduced our brand to the greater public. Some of the people we met there and struck up relationships with were key for today.”
Then came the launch of the London flagship showroom in 2019, where Richler is currently based and building a strong team.
Naming the Welles as his favourite piece produced by Gabriel Scott, Richler loves its versatility and multiple personalities. “I had a client present photographs of one that was described as more feminine than usual. They had mixed in some frosted colours and put together something we never would have done ourselves. It’s constantly changing and getting reinterpreted by others and continues to surprise, it’s really nice to see.”
As part of the 10th-anniversary re-vamp of the Welles chandelier, Richler selected six top international designers to create their own creative interpretation of the fixture, still in keeping with Gabriel Scott’s core design principles: versatile aesthetic, customisable and timeless. In order to ensure the designers produced varied results, Richler provided a specific brief that offered advice on design direction as well as technical execution that guaranteed each piece was a workable and buildable product.
“I am delighted to be working with such high calibre designers to celebrate our 10th anniversary,” he says. “The designs they have proposed are original and a real testament to the spirit of the Welles chandelier, which is now five years old. The project title Floating Ideas came to mind because, when you float an idea, you want to see what it inspires in others – and how far it can be taken. I think this will be a really special Milan Design Week for us and we look forward to sharing the show with everyone.”
In addition to the launch of the new Welles chandeliers, Richler has also revealed that there will be an added capsule collection with various Welles configurations surrounding the six designers’ concepts.
Further to the Welles capsule range, the studio is also working on a collaboration with an American sculptor that will be pushing the boundaries of scale for everyone involved. The new piece is due to be launched in the Spring. “They’re pretty epic in terms of proportions!” claims Richler. “He is scaling down and we are scaling up. But I can’t say too much about it for now…”
To wrap things up, we asked Richler for his advice for budding creatives that want to pursue a career in product design.
“I wouldn’t advise a creative-minded person to be too specific about what they want to do. In other words, I think the thing with creative fields is that you should remain open to opportunities. For example, if you think you’re going to become a furniture designer and you end up becoming a sculptor, you haven’t gone wrong. So much can happen. You see this in a lot of fields, even in fashion with big creative directors. If they move from house to house and change what they’re doing, I think it’s what needs to be done. You need to keep an open mind and take opportunities to just produce creative work, whether it’s lighting, furniture, sculpture, arts, whatever. At the end of the day, what builds your career is active engagement.”