The Daniel Rozensztroch Interview (English)
The Daniel Rozensztroch Interview
With every new edition of our product catalog we feature a guest curator, someone who we have worked with on at least a couple of joined projects, to whom we dedicate an article in the form of an interview or an editorial. The main focus of the curated gallery is allowing the guest curator to share their vision on design, styling and in particular on the ways in which they integrate old objects in their work.
For this year’s edition we partnered with world famous art director Daniel Rozensztroch and now we are finally putting his entire interview online!
What you will read from the next paragraph on are extracts of a conversation that took place over a couple of days in Paris. The images that accompany this long interview were shot by French photographer Francis Amiand inside Daniel Rozensztroch’s apartment in Paris. They present a compositional work that our guest curator made pairing All’Origine products with elements of his incredible collections.
When a Very Big Man Discovered a Very Small Company
September of 2013. A new company called All’Origine was attending its first Maison&Objet trade fair in Paris. The only affordable booth at the time was very small and far from the busiest and most desirable isles. On the first day of the fair a man walked in, asked a few questions, complimented the product selection and proceeded to make a purchase.
We did not recognize him at the time, but we noticed his elegant manners and were struck by his kind and encouraging words. We were compelled to find out who he was and were immediately blown away when we understood who had visited our booth. That man was Daniel Rozensztroch. And now: fasforward 9 years.
What is your job title?
I am an Art Director. Of course I am also a book author and a journalist when I write for magazines, but my job is to carry out the art direction of projects of different kinds. For some projects I may act more as a stylist, for others more as a designer, so the broader definition of Art Director describes me best. A title I am sometimes wrongly given is “decorator”, but that is a word I just don’t like. In my view the concept of “decoration” sheds a negative light over the meaningful work of many people. To me this word evocates the idea of working with inanimate, meaningless things. My fascination for certain objects on the contrary stems from the idea that they are full of life. Putting them one next to the other means establishing a relationship between entities that are very much not silent and able to communicate.
How did you become the Daniel Rozensztroch we know today?
The career that led me here is rather long. Let’s start from the very beginning. I grew up in Nice inside a family of artists that valued culture in all its aspects very much. My fascination for objects started at a very young age. I was barely a teenager when I acquired my first piece: a blown glass egg bowl from a shop that had closed near my home. I still have it today. Of course at the time I didn’t see how sourcing old objects could be a profession.
I grew up and moved to Paris to study at the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. I thought I wanted to become an interior designer, but those years ended up teaching me that was not the right job for me. In that time many teachers were very dogmatic. There was only one right way of doing things and it was in the manner of the rationalist movement. Meanwhile I was starting to spend my summers traveling and discovering faraway worlds that were completely new to me. I made my first trips to Asia and Africa, I discovered local arts and crafts and was deeply fascinated. The idea that my work as interior designer could not establish any kind of connection with those worlds was extremely depressing.
After graduating I worked three years for a studio, then quit. I actually don’t consider this as the starting point of my career, I just consider it a youthful indiscretion.
My whole family could see how I felt by that point so my father came to me and said: “Daniel, you have your whole life in front of you. Just choose what it is that you want to do!”. I told him I wanted to open a shop. The look on his face was slightly perplexed, but he replied that if that was what made me happy it would have been the right thing to do.
This is how I opened Oggetto, the first of its kind shop in Paris!
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: Napoleon III era metal pastry cabinet, showcase mannequin in metal wire, painting by contemporary artist Nakis Panayotidis, Napoleon III era metal wire urns containing metal and porcelain flowers, Grasl Vulgrisdesk lamp by Jan Roth for Ingo Maurer (1973).
From All’Origine’s selection: Central European solid wood hat molds (mid-century).
What kind of shop was Oggetto?
The idea behind this entrepreneurial endeavor was to offer a selection of designer furniture and home accessories, paired with folk objects from different places around the world. This was a wonderful time in my life. I would often travel to Spain which had just recently reopened its borders after the fall of Franco. I would travel to New York that was utterly beautiful in those years. I would go product hunting all around the world and source items to resell in my shop. And of course I also purchased for myself. This lasted about ten years. I feel like I was a trendsetter, but as the market grew more and more interested in this kind of items my shop began to have competitors.
When the bigger retailers also stepped in I understood it was time to move on and try pioneering something else!
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: drawings and paintings found in flea markets in the U.S.A. and in paris, among which a 1960’s still life by Xavier Étienne (school of Toulon), a Sabino bronze lamp from the 1950 from his childhood apartment in Nice.
From All’Origine’s selection: skep beehive made of Wicker, rush, mud and manure (Romania, late 1800’s- early 1900’s), West German Scheurich Vase and small ceramic tray, woven flasks from the Balcan countryside, circa 1950.
So what did you do when you closed the shop?
During those ten years I had gone from being completely unknown to being featured in many magazines. I had made friends with many people that we could call influential, both in the world of journalism and in the curatorial world of museums and exhibit design. I could tell the times were changing also from the shift in the way curators talked to me: initially I was kind of an outcast among certain intellectuals because I didn’t have formal art history or ethnographic studies in my background and because the objects I took interest in were very humble. Over the years things have changed, professions have changed and so have the minds of the people who occupy certain positions. This evolution has brought this world much closer to my views on what is worth being treasured and how it is proper to display it. To answer your question: after the shop I began working for Marie Claire Maison, writing and traveling with the editorial team. This was my life for about 20 years, up until 2015. I would say that from there on my career is of public domain and by that time I was indeed “the Daniel Rozensztroch you know today”.
Everyone at All’Origine shares a profound love for old objects, which we have privately discussed in more than one occasion. When we ask you about any single item in your collection you have an amazing amount of knowledge to share and this has always left us in awe. We are merchants in the end and there is no shame in that, but your interest appears to us far less materialistic.
This could seem somewhat of a paradox if one were to look only at the pictures of your beautiful homes where you live surrounded by objects. Tell us more about your relationship with so called inanimate objects.
The objects that interest me all have a function. I do have a few art pieces too, but I am mostly interested in folk art and art brut. The few art pieces I acquire and the many functional objects all have a common denominator: they have the power to convey the presence of the people who made them. I sometimes reference Claude Lévi-Strauss who famously said: “Objects are what matter. Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings.” When I take interest in any specific typology I begin accumulating and I am very fast. I can usually build up a collection with a few hundred specimens in just a couple of years.
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: Paola Navone dining table, metal chairs (including a Tolix and one by Mathieu Matégot), Dominique Perrault and Gaëlle Lauriot‑Prévost industrial ceiling lamps.
From All’Origine’s selection: pre-1950 wooden chairs from Romania and Hungary, Transylvanian decorated ceramic dishes (early XX Century), pitchers, jug and glass bottle from central Europe (early to mid XX century).
You are often referred to as a collector of collections, but “collector” is not a definition you find fitting, is it?
A collector is someone who obsesses over one very specific theme and that’s not me. Collectors also have a very hard time parting from their treasured collections and that is another sentiment I do not share! I usually work on a project (in the form of a collection) with great dedication. I am very focused, perhaps even obsessive.
I travel the world to source the objects that are necessary for the project and this is time that I really feel well spent. It’s a form of tourism in a way. The time I dedicate to research is surely the time I enjoy most. When I feel the collection has reached its completion I have pictures taken and write a book about it. Each project usually culminates with an exhibit. Then it’s over, I move on to the next thing. See, I’m not a collector at all! I have auctioned off many objects that I collected in the past. I still hold on to many, but I’m not driven by the desire of owning everything.
The work you do with your books is extraordinary from a documental and educational standpoint. Any of your collections could easily fit inside a museum, but through books you can reach many more people. You can do much more to preserve the memory of objects that have become very difficult to come across in everyday life. But setting aside the objects you end up separating from, what is your relationship with the objects you end up keeping?
It is indeed a very strong relationship. I can say that they are part of my history and even of my identity.
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: sculpting table from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Carrara (XVIII century), Mathieu Matégot nesting coffee tables, Abelam mask of yam and wicker from Guinea (1950’s), XIX century dog muzzle made of metal wire, Berber checkered wool rug.
From All’Origine’s selection: mouth blown glass fish (Romania, 1960’s), Hungarian and West German ceramics 1950’s-1970’s.
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: contemporary Bell lamp by Normann Copenhagen.
From All’Origine’s selection: handmade duck decoys by Italian birdwatcher (1960’s), hemp and linen fabrics (Transylvania, 1940’s-1960’s).
It seems as if everything in your Parisian house is very unique and precious. Yet you use many of these objects in your everyday life. Do you feel as part of their history like they are of yours?
I would not say so. Even when I am drinking out of an antique glass or opening an envelope with an ancient paper cutter, my effort is to preserve the object in the state in which it was found. It is not a very dynamic relationship in this sense. I’m used to saying that these things “speak to me”, but not that I speak back to them. I feel like the objects I find are somehow “dead” when I first come across them and my job is to metaphorically resurrect them. As you know I mix objects together, I pair them, bunch them, stack them… for my exhibit on metal wire crafts the compositions of objects created a sort of graphic design, but I never actually “make things” using old objects. I’m not an artist, I do not alter any object permanently nor glue things together. I just make temporary compositions that are made to be undone.
In regards to how precious my collections are, sometimes perception may be deceiving: my collections are made up of objects with all kinds of economic values. Most objects I buy for very cheap, but I may also go completely overboard if there is a special piece I fall in love with.
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: daily use drinking glasses of various eras and provenances.
From All’Origine’s selection: glass fish in different styles, manufactured in the mid XX century in the factories of Pădurea Neagră and Tomești.
So you consider yourself not really as part of their history, more like a custodian? What happens if something breaks? Do you find it ok to leave your mark with a mend or a fix?
In some way, yes, I am a custodian. Some of my possessions are way older than me and will be around long after me. I’m an old man you know!
Actually my friends have asked me what will be of all these things once I’m no longer here. I wish they could all end up in museums, but it’s not that easy: museums have limited space and most of my things have a documental and cultural value but not an artistic value.
In regards to fixing broken things: my approach is that of a conservationist. If the fix is philological I am ok with it, but I don’t have a team of restorers at hand, so if a ceramic piece ends up shattered on the floor there is not much I can do for it.
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: 1930’s metal table from a French bistrot (manufactured by Tolix), mid century Chinese wooden stools from a dairy farm.
From All’Origine’s selection: circa 1950’s mouth blown glass jars from Romania and Bulgaria, early century wood scoops from the Bihor region and early century ceramic colander from Transylvania.
From the collections of Daniel Rozensztroch: Alape steel wash basin, South African terracotta beaded necklaces, aluminum clothes hanger.
From All’Origine’s selection: hemp wash cloth, Transylvania 1940’s-1960’s, porcelain handshaped mold for the manufacturing of rubber gloves (Bulgaria, 1970’s), glass bottles for pharmaceutical use (Italy, early XX century), enamel coated glass spirit bottle (Transylvania, early XX century).
You say you are an old man, like us you live surrounded by old stuff and we have spent two days together working with and talking about old things. Yet it is clear to everyone who has read one of your books that you are one of the most future forward people around. This is a question we ask each and every guest curator: what is contemporary living?
It’s because I am not animated by any kind of nostalgia. I look at these things with great curiosity and interest, but I live in the present. And I think we live extraordinary times. People are changing their way of life. As I said earlier in regards to certain professions: the boarders are blurring. People don’t live inside the same box all their life anymore. It is normal to radically change professions, thus bringing different kinds of knowledge into certain fields and therefore professions themselves are evolving in many different ways. Life is a stratification of all the things you have been and also owned.
A home evolves with you so contemporary living today looks very different from what it looked back when I was studying. There still was this fascination for mass production and standardization. Today we have finally realized the impact this attitude has had on our planet and we find ourselves surrounded by the things we have manufactured over the past 100 years: we have enough stuff already, so it is right to question ourselves on how we could put existing things to good use instead of trashing them and making new ones.
Being in the business we are well aware that the paradox of this trend is that now manufacturers, sometimes in an open and transparent way and sometimes not so much, are making new productions to look as if they were old. What is your position?
Knock-offs and fake objects literally enrage me. It is something I find very dishonest and damaging. Of course it is very different when an ancient crafting technique is just being kept alive and someone is continuing an old tradition. That is a very positive thing. Personally I will always be attracted much more towards the older specimens rather than the new productions, but it is perfectly legitimate and actually desirable If you are simply perpetrating an old way of manufacturing or an old typology of craft. It is completely different when you are imitating old objects with modern production techniques and even worse when someone is trying to outright fool people. In the past I have been very proactive in finding and calling out dealers of fake objects.
Early century mesh-wrapped earthenware cooking pots.
I wish to ask you one final question. What do you think of kitsch and camp aesthetics?
Kitsch is a category I adore. It is playful and ironic. I keep most of the things with a kitsch aesthetic at my home in Nice. The taste is slightly different in Nice than it is here in Paris: minimalism is more popular, so I find that it is a better environment to achieve a contrast with my most exuberant and flashy possessions. If you look at an object “of bad taste” by itself it is just that, but when you group more together they tend to validate each other and the collection as a whole becomes a piece of interest. I will end this interview on a very personal note and tell you why I think I love the camp aesthetic so much. You must know my mother was a bit of a snob. She had a love for antique functional pieces from the tradition of Vallauris as well as for the artistic ceramics from the school of Picasso. When I was just a child and lived with my family in Nice she would take me with her to Vallauris. I was fascinated by the most kitsch vases and would stare at them in whatever shop window they were displayed in. My mother would always drag me away jokingly telling me not to look at those horrendous things. So I believe this love of mine for ugly objects (because they are ugly, but in a nice way if you know what I mean) is a form of affectionate rebellion towards my mother.