The last decade has seen Michael Anastassiades rise to prominence as a designer. His rigorous search to define his own creative identity has been expressed in many forms including, notably, lighting and furniture.
by Claudia Baillie
Unlike most of the UK population, Michael Anastassiades is enjoying the first few weeks of the year. As someone who spends much of his time on a plane travelling from country to country, the designer is relishing the opportunity to sit tight in his north London studio. “It’s nice to be based here for a while,” he says. “It gives me the chance really get on with some work.”
Anastassiades, whose products are shown in permanent collections at both the MOMA and the V&A, designs not only for his eponymous brand launched in 2007, but also for a list of prestigious companies including Herman Miller, Lobmeyr, Ilse Crawford, Svenskt Tenn, Nilufar, and Salvatori. Furniture, jewellery, and tabletop objects all feature, but he is perhaps best known for his stripped back, elegant lighting. It was one of these designs, presented at his first show at Salone del Mobile’s Euroluce exhibition in Milan back in 2011, which caught the eye of Piero Gandini, CEO of lighting manufacturer Flos. “At that time, I was working on String Lights as my own project,” Anastassiades says. “He was intrigued, and suggested we meet in London. I showed him the ideas and he was completely sold.” Since then, they have collaborated on no less than six collections, including the now iconic String and the equally recognisable IC Lights. The partnership between London-based Anastassiades and Italian lighting giant Flos is one that endures to this day.
Born in Cyprus, Anastassiades spent his early childhood in South Africa before moving back at the age of five. It wasn’t until he finished school and the following military service that the lure of further education brought him to England. “At the time, there was no university in Cyprus – so to study you had to go abroad, and London was an easy choice,” he says. “I had to make a critical decision. It was not encouraged to take an art degree, or study something creative. The perception was always of a failed artist, never a successful one, so you needed to study something practical, something you could always go back to. So I chose a degree in civil engineering.”
Though Anastassiades finished the course at London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, he still found himself frustrated creatively and, having heard about the Royal College of Art, applied for a masters in industrial design. “I never really saw myself as an engineer, so I decided to explore another route,” he says. “More than anything, the Royal College was an interesting environment. I found the course quite restrictive, but if nothing else my studies taught me things I didn’t want to do – so I continued researching, finding my way’.
After university he freelanced for a short while, gaining work experience while at the same time developing his own designs, and in 1994 launched Michael Anastassiades studio. Initial pieces were experimental, interactive and electronic products. It wasn’t until later that his love affair with lighting began. “I decided to stay in London and got my own place, and suddenly I had a house to fill,” he says. “I needed stuff, including lights, and I couldn’t find what I wanted – so I designed and made them myself.” They received such a positive response that he created a collection, set up his own brand, and put them in to production.
Inspiration, he says, is different for every piece, but there is one approach Anastassiades takes with all of his work. “I see design in a very distilled way. I like the idea that visual information is subtracted, that you remove necessary things until you reach a point where the bare essence of the product is retained,” he says. “That’s how you, or at least I, get to where I want to be.” However, the paradox of Anastassiades’ lighting is that such visual simplicity can, in fact, be a highly complex process – which is where his relationship with Flos has been invaluable: “It can be challenging, but the technological knowledge they have is fantastic.” Honest materials also feature heavily. “I like things that develop patinas, and materials that contribute to the timelessness of a design,” Anastassiades says. “They should be what they are, rather than plastics that look like wood or metal when they’re not. That’s something I strongly believe in.”
This month, Milan 2018 will herald projects with three manufacturers and includes furniture and lighting, although details are still under wraps. Also on schedule is the launch of the Arrangement lighting range with Flos, at its Milan store. Originally launched at last year’s fair, the collection is made up of slimline, modular elements that can be combined in different ways so the pieces appear to balance on one another. “The lighting is a lot like jewellery,” the designer says. “I like that parallel very much.”
Overall, Michael Anastassiades seems very contented with the way things have worked out. “It took a long time for me to discover what design means to me, and I don’t think I’ve figured it out even now,” he says. “But I feel lucky that I have a studio, that I work with the companies that I do and I get a lot of invitations for new and exciting projects. It’s a good place to be in, and I’m enjoying the opportunities very much.”