Southern California’s quirky skateboard culture seems like an unlikely place of inspiration for a budding designer. Especially one about to unleash startling design concepts on the world. This unleashing was destined to be met by sustained choruses of critical acclaim, and commercial gold.
But this was all in a days work for the medium-crossing, style-bending, and time-traveling Jaime Hayon. In recent years his tendency to meld the medieval with the post-modern, or blur what lines remain between art and design, has propelled him beyond measure. His self-labeled “hybrid design” has further launched him into the stratosphere that is the international creative community.
Stylistically, his designs are noted for their seamless blend of often diametrically opposed elements. His open-ended creative canvas has led him to a career that resists categorization. Hayon’s work takes in everything from interior design and furniture to designer toys, illustration, and tableware. There’s even a bathroom collection, AQHayon (which won the 2006 Elle Deco International Award and created a sensation in the industry). The list continues…lighting collections, art installations, curatorial work, and a theatrical redesign of one of Spain’s most traditional member clubs, Casino de Madrid.
For the Casino de Madrid commission, he interjected “nouveau baroque” chandeliers, polka-dotted vases and deer head planters into the environment. The New York Times heaped praise on the project while dubbing Hayon a “grand jester.” They further noted that “Serious clowning around has made [him] one of the most talked about up-and-comers in the design world.”
Born in Madrid in 1974, Hayon was only 13 when he moved to San Diego and began
working for a small and scrappy skateboard company. This is where it all began to take shape. Years later, he told a reporter for London’s Observer, that the subculture rebelliousness with its “do-it-yourself aesthetic” was formative. He continued, “All around me, people were screenprinting T-shirts, and designing skate decks. It's how I got interested in design,” he told the reporter.
That interest would take a more formal course when he returned to Europe and began studying design in earnest. He first attended Madrid’s Istituto Europeo di Design, and then Paris's prestigious L'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs. Here he came under the tutelage of master designer Phillipe Starck.
It was at L'Ecole that the then-22-year-old Hayon was discovered by a talent scout for Oliviero Toscani, Benetton’s creative director.
Hayon was offered a job at the company’s research center near Venice. Before long, Toscani put Hayon in charge of 3D design at the
facility, as well as making the young designer his own right-hand man. During the next seven years (from 1997 to 2004), Hayon’s career blossomed—on paper, at least—as he oversaw interior designs, exhibition designs, publication designs, and logos. He also took on such duties as staging international design workshops, curating exhibitions, and recruiting staff. He found the increasingly managerial aspects of the job stultifying, too far removed from the creativity that had drawn him into the field.
One part of his response to the situation, he later told an interviewer, was to “create a parallel universe where I reverted to skateboarding
after work.” He focused on his drawing again. It was in sketching that his first design breakthroughs took form. He sketched the earliest renderings of the “Onion Qee” figures that went on to gain a worldwide cult following among designer toy aficionados.
In 2003, Hayon began what IDentity Magazine called the “meteoric rise.” Hayon was curating an exhibition at the exclusive and experimental David Gill Gallery in London when he suggested his own work might interest the gallery director.
That overture resulted in Hayon’s first major show, Mediterranean Digital Baroque, an installation of his ceramic cactuses and animals that drew quick critical praise.
In the short time since, his work has been shown prominently in museums and galleries, has become the subject of a monograph (“Works,” published by Gestalten), and has been honored with the Icon magazine Best Installation prize. As jam-packed as his career already is, Hayon shows no sign whatsoever of slowing down or resting on his rapidly accumulating laurels.
“I’m a big believer in learning by doing,” he told The New York Times, “and I have ideas to last me a lifetime.”
In that spirit, one recent project—a commission to design a building in Dubai—is taking him squarely into the realm of architecture. This one-time skateboard daredevil was characteristically undaunted by the prospect when he spoke to the Times reporter.
“I’m not an architect,” he allowed, “but not knowing everything can be an asset when you’re creating because you’re not limited by what you think is impossible.”