The young French designer's prodigious efforts have paid off. The Alga chair (2016) was shortlisted for the Rado Star Prize, launched by the Swiss watch brand, during Paris Design Week (6 – 15 September). Tomatis, 26, was also tapped by Maison & Objet to design trophies made from seaweed for the Designer of the Year (Ramy Fischler) and Rising Talents awards at the September edition of the Parisian interiors fair.
‘When I saw the seaweed problem in Brittany, rather than thinking of it as a waste, I saw it as a gold mine and as an incredible raw material,’ Tomatis recalls. ‘I thought of creating a material out of it that would highlight this waste.’
Successive experiments led to Tomatis creating the Alga chair, achieved by placing a single piece of material realised from seaweed onto a wooden mould. This enabled a curve formation at the point where the chair's back seamlessly meets the seat. ‘For me, it's more of a demonstrative piece rather than a finished object,’ Tomatis says.
Determined to delve deeper into the properties of seaweed, Tomatis applied for, and won, the 2017 Agora grant awarded by France's culture ministry. Worth €15,000, the grant is given every two years to a France-based designer under 40 wishing to carry out a personal research project. The 2017 jury was presided by Erwan Bouroullec.
Through the grant, Tomatis has been collaborating with chemistry researchers at a laboratory in Toulouse, southwest France, to learn more about the intrinsic composition of seaweed and develop new materials made from algae thanks to a semi-industrial process.
‘The first difficulty is procuring the seaweed, drying it and harvesting it at the right moment, and bringing it to Paris,’ explains Tomatis. ‘We're trying to understand why one species works better or is more resistant or supple than another, and what substantial results can be achieved with the materials. The aim is to find ways to transform seaweed as optimally as possible for industrial processes.’
Asked about what appeals to him about seaweed besides the ecological dimension, he replies, ‘It's interesting to work with a material that's alive and that moves; it's a real challenge. Seaweed materials and algae products don't create any waste. On the contrary, they're beneficial to the environment.’