Lucile Viaud grew up in a family of artisans in the north-eastern French region of Lorraine, an area known for its rich glass tradition. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by the materials some of my relatives used to work with,’ says the designer, who won the l’Observeur du design award in 2018. Not only did she develop a passion for research and science around materials from childhood, but the yearly family holiday visit to Brittany in the north-west of France, where the North Sea flows into the Atlantic Ocean, filled her with a deep love for the sea. ‘Today, it’s the place where I recharge my batteries.’

While studying at the prestigious École Boulle in Paris, Viaud rediscovered glass-working techniques from the art nouveau period, and they captivated her. All these impressions, influences and experiences come together in Glaz, her first collection of containers made of sea glass. Glaz is a project that goes beyond beauty and design. It has a message to share. Viaud considers her project as a medium to raise awareness: ‘We should question ourselves more about where the material we use comes from, the know-how that’s giving it life, its impact on the environment, its history. The object should trigger that reflection process.’ Responsible users, responsible designers. ‘My approach is based on these concepts, and the material is my starting point: its properties define its function, which also define its shape… Function follows material! Being able to appreciate what nature offers is really the message I wish to convey in my projects.’ Thus pointing fellow designers to the various possibilities of aquaculture materials as a base for their work.

Moulage. Photo: Flavien Delbergue

Viaud considers designers to play ‘a very important role in the conservation of our environment, but also of our resources and traditions. Old practices and traditions (ancestral methods of making glass for instance) are important to me because of the values they come with: economy of means, link to the territory, and a certain conscience of the richness of nature…I defend a vision of design where multidisciplinarity, sustainable development, frugality, and collaboration are inherent to the process. To me, a designer is a sensitive technician capable of innovating in order to respond to contemporary issues whilst reinterpreting ancestral techniques.’

Viaud’s Glaz consists of seven pieces for the home. Each piece is hand-blown by the glass whizzes at the Atelier Silicybine in Arcueil, with whom she collaborated for a year. Collaborations have been essential for the project, and as Viaud says, this starts with the harvest of the raw material. She first worked on the research phase with IDmer, harnessing the expertise of the Lorient-based platform, which specialises in the research and development of innovative products from the sea. Now she has partnered up with Entre Mer & Terre, which has been transforming what the ocean gives up since 2014. As Viaud explains: ‘I work with partners in Brittany who collect it in the region, clean it, sort it, and turn it into powder. The factory also mixes the powders according to my formulations, and the mixture is then sent to the glass workshop. The glass is then remelted to be shaped by the craftsman, by blowing for example. The colour of marine glass Glaz (glaz is the name of the colour of the sea in Breton) is natural: it depends on the raw materials I use…the glass is tinted en masse and therefore can be recycled to infinity – we do not lose anything in workshop! The challenge now, is to test new species of shells and algae to make the glass, and try to obtain new colours according to provenances, species and seasons.’

Lucile Viaud. Photo: Marie Préchac

Cost is not something that bypasses Viaud. ‘Even if the marine glass Glaz is more expensive than regular glass because of the specificity of its development and logistics, I wanted the prices to be reasonable and correspond to the hand-blown glass market,’ the designer says. Thanks to crowdfunding, Viaud managed to fund high-quality moulds. ‘Apart from the financial aspect, this KissKissBankBank crowdfunding campaign was a very important personal step, as I got to get a lot of feedback on the project, as well as precious support.’

Lucile Viaud is represented by FRACAS, a Brussels-based platform dedicated to art, design and contemporary craft.

Glaz Belle-île-en-mer. Photo: Lucile Viaud
Glaz detail. Photo: Lucile Viaud
Stéphane Rivoal, Silicybine workshop, Arcueil, France. Photo: Lucile Viaud
Sea glass. Photo: Flavien Delbergue
Sea glass © Flavien Delbergue
Sea glass. Photo: Flavien Delbergue