Son of Sophie, nephew of Jasper and grandson of Sir Terence, it’s perhaps little surprise that, at the age of 21, Felix Conran is already making waves in the design world. The Central Saint Martins student has teamed up with entrepreneur Guy Jeremiah (who defied his Dragon’s Den detractors to successfully market the Ohyo collapsible water bottle) to create the crowdfunded Ohyo bag, which – incredibly – expands from tablet case to grocery sack, via laptop messenger and backpack. Bag for life manufacturers – consider the ante upped. After Nyne’s Fashion Editor, Samantha Simmonds (whose overloaded bags pop open on a regrettably regular basis), caught up with Felix to pick the young designer’s brains on nature vs. nurture, fashion vs. style and art vs. science…
Samantha: I, for one, am always underestimating my tote capacity requirements, so I’m pretty sure you’re onto something with the Ohyo bag, and your 150 (and counting) Kickstarter backers clearly agree – what attracted you to the project?
Felix: The exact same thing! I think what really attracted me to design the bag is I never had one that worked for me. I’d be doing stuff all day, and what I experienced is that I’d either have not enough space, or I’d have way too much, so end up carrying around a huge bag all day. I would carry a small bag and inside it always have a tote for that little boost of space.
Do you have any plans to develop the range further?
Yeah, subtly – I want to maintain a very unisex image with this bag, and we are going to work with our crowd funding community to come up with a range of different colours which will stay unisex and appeal to everyone.
Ohyo’s products act as poster-children for sustainability in product design – how important are ethical considerations to you as a designer?
It’s all about ethical consideration. Call it what you like – sustainability, ethical consideration… I like to call it social responsibility. I’m a great advocate for socially responsible design – it is essential for designers to be fully aware of the entire lifetime of the products they are designing.
You’ve worked on everything from desk lamps to lemon bowls – what’s your favourite design “genre”?
That’s an interesting question, and an interesting observation too. I’m doing this on purpose – I want to design everything, I want to be involved with everything…
Now you’ve dipped your toe into the world of accessories, will you be venturing any further into fashion?
I would absolutely love to get involved in fashion! It certainly is on my mind – I do think very carefully about clothes I wear. The bag isn’t the only accessory line that I’m working on…
How would you describe your own style?
I don’t like the word “style” – style is synonymous with decoration – the styling of something, how can you do something in a given “style”. I feel like what I’m trying to do runs a hell of a lot deeper than decoration.
How important is beauty and form in design?
At the end of the day, people have to want to own the things that you make as a designer, and if you do this by inspiring them through the beauty of the object, then you have been successful – but if you inspire people in a deeper sense of the word… that’s what I want to do.
Would you prefer to be described as an artist or a scientist?
An artist, absolutely.
There’s no escaping the fact that you hail from a veritable design dynasty – do you think designers are born or made?
I think anyone creative has learnt their creativity. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by great design my entire life, and to constantly be asked the right questions when growing up, but I don’t think it’s in my blood – I think it’s in my brain.
You’re already working with major manufacturers on groundbreaking commercial projects, and you haven’t even graduated yet! Does your heritage place an additional burden of expectation on you?
I wouldn’t call it a burden – no way. I have an incredibly clear understanding of what I want to do and I’m driving myself to do it.
Do you feel a sense of needing to go above and beyond your peers to establish yourself as a designer in your own right?
I want to grow and prosper with my peers. My friends around me are the most inspiring thing in my life – everyone is doing such amazing, interesting things and I’m so excited to see what they will do.
Have you ever considered following a different path? What would you do if you couldn’t design?
I really haven’t ever considered anything else, honestly.
Which would you rather be known for – optimising the design of existing products, or creating entirely new ones?
To quote my mother Sophie, “How could it be better?”. She’s been asking me that since I can remember – things can always get better.
What would you most love to design or invent?
You were one of the first designers to offer 3D-printed products in the form of downloadable designs – how long do you think it’ll be before we’re all printing our own bags from home?
I get asked this a lot and my answer isn’t definitive, because I don’t think everyone will own a 3D printer. I like to liken the 3D printer to a coffee maker – not that long ago no one could imagine making coffee in their own home to the standard that you could get from a coffee shop, but look at us now with a fancy coffee machine wherever we go, and all you have to do is press a button and you get an immaculate coffee! I’d like to see the same thing happen with the 3D printer, but, in the same way coffee isn’t everyone’s cup of tea… in the same way not everyone will want to create.
Digital or handmade – if you had to stick to one, and only one, type of design, which would you pick?
I wouldn’t. I feel that in order for one to prosper the other has to, too. One cannot exist without the other.
Give us the top three words you’d like people to use to describe your designs…
Useful. Elegant. Simple.