“That’s what design is about. It’s creating, in my world, access to a dream”

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Thierry Wasser, who is one of the members of the Design Leadership Board, had a really grassroots level start for his career as a perfumer. “I started working at the age of 15 in an apprenticeship in Switzerland as a herbalist, and later I developed a curiosity for fragrances. I joined a school in Geneva for four years to learn the craftsmanship of designing fragrances. Since I’ve done that for the past 30 years and now I’m a designer for Guerlain, which is a 183 year old French company. I’m in the fifth generation of noses there and I’m in charge.”

Thierry describes his approach to design as creating dreams, things that are not necessarily needed. “People love to have what I do. I’m in a group that creates handbags, fashion, watches, jewelry, wine, and champagne in addition to fragrances. Nobody needs all that; everybody wants it. That’s what design is about. It’s creating, in my world, access to a dream. Design can be very useful to people’s day to day life, but that’s someone else’s subject.”

One of Thierry’s main aims is to preserve the skills and craftsmanship that he feels are dying in Europe and rekindle the tradition of learning by apprenticeship. “If you don’t give kids the opportunity to learn skills that are related to craftsmanship in schools, a lot of our luxury industry in Europe is going to disappear. It’s a very important point for me – I love learning by apprenticeship, because it shaped my life, so it’s a personal case I’m raising. Instead of studying I learned a skill, and I’m grateful for that today.”

Thierry considers the multicultural make-up of Europe to be a huge asset from the design point of view. “You have Italian fashion designers, you have Spanish fashion designers, you have German fashion designers… of course you have French fashion. With European design, its multiplicity is its strength. The danger to me is that intellectual property is very poorly protected and considered in design matters. Infringement is very often seen, and especially on the internet. Fake goods going onto internet with no policy to prevent this type of infringement: that’s the danger.”

Working on the Design Leadership Board was a new kind of experience for Thierry, who has been working in laboratories, factories and fields. “Sitting around a big table with people who are intellectuals and looking at design from an intellectual point of view was mind-blowing to me, because I’m from the field. The people at the commission being so far from my reality – I didn’t say reality (I don’t want to insult anyone), I said my reality – was very surprising, but not shocking. I think it’s good that I was able to talk among those people, who from my point of view were living on Mars.”

Thierry Wasser’s interview at the European Design Innovation Summit

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