In Conversation with Antoine Roset of Ligne Roset
Editor-in-chief Anicka Quin sits down with the executive vice-president of the iconic furniture company to talk family, furniture and drinking coffee like a Frenchman.
The great-great-grandson of the founder of iconic French furniture design house Ligne Roset, New York–based Antoine Roset, executive vice-president of Roset USA, stopped by Livingspace in Vancouver to launch their new shop-within-a-shop and chat with Editor-in-Chief Anicka Quin.
Ligne Roset has this long family-run history going back to the 1800s.
It’s still a family business, even though it’s difficult—we’re one of the rare groups still able to shoulder the company 100 percent. I represent the fifth generation, and I’m not alone. My cousin, Olivier, based in France, and my father are still running the company.
Is it challenging? How have you managed?
I would say yes, it’s challenging, for one reason today: when you have a financial crisis like 2008, you still have to fund your own company. It’s not about making or losing money—it’s more like how much you can invest in your company and if there are choices to make. We’ve decided to invest more in production; for us, it’s the most important part. We’ve put less into marketing and advertising, for example—and our website is a bit old today. So we’re starting to renew everything, slowly but surely.
But for the rest, it’s very fun. It’s a process; I’m working with my father—being with my father, it’s family, but it’s business too. At night or during dinner, we chat about business. But I grew up like this—my father, my uncle, everyone was taking part in the conversation.
What’s it like growing up in a furniture family?
I did some odd jobs at the factory when I was 16, and I did an internship when I was at business school in Germany. But I didn’t want to start by working for the family. So I started in the watch industry—part of the IWC Group on the French market. One day my father came to me and said, “We’re looking for a salesperson in the U.S. It’s in New York. What do you want to do?” On the one hand, it’s New York, and you really only have one chance to move to New York. I had my friends, my girlfriend, my life in Paris—but I still decided to move. It’ll be nine years in November.
So you’re definitely there.
I’m almost a New Yorker! The rule in the city is 10 years. If you stay 10 years, you’re a New Yorker. I’ll be an American boy.
What do you love about NYC, and what do you miss about France?
New York, I would say I love the energy, how fast it goes, how open minded everyone is. You just have to adjust a little bit yourself, in this city. You do whatever you want to do. What I miss about France—mostly my friendships, but also the way we value time in life. Just being more relaxed.
The first time I went to France years ago, to-go cups didn’t exist. You didn’t have coffee to go—you sat and enjoyed it.
Yes! Exactly—that’s the best definition. If you have to compare North America and France: you don’t go to Starbucks. You take the coffee on the counter, with a newspaper; you take the time to say hello to someone and ask questions. As much as I go to Starbucks today!
Does that take-it-slower culture shape the way you design furniture?
Maybe, yes. It’s French—we’re a French company. But in design, it’s really more about the people who are running the company. The way we are approaching design is really different. We are much more free
to do whatever we want.
Obviously we are doing business with our classics—where we try to give the best in terms of finishes and quality. But then you have pieces like the Ploum, for example, developed in the year of the financial crisis. In 2008, when already the economy was really a nightmare, we said, let’s take a chance to bring this on the market. After months and months of work, we brought it in 2009 to the Fair. And now this is our single best seller.
How do you strike a balance between staying contemporary and creating new lines, but also being timeless? Togo, for example, has been around since 1972.
We use the word “iconic” for Togo—it’s a very strong word. We do say there’s no recipe for these kinds of products. You get these only if you trust what you’re doing. If you push, you push, you push, then, one day, you will have something exceptional. Togo is one of them. French designer Michel Ducaroy was working for the factory at that time, and one morning he woke up, looked at his toothpaste tube, which was aluminum at that time, and thought, look at this, and look at the shape: this could be a nice piece of furniture.
When we showed it at the Fair in 1972, the distributors, everyone, said, yes, we love you, but you’re crazy. This won’t be a good product. Only a few of them took it. Thankfully, after a year or two, we started to see the sales increasing. And since then, we’ve sold almost 1.3 million.
What differences have you seen between East and West Coast design?
I would say on the West Coast, it’s more relaxed, yes? You are enjoying more life than we do on the East Coast! I would also say you’re much more European, French, in the way you approach time—you take time to do things. Whereas on the East Coast, it’s sometimes too speedy.
I was waiting at the hotel to get my room, and there were only two people at the front desk. And four computers. And I was like, honestly, where are the guys? I had to wait five minutes, max! I can adjust— “Antoine,” I thought, “This is so stupid. Why are you stressing right now? You can take five minutes.” And that’s what happened.
In terms of project design, there’s not much difference. Colour is more north-south than east-west. When you go south and get sun every day, you get light colours, more brightness. But 80 to 90 percent of our products are the same everywhere in the world. From Moscow, Germany and France to the U.S. and Canada—it’s pretty universal.
SLIDESHOW: LIGNE ROSET’S MOST ICONIC PIECES