Melvin, designer

Melvin Ong, 29 (quasi 30), is sitting with me with half a world in the between: me from Venice, before leaving for Singapore (his country) to attend Singapore Design Week (SDW) and him from Singapore – busy preparing his next exhibitions for the most important Asian design event.  We’ve met one year ago for his first collective exhibition in Milan where his young design studio (Desinere) obtained a great applause from the press and influencers as representing his country at the Milano Design Week and I was working for them as press officer and pr. We’ve been sharing a lot and we kept in contact all along this year.

After the interview I was flying in Singapore and saw his shows. He exhibited at Singapore Expo with IFFS and had a small space at Singaplural (the off-site events of the Singapore Design Week taking place in many different venues in town) at a mall in a collaborative exhibition (Design Arena) with Kimming Yap (Creativeans) showcasing objects all made of different materials around a table. He produced new black paperweights made by mixing cement with carbon. Beside these ones, he presented new pieces made in brass and bronze that have been produced in Japan (Fouette, pictured: the name is meaning the spin of a ballerina). He also presented some paper tableware, as Fraise. He only made sixty Fouette, so in a way it will be a limited edition: he shall wait the clients’ response, if it is good he will go on production.

He, furthermore, has been called to represent the young Asian creatives for Surface Asia (the sister publication of a NY based fashion and design magazine) with a special showcase in the first edition of Maison&Objet in another continent. The most famous design fair in France had chosen Singapore for its first edition happening in Asia and this tells a lot about the state of art in the local lifestyle market.

Only by lightly touching the reasons for which he called his studio Desinere, you can catch the essence of his creations, twisting the craft abilities and the contemporary habits with slow phrasing. Desinere, in Japanese, means stop, or silence. The young design practice uses a quotation from George Prochnik’s In Pursuit of Silence to define their way to the creation: ‘…The type of stopping at the roots of silence is that which enables an individual to take the sensory measure of the world. We all crave noise somewhere, sometime in our lives; but we’ve swung the balance so far in the direction of loudness, and stripped ourselves of so many oases of quiet, that we’re losing both the will and ability to listen to what’s actually out there.’

What you will discover in this conversation is how design is shifting from materiality to pure emotion, how a complement can rule in the home design industry and how could be hard but challenging to be a designer today.

Your story in 10 lines

My journey as a designer started when I enrolled at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, where I graduated with a diploma in Interior and furniture design. After graduation I decided to pursue a degree in product design overseas and ended up doing so at Central St Martin’s college of art & design in London. I spent the following 2 years in London to complete my studies and stayed on for another 2 years working at a branding agency – Brand42. So after about 4 years in the UK I decided to move back to Singapore to start my own studio, Desinere.

Which encounters do you normally have in your daily work routine (or you’ve having)? Is there somebody you remember specifically?

Well, I’m constantly running around. Apart from running the studio, I’m a part-time tutor at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. So twice a week you’ll find me working at the college. With regards to my own practice, I’ve been more actively involved in running workshops teaching people about paper pleating and meeting designers and artists from different disciplines. Currently, I’m working with a fashion designer to design jewelry and a terrarium expert to design planters. So it’s been pretty exciting as you really open up and learn so much from such collaborative projects and from designers that are in a different field. I think in a way its great not to have a too fixed routine and constantly keep things different and exciting.

How hard is it to start an entrepreneur activity today and is it hard to work? 

To be honest I still do not see myself as an entrepreneur, rather as a designer following his passion. I’m a terrible businessman and am not great at selling myself but I’m rather fortunate to have a good network of friends who have been helping and giving me advice. It’s definitely a lot of hard work because you have to manage so many aspects beyond just designing. It’s a lot about juggling time and keeping project schedules in sync and on time.

What has the society done for you?

I think in general the reception towards local design or designers is much better than before, it’s still tough but I do find there’s a lot more support in terms of local media coverage and collaborations with stores that want to feature more local designers. There’s definitely more awareness and desire for local design and I hope Singapore will continue to grow in this direction. It is slow but at least something is happening.

What do you do for society?

I guess in terms of design, I do not think my designs will significantly improve the way we live, but rather I want to create things that become conversational pieces, items that question preconceived notions and that are inspired by the little things in life that people often pass by without a second thought.

Can you describe a fantastic happening you have had in recent times?

This is a little frivolous, but I re-discovered my love for Lego! Ha ha (he smiles) what’s great is that my girlfriend is really into it as well. Who knew these little bricks could be so addictive.

Can you share your favorite cooking passion?

Oh no ha ha (he smiles) I don’t cook! There’s so much variety of food here in Singapore that I’ve been spoiled! I did discover the awesomeness of brie cheese recently…

Which is your favorite wine or drink?

I don’t really drink, I have the occasional beer but most of the time its either tea or coffee, I think that was a very English thing that I cultivated when I was in London.

Which is your music or the book with you now?

I’ve reading this book ‘The wind up bird chronicle’ by Haruki Murakami, it’s really good read. For music, I guess anything from Sigur Ros.

Which is a talent you have and the one you miss? 

I used to play the Euphonium and a bit of the trumpet in the symphonic band when I was young, but I don’t think I can play it anymore.

How are the plans for the M&O Asia and your further exhibitions at Singapore Design Week?

After the Milan Design Week I’ve been interviewed by Surface Asia and this gave me the opportunity to be selected as “rising talent” in a special section curated by the magazine that is selecting young designer not only from Singapore but also from Indonesia and Thailand. Actually, I will show pretty much the same of what I exhibited in Milan. This show will open a week before the Singapore Design Week official dates and actually is quite busy for me this month of March! After M&O Asia, I will be also at Singapore Design Week and IFFS (International Furniture Fair Singapore) and is like a “back to back”!

Why do you produce in Japan instead of Singapore?

In Singapore we do not have the craftsmen can do something like this and because (as the ceramic piece I did for Salone del Mobile in Milan) the guy who helped me to organize the ceramic collaboration, gave me the contacts of many other craftsmen in Japan  who are also able to do cast in metal. So straight after the Milan trip, I have been in Tokyo to meet these people, who are very open to work with designers outside Japan: that’s how we started!

After Milan exhibit, how were going the enquiries and the sales?

Have them being more or less? Was Milano bringing you much more business rather than the one you already have?

In terms of sales and business, there was not so much in the end. But in terms of exposure (audience, press), yes, it was very different. It is fast like a snowboard! Lots of magazine requesting interviews and publishing features, this leads you to have more contacts: people asking collaboration or others asking to sell my pieces in their store. This happens much more in Singapore and for overseas I got in touch with an online store (based in NY): this lady saw my stuff exhibited in Milan via somebody’s blog and she ordered a set of paperweights and it was quite a shock for me. Everybody is taking some time to decide if purchase them or not, by touching evaluating and comparing….This lady ordered a set of 20 without having seen them at all!

Have you had some commission in interior design or in fashion design?

Actually after Milan there is a fashion designer I was working with, we share also a studio together and we’re working on jewelry pieces together. A lady in Seattle was asking me an interior design project for her new venture, and I am very excited but also very stressed.

Fouette plays a lot. It allows people to move their hands when they’re on the phone or in their office and need to distress from what they’re doing…

Yes, but it is actually quite heavy so to get it spinning is also a challenge. I was asking my girlfriend (she is a ballerina) how difficult is to do this move and she said it is only for very advanced ballet dancers….

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