At 17, Sean Dix packed up his bags and left Kansas City for San Diego. Broke and in need of furniture, he began shopping at junk shops; and as his collection of cool, quirky items grew, so did his interest in design. A night course in furniture-making at a community college helped him to build a portfolio for art school.
Sean got his big break when British designer Tom Dixon took him in despite his “almost utter lack of qualifications”. Once he had acquired enough knowledge and experience from Tom and his other mentors, British designer James Irvine and Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, Sean set up his own design studio in Milan. In 2008 he moved to Hong Kong, which he now calls home.
He caught the travel bug at a young age. He says that travel has given him great inspiration and invaluable experiences; from snorkelling in Fiji’s clear South Pacific Ocean and swimming with sharks in Saipan, to relaxing in an Italian piazza. “I’m not sure how much of that is useful in my daily life, but it has certainly shaped my personality and approach to life,” he says. The most unlikely things catch his attention, he adds, and he doesn’t really care about trends. “I’m constantly drawing obscure, unlikely references, making connections between some detail I saw in Chicago, with another detail I remember from a streetlight in Hanoi, with something else I experienced in Siberia.”
Whether Sean is commissioned by a fashion or restaurant client, he’s a generalist designer rather than a specialist, because he believes that all clients have different requirements. Modestly, he likens his approach to a typical report card comment: “Works well with others.”
Creating simple designs that won’t fight with someone else’s work reflects his rule: that good design has no design. During the design process, he also makes sure the product would look good even when well worn. “Stuff that looks good after being banged up has got a little personality,” he explains.
One of his earliest successes was a timber bench with a half-backrest. It was a student project that stood outside his house, forgotten until a friend encouraged him to refine it and put it into production. The Tomoko Bench became an award-winning design that sells exceptionally well.
This average-looking guy in simple khaki trousers and a plain shirt might look like an unlikely candidate to be commissioned to design renowned Italian fashion house Moschino’s flagship store in Milan. What’s more, despite having worked for some of the biggest fashion companies, Sean is anti-fashion. “I hate fashion,” he says bluntly.
However, not all his projects have been quite as successful as the Moschino one. During a stint with Italian fashion designer, Elio Fiorucci, he designed a gigantic public sculpture for the façade of a building in central Milan’s Piazza San Babila. “Incredibly, the project survived the Milanese government’s infamous red tape, but was killed when the owners of the building wanted to be paid for the right to install the sculpture.” Sean lost the commission and Milan the opportunity to have a great piece of public art.
Dix Collection is available at OM, 16 Tai Seng Street, Level 8
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