Archive for the ‘[*] my obsessions’ Category


May 30, 2011

For most people, a tea strainer has only one purpose: to strain the tea leaves when making tea. It would be impossible to think of another use. But for Ingo Maurer, a plain tea strainer can form the basis of inspiration for yet another work of art: the Mozzkito desk lamp.

When I first saw this lamp many years ago, I was surprised by the unorthodox choice of materials. A tea strainer houses a halogen light bulb and is suspended in mid-air by the use of a thin metal stem that sits on a metal base. The metal stem doubles as a pipe for concealing the intricate wiring used to supply the halogen lamp with electricity. But the novelty does not stop there. The tea strainer features an assembly of protruding filaments.

Judging from the name of the lamp, it is clear that Ingo Maurer drew inspiration for this piece from the intricate, almost fragile, silhouette of mosquitos. And the desk lamp he created seems to be carrying all those features. Besides the metal base, the only big and heavy object, everything else is completely thin, almost weightless. A slight touch of the metal stem or the strainer can cause the light to oscillate, reminding us of its fragile nature; when undisturbed it stands majestically.

Here is the story of how I became an owner of a Mozzkito lamp: After moving to Germany, I started exploring the city of Heidelberg to find shops that sell furniture and get ideas for my apartment. One of the shops I discovered, and was destined to become one of my favourites, was Seyfarth Einrichtungen, located at Plock, a parallel road to the main one in the old part of the city. Seyfarth was selling furniture and objects from the most famous design houses in Europe – Vitra, Moroso, Cassina to name but a few. Apart from the showroom at the front of the store, they also had 3-4 rooms at the back. It was more like a storage room to furniture and objects that were once the centre of attention at the front, but gradually lost their appeal. In the back rooms, instead of the aesthetically pleasing placement of furniture and objects like the front showroom, there was just a plain juxtaposition of items, without any effort to look nice. Some of them were even damaged.

I only discovered the back rooms of Seyfarth several months after visiting the store to get ideas for my apartment. And among the chairs, the wardrobes and the desks at the far end of the room, I saw it gathering dust at a shadowy corner. An Ingo Maurer Mozzkito desk lamp, which despite a bend on its metal rod, it retained its grace.

I quickly asked one of the store managers how much it cost, and bargained the price because of the bend in the metal rod. I paid the money and a few minutes later was out in the streets, clutching a paper box containing the lamp with the tea strainer protruding out of the box (Seyfarth did not have the original box). On my way home, I still remember the glances of passers-by on what it was that I was carrying.

When I moved from Germany to England, I insisted on taking this lamp with me, even though it meant I needed to create a special box to transport it and several “Zerbrechlich” (Fragile) tags. It was only 3 years ago that the lamp began having a problem: it started burning the halogen lamp only hours after I have changed it. For this reason, the lamp was disassembled.

It took me two years, and a threat from my flatmate to throw the lamp away that made me to contact Ingo Maurer to find out if the lamp could be repaired. It turned out that the problem was caused by the wiring of the metal rod; even though it had survived the initial bend, it has deteriorated dramatically during the past few years. A few weeks later, a new metal rod was delivered to me from Germany and used it restore my Mozzkito to its former glory.

As I finish this post, the light illuminating my Mac keyboard comes from Mozzkito; which for a very long time – and for more time to come – is one of my [obsessions]*.


[first image © LambdaPhage, second image © Ingo Maurer]


[Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch]*

January 15, 2011

A computer mouse was always a peculiar device to me. Most of the time I would use it I would end in frustration. In the old time, it was because of the dust that the ball mouse would accumulate, that would render any navigation of the cursor unattainable before thoroughly cleaning it. In present times, with the advent of optical mouse this problem has been rectified, only to replaced by a recurring pain in my wrist because of continuous use of the scrolling wheel.

When I got my first laptop computer, an IBM Thinkpad, I was introduced to an alternative pointing device: a trackpoint, cleverly hidden beneath the keyboard and manifesting itself only as a red dot in the middle of it. Using the trackpoint in this laptop was very easy. I did not need to let my palms away from the keyboard to operate it; I just needed to put my finger on the red trackpoint and pull it slightly to the direction I wanted the cursor to move.

Others found the trackpoint irritating. Many cited it as a reason for not buying an IBM laptop and opted for computers featuring a trackpad, another pointing device that was gaining popularity at that time. A trackpad allowed you to move the cursor by sliding your finger in the small touch-sensitive area, located at the bottom of the laptop keyboard. Others abandoned any hope of experimentation and attached an external mouse to control the cursor. I do not blame them, for it was only IBM who managed to make a working version of the trackpoint device (and patented it) but others, like Toshiba, failed to implement successfully. Those few who could master the device, would not even think of going back to the mouse.

The same thing happened to me when I was introduced to a pen tablets by Wacom at a friend’s house. A pen tablet is a pointing device that lets you control the cursor by moving a pen on top of a special surface, the tablet. My first reaction was that pen tablets were big and bulky and certainly not alternative to a mouse in cases where desk space was a premium. But I was soon convinced of the opposite when I found out they come in different sizes to cater for the needs of both general consumers up and graphic design professionals. I approached the device with amazement and excitement, the sort of excitement you have when you are test driving a new car. At first, I was overly cautious, but then as I relaxed and started getting used to the hand and eye coordination, I began to feel comfortable with it.

The only problem was the price: Wacom’s pen tablets were a bit expensive. This soon changed with the introduction of the Bamboo series, which were aimed at the home user and cost a little bit more than a good optical mouse. I decided to buy the black model of Wacom Bamboo and, after using it, I realised that I would never go back to using a mouse or a trackpad. But Wacom made the device even better by introducing a finger sensor in addition to the pen sensor. The new model they launched, the Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch, was not only able to function with the designated pen but with one’s finger. Needless to say, I sold my old tablet to a friend and then bought the new one. Since then, this tablet became [my obsession]*.


P.S.: I was thrilled to learn that Wacom won a Red Dot Design award for the Bamboo Pen and Touch tablet, as they did with the old Bamboo tablet.


[all images © LambdaPhage]

[Colors Magazine]*

November 26, 2010

I first came across Colors Magazine 17 years ago. At that time, I used to be fond of the United Colors of Benetton brand and would go to the stores at the start of each season to ask for catalogues. In Spring 2003, instead of getting just one catalogue, the store manager handed me two items: one of them was Colors Magazine.

I didn’t notice it much until I casually started checking it out with my friends. It wasn’t long before we realised that it contained disturbing photos of food with insects and pictures of naked men and women. It came as a surprise to the unsuspected teenagers of my age to stumble upon such disgusting and age-restricted material. Needless to say that my friends condemned the magazine and forced me to closed it at once. But my instincts told me not to throw it away…

The same situation continued for many seasons. I slowly started collecting Colors Magazines, but without noticing the content too much. Even though it was not as controversial as the one I first saw, the issues would, nevertheless, end up at the back end of my bookshelf cabinet, far away from prying eyes.

Almost two years passed and one day, after deciding to clean up my bookshelf, I came across my small collection of Colors magazines. Being free from my friend’s preoccupations, only then did I manage to appreciate the magazine’s content.

Colors was the brainchild of Oliviero Toscani, Benetton’s creative director at that time, and Tibor Kalman, who became the first editor-in-chief. The project belonged to Luciano Benetton’s Fabrica, the group’s communications research centre. The magazine idea was simply to talk “about the rest of the world”. Each issue was dedicated to a special theme and featured innovative articles and features around that theme. At the back of each issue, the yellow pages showcased a small directory of objects and other trivia scoured from around the world – from the most common to the most peculiar and bizarre. Colors magazine was published – and still is – quarterly and each issue was printed in English and another language, with choices among French, Spanish and Italian.

But it was for the content that I started loving the magazine. Unlike any magazine that I had read before, Colors was always approaching each thematical issue in an innovative way. It celebrated opinions and facts and insisted on diversity among people and places. Perhaps, no other magazine can claim to be more international than Colors.

From my small Colors collection, the issue that initially prompted the irrational reaction of my friends was issue 4, an issue about race, which made headlines for the doctored images of Queen Elizabeth resembling a black woman, Spike Lee resembling a white man and Pope John Paul II resembling an Asian person. But my most favourite issue was 13, the last issue published under Tibor Kalman’s creative direction. Instead of being full of articles, the issue was dedicated to pictures and contained only minimal text. Tibor Kalman’s editorial spoke about the power or pictures vs the power of words; probably the best editorial I have ever read in a magazine. It even prompted me to look at pictures like I have never done before.

And, thus, Colors magazine became one of my [obsessions]*.


[image © LambdaPhage]

[Hermèssence – Ambre Narguilé]*

November 14, 2010

Hermès is a company synonymous to unparalleled sophistication and luxury. Many people believe it has the charisma to make objects of desire, not just mere products. Therefore, Hermès perfumes follow the same principle. Hermès is making two different lines of perfumes: those that are available from various cosmetic outlets and cater for common consumers, and a line of more exclusive perfumes for those who seek intricate smells. The latter is the Hermèssence collection, available only in selected Hermès stores. According to the Hermès house, the line has been created by the head perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and is destined for “both men and women which touch the heart and speak directly to the senses”.

I came across the the collection at the small Hermès shop in Selfridges. The salesperson was kind enough to explain me the differences compared to the other collections and allowed me to sample some of the fragrances. One of them caught my senses with a very strong distinctive smell combining the amber of honey with oriental swirls: Ambre Narguilé.

That day, I went home clutching the paper tester and for the next few days I found that I could not keep myself from smelling it. It was that day it became one of my obsessions.

But the perfume came at a price. Hermès only makes a 100 ml bottle at £140 (or with a leather pouch at £345). Even though the price was justifiable if you consider the exclusivity of the perfume and the intricate bouquet of smells, I just needed a smaller bottle, since the perfume was too strong for me to wear on a daily basis.

Fortunately, I later discovered that Hermès makes those perfumes in 15 ml bottles and you can purchase a set of 4 bottles for £84, a price which was closer to what I was prepared to pay. The fragrances are also presented in individual pouches, suitable for travel, and are packaged in a Hermès signature orange box, perfect for a Christmas present. But the advantage of the gift box is that you can mix and match several perfumes from the collection, and experience better the Hermèssence collection.


[Rotring Trio Pen]*

September 18, 2010

When I first saw a Rotring Trio pen, there was nothing in its exterior that would immediately give away it is not an ordinary pen. But by looking carefully, I noticed some markings close to its pushbutton, the indicator dots, betraying instantly it was more: it was multi-pen, a blue pen, a red pen and a mechanical pencil.

It was not the multi-pen featured that it surprised me. After all, I had seen multi-pens before and some with more than three pens. But whereas most of the multi-pens I have seen before were cheap, plastic and chunky apparatuses, this one was small, metal and luxurious. In fact, it was the first time I had seen a multi-pen including a pencil and being roughly bigger than a normal pen. A feature that was due to the cleverly-designed mechanism to load the individual tips.

Indeed, the individual tips of this pens are loaded by gravity. To extend one of them, you just need to hold the pen upright and press the pushbutton downwards but also slightly to one side of the indicator dots of the barrel that corresponds to the individual tip. The retraction mechanism is more simple: it is a small button located at the pocket clip.

The first time I saw this pen was when of my best friends got it from his father to use it in an exam. His father, an engineer at that time, wanted to be able to use multiple pens but not to have to carry them around as individual pens. The moment I saw this pen, I fell in love with it but at that time I could not afford it. Several years later, and having used lots of other pens, I decided to get it for university and have used it ever since. That is why it became one of [my obsessions]*.

Meanwhile, Rotring decided to evolve its design. The retraction mechanism was changed from the pushbutton of the pocket clip to the entire pocket clip, the body of the trio pen became a bit bigger and some patterns were added to the barrel surface to give a firmer grip. The company also introduced the Quattro pen with four tips and a special version with a data pen suitable for use in pointing devices. But I never liked the new designs and always resorted to buying the older version. Needless to say, I lost almost five of these pens during my university years.

These days, I am using what seems to be my last one, because it is impossible to find the same design, even on Ebay.


[image © LambdaPhage]

[Bang And Olufsen A8 Earphones]*

August 17, 2010

The first time I saw an audiovisual system from Bang & Olufsen, I immediately fell in love. Unsuspected, I caught a glimpse of it at a window display and the unconventional positioning of the CD player took me by surprise. While all the CD player manufacturers at that time were positioning the CD players horizontally, B&O had positioned the CD vertically and most of it hanging in mid-air. I then learned that B&O products do not only stand out for their design but for the user-friendliness of their controls. Since then, I dreamt that one day I will manage to get a B&O system on my own. Not an easy feat considering that the B&O products are also known for their high prices. But among the audio systems, the intricately designed televisions and the speakerphones, I found certain items that are not very expensive: telephones and earphones.

Back in 2000, I was about to purchase a pair of Form 2 headsets. But when I went to the store, I found out that B&O had launched another product, the A8 earphones.

They were designed by Anders Hermansen, and unlike existing earphones on the market, they would adjust to the contours and curves of the individual ear and fit snuggly, ensuring a firm fit, regardless of whether I was walking, jogging or engaging in other activities. At the same time, they would provide me with unparalleled sound quality, the one I would normally expect from a B&O product. With the A8 earphones, I did not have to compromise between sound quality and comfort; I just had both.

The delicate design of the earphones won me over, and it was not long before I got home clutching a pair, even though they cost much more than normal headphones. Admittedly, I have had some problems figuring out how to wear them but I eventually figured it out. To ensure the best fit I should start with the earphone branch fully extended (outward position), and using my thumb I place the earphone in my ear canal. Then, still holding the earphone with your thumb, I use my other fingers to snap the outer branch in place over my ear, ensuring a comfortable, but not very tight fit. The optimal position allows for some movement, but does not allow for the headphones to leave my ear canal. If I need to wear sunglasses, I put them on after I have put the headphones and slightly adjust their position.

Since the launch of the product 10 years ago, there have been made imitators. Many companies launched headphones based on the over-the-ear design principle of the A8, but no company has managed to do it better than B&O. The products are either made of plastic and are of inferior quality than B&O, or they are not as adjustable as the A8.

To me, the B&O A8 earphones are a design classic and will probably be cherished for many years to come.


P.S: You can read a short story of how Anders Hermansen evolved his design of the A8 Earphones here.

[image © Anders Hermansen]


August 9, 2010

H&M is the first, I believe, to have collaborated with a well known fashion designer, when it launched a collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld in 2004. Since then, H&M has been regularly collaborating with known designers to create a limited collection of clothes and accessories that is affordable and sold exclusively from its stores. The latest collaboration was with Jimmy Choo for a line of shoes, accessories and clothes. It was an instant hit, with most of the stores running out of stock in the first few hours. The example of H&M was followed by many other highstreet stores. But one of the most successful collaborations I have seen was the Jil Sander collaboration for Uniqlo, creating a line of clothes for men and women.

Jil Sander was known to the fashion world as a contemporary fashion designer, with a particular trend towards minimalism. With her departure from her own house in 2004, after an ongoing feud with the CEO of the Prada Group, that owned the major stake in the company, Jil Sander was largely withdrawn from the fashion world until 2009, when she created her own fashion consultancy. She was then approached by Fast Retailing from Japan, to design a special line for Uniqlo, named +J.

The line became a hit in the UK, and one of my particularly obsessions. . At the time that the spring-summer line was launched, I was in between jobs and needed to buy additional clothes. Needless to say that most of the clothes I bought was from the +J line. Among the items, the slim fit jeans she designed were excellent – like the ones she designed for her own fashion house, that were known for their best fit, her winter coat was exquisitely made and her range of shirts suited most of my needs. Luckily, Uniqlo introduced a policy with which each individual could only buy one item from each style, avoiding running out of stock from the first day.

I just hope that this collaboration continues for a long time.


[image © LambdaPhage]

[My obsessions]*

August 7, 2010

It is about time this blog gained some character. In the past 1,5 years I have been writing it, I have mainly posted my reviews and my observations. When writing most articles, I have struggled with the style and the tone, but most importantly with the person: should I write in the first person, the third or the plural? Mind you, some of those blog entries were used as contributions to a small magazine, so I opted to use “we” more than I used “I”.

This is about to change. If the blog is about myself, and if I need to retain my mystery identity, then I ‘d better reveal some things about my character. And what better way to do this than writing more entries in the first person. From now on, I will be trying to use a lot of “I”.

To celebrate this change in style, I will also start a new regular type of posts called “my obsessions”. These will not be any different from the review posts I have written thus far, but they are going to be about things I like, I admire or I get obsessed with. It will be about items, shops, ideas etc that form my little world.

Many of my friends and colleagues, especially those who have just met me, believe I have a liking to branded – and sometimes expensive – items. They might be right. To me, however, it is not about the brand but about design. If all of our everyday things have been created by designers, from the tissues we used to the cars we drive, then I admire those designers that go the extra mile. The designers who will think carefully the item they want to make, that will study its properties, it function and its utility and will then go on to design things that speak for themselves: either for being extraordinary or for becoming more utilitarian.

And so the column starts with my obsessions. Item I already possess, items I am about to have or items I would like to get. And it can be everything….

You will be able to distinguish those posts from the regular ones, as there will always be a star following the title.