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Quiet luxury

As she becomes the first Indian designer to join London-based design company YOO, Sussanne Khan tells author what drives her creative philosophy

Ritika Bhatia 

Image of the apartment in Pune that Sussanne Khan designed for YOO

Apart from pursuing her artistic vision by designing various high-profile international projects on residences, offices, retail and outdoor spaces as well as her concept store, The Charcoal Project, Sussanne Khan will now be showcasing her signature aesthetic on a global platform - as creative director for Sussanne Khan for YOO. The international design company was founded by property entrepreneur John Hitchcox and French designer Philippe Starck in 1999. Khan will be the sixth designer on YOO's illustrious team, alongside household names such as Jade Jagger, Marcel Wanders, Kelly Hoppen, Steve Leung and Starck himself. She will be taking her design philosophy to hotels, residences and other spaces across the world with this collaboration.

Khan takes me through the events that led up to the collaboration. "I did a sample flat for the YOO property in Pune, and that's what caught their attention." A few calls later, she flew out to meet them in London. "I have been a huge fan of the Starck school of design and of Hitchcox as well. Their design aesthetics are very detail-oriented and thought-provoking. And they liked the way I combined the different elements in my approach to design, and there was instant chemistry and synergy of thought." Hitchcox is also excited about the association. "We're delighted to welcome Sussanne Khan to the YOO family in a collaboration that represents an exciting evolution for the brand. This partnership creates a unique opportunity to promote the very apex of contemporary Indian design across the world through one of its foremost figures," says the co-founder.

With her mother, Zarine Khan, also an interior designer, it's only natural that design has been Khan's lifelong passion. After obtaining an art degree in interior design from Brooks College, California, in the '90s, Khan has comfortably straddled the world of fusion architecture, interior design and original product design for the last 15 years. The direction Khan has chosen to develop her signature style for YOO is "quiet luxury". "I want to use different materials and textures, my favourites being metal, wood, natural fibres, but I want to stay away from bling in order to create subtle, breezy luxury." But in case a client does request for garish opulence, "I try and bring it in, in my own way," says Khan, to ensure that the final aesthetic is balanced out.

Sussanne Khan with John Hitchcox (right) and Philippe Starck
The Pune sample apartment for YOO reminds one of old-world glamour, albeit with a significant contemporary touch. "This particular apartment was conceptualised from collectibles, and designed for a person about his travels and influences," Khan explains. She adds that it has strong influences of colonial India -libraries, collectibles, et cetera - and blended it with elements of Mughal architecture - paisley, deep burgundy tones and warm inlay work. Despite the vintage theme, the overall look of the space remains resolutely modern. "She has a keen eye for textures and materials and an unique ability to weave tradition and contemporary principles into a seamless scheme," says Hitchcox.

Her imagination is fuelled by a will to create diverse design stories inspired by the history of art and world architecture through the ages. "I would characterise my design aesthetic as an eclectic blend between my Indian roots and the way I see the world - it is this mix that interests me," she says. Apart from influences at home, Khan is also inspired by California Aztec, by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and feels a strong attraction to the history of art - be it Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque: "I like to strain these influences down and modernise them." She also loves Picasso's Cubism, and feels it can be applied to a variety of designs. "I like to experiment and bring the elements I love together."

Khan's clients usually leave the design approach entirely up to her. She prefers to study her client and the space in detail, and take their views and their values into consideration. "It is a combination of understanding the mind that will be occupying that space and my own perception of it - once that is done, my clients like me to surprise them," she says with a laugh. There is an intriguing new project that YOO and Khan have had in the works since last December that is slated to launch in India towards the latter half of the year, but both parties have chosen to remain tight-lipped about it.

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First Published: Sat, May 02 2015. 00:26 IST