Rising French design talent Julien Sebban of Uchronia is well-recognised for his dazzling use of colour and his flair for the outré
At the age of six, Julien Sebban was gifted a Kapla set for Christmas. “I started creating structures right away,” recalls the founder and principal of Paris-based design firm Uchronia, for whom the game—which involves constructing 3D objects—sparked a fascination for the built form. “I come from a family of doctors and lawyers who wanted me to follow a similar path, but after repainting my room dozens of times as a teen, I quickly recognised that I was destined for design.”
After school, Sebban enrolled at the École Supérieure d’Architecture in Paris, and then moved to London to join the Architectural Association School of Architecture. “The latter really allowed me to spread my wings and discover my own style. I experimented with forms and materials and objects and acquired a new taste for interior design.”
Despite an education in design, Sebban didn’t start out in the design world. Instead, he segued into fashion, working for luxury brands like JOUR/NÉ, Nina Ricci and Hermès, where he designed pop-ups across cities like Seoul, London and Paris. Then came the Créatures project, a rooftop restaurant design for Galeries Lafayette, the luxury French department store. This was followed by the Forest project, a restaurant and bookshop design for the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. The combination of the two, accompanied by his own desire to do something different, inspired Sebban to step deeper into the world of interior design. Uchronia was conceived not long after.
I’m not necessarily an interior designer or a product designer. I’m a designer of experiences.Julien Sebban, founder of Uchronia
Sebban eschews any attempts at demystifying his design approach. “I’m not necessarily an interior designer or a product designer. I’m a designer of experiences,” he avers. It’s no wonder then that Uchronia’s repertoire is as varied as the clients it serves, which includes a mixed bag of individuals and businesses. “Our customers are united by the fact that they’re each after originality. In our case, that usually manifests in our flair for the outré, specifically in our use of unorthodox colours and undulating forms.”
In October 2022, Sebban was invited to design a free-spirited pop-up store for Parisian fashion house Sonia Rykiel (acquired by American clothing company G-III Apparel Group in October 2021) to reinvent its universe more than 50 years after the opening of its first boutique in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
When it came to the new design, Sebban conjured up a scheme that skewed psychedelic: tangerine back lights were installed, spaces were defined in bold, bright lacquers, and charcoal bands were used to distinguish one space from another. The play of floor-to-ceiling mirrors gives the store the illusion of being infinite, while rows and rows of triangular bookshelves (which appear different at every angle) pay homage to the literature lover that was Madame Rykiel. Sebban’s finishing touch was the use of steel and mesh to give the store a contemporary spin, as in the case of its Forever Room, a black display box dedicated to the fashion house’s iconic pieces.
As a multidisciplinary collective, the studio likes to blur the boundary between imagination and technique. “We transform spaces by offering an artistic service ranging from architecture to layout, design to visual identity. Above all, we want to highlight French know-how and work exclusively with very talented French craftsmen,” says the designer, who was recently included in Architectural Digest’s AD100 list.
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Much of Uchronia’s work is underscored by Memphis-esque sensibilities. “I think the style has really shaped the way I treat space and colour,” he notes, adding that the recent emergence of colour in interiors has been interesting to observe. “Previously, designers were all about minimal, neutral tones. I find that colour today is becoming more and more important in spaces. We are no longer afraid to use it and that is great to see.” Uchronia’s eye-popping colour philosophy reappears in its latest undertaking, an office project christened Vice Versa, on Paris’s Place Saint-Georges.
With a mirrored ceiling, a Superonda sofa from Archizoom, iconic Starck chairs, Uchronia Wave tables, bright wall panels and vintage furniture, the space is a cabinet of curiosities that is halfway between classic and contemporary, or as Sebban likes to put it, “a marriage of contradictory but complementary styles”. He says: “We really played with the light here. Justin Morin curtains keep the rooms illuminated through the day, while at night, a ceiling lamp on the ground and ghostly figures suggest that the place is still inhabited.”
Travel has played a significant role in defining Sebban’s aesthetic. “I love absorbing new cultures and know-how. It always helps inspire my work,” he says, adding that sometimes, his inspiration also comes from nature. His Wave Collection, for instance, is an ocean-inspired kaleidoscope of undulating furniture and objects that has evolved over time.
For Paris Design Week 2022, Sebban collaborated with antiques dealer Antoine Billore to unveil a new line, christened Stolen Objects from the Sea. With anemone-like tables and starfish-like objects (among other things that look like they could have originated in the briny deep), the objects aimed to cast a light on the otherworldly species that roam our seabed, particularly those among them on the brink of extinction. The new designs were backdropped by a sea of ceramic fish and shells from the famous Vallauris workshops of yesteryear.
Among Sebban’s highest accomplishments is receiving validation from French first lady Brigitte Macron, after the show at Paris Design Week. “I got a call saying she wanted to visit our exhibit. And the next day, there she was. I was that six-year-old boy again, only this time there was no Kapla set. It was all real. And so was the extraordinary woman in front of me,” he finishes, smiling.