Ryan Korban is launching his own furniture collection, Korban, in conjunction with the American maker EJ Victor. The forty pieces run the gamut from seats to tables, lighting to sofas. Even if you’ve not heard of the name Ryan Korban before, the chances are that you have sat on, or stood by, something he has designed. He has been the visionary behind the interiors—and its furniture—of plenty of fashion designer clients: Alexander Wang (including his tenure at Balenciaga), Joseph Altuzarra, Brandon Maxwell, and Aquazurra’s Edgardo Osorio. And Wang, as well as the likes of Anna Ewers, Binx Walton, and tattoo artist Mr. K (of New York's legendary Bang Bang), feature in the campaign that Korban has shot for the launch.
You’ll certainly recognize his aesthetic, which conflates a chicly minimalist noir vibe with undulating bronzed curves; it’s as if Jean Prouvé had been signed up to conjure up a place that Patrick Bateman could call home. But while that implies a level of aesthetic headiness, Korban is designing for real people with real apartments and real lives, as the conversation which follows demonstrates. Korban, the collection, goes on sale this fall.
Before we talk about anything else Ryan, tell me about the campaign you photographed for the launch?
We’re basically doing portraits of the people who’ve inspired me, or who have worked with me, with my furniture. I started in the fashion world, and so many of the pieces [in the collection] were inspired by that work. The images pay tribute to that, and to them. It’s about their style, and my style, and how they interact. It seemed more relevant than just photographing it in a beautiful interior.
Why did you decide to launch a furniture collection now?
I’ve had my own interior company for 11 years now, and when I look back, I realize I’ve been designing furniture all that time. The collection came out of developing pieces for designers and brands, making things for their stores, and then starting to consider how they could work in people’s homes.
Let’s talk about the specifics of the furniture. Did any of your previous pieces inspire it?
The first three prototypes [of the collection] came from commissions from clients. There’s a sofa, which came from the idea of a classic Knoll sofa, and the sofa in the Halston townhouse, the one with the bolster back pillows—people love sectionals, but it can be hard to make one look sexy and cool. One piece is a chair from when I was working with Alex [Wang] at Balenciaga; we developed it with black marble arms, then kept revising it, and now it has been made more friendly for someone’s home. And the Aquazurra store in New York—we call it the Blush Palace!—inspired the blush lounge chair, which has become one of the collection’s key pieces. I look back and see 11 years of my life—it all looks right and works together.
I’ve always thought that you had a very identifiable look, the tension between the hard and the soft, the strict and the sensual.
I like comfort, and I like something monumental. I have two sides: one is romantic, and one is super brutalist. I like luxury, but I also like things to be usable.
Designing for a store or showroom and a home are obviously different; what was your thought process there?
When I was working on the collection, we’d get someone short, or someone tall, to try [the pieces] out. When I go into a furniture store and I see a sign asking you not to sit down, I always think about: ‘How am I going to know if it’s comfortable or not?!’ A lot of my pieces are much lower than usual; people often say, ‘Wow, this furniture is so low!’ I do like it to be super low and sexy and curvy. I like classical shapes, I like French 1920s...I am not trying to reinvent the wheel here. That takes expression in the comfort level and the form. I have been in New York for so long, that things are smaller and more suited to the kind of homes we have here. You’ll find all the seats are really deep but you won’t find what I call waste of spaces—chunky arms, chunky backs. I’m always trying to keep the body of everything light.
Did working so much in the fashion world change how you think about designing? We always regard one as being about the fleeting and the next, while the other is perceived as being about longevity….
Definitely. You spend a lot of time in the decorative arts thinking about the past when you’re designing, but fashion taught me to look to the future; I have so much admiration and respect for the way that fashion doesn’t look back. There’s a specific pace to designing for fashion clients; not just the speed at which they work, but the holistic approach they take to their vision. The designers I have worked with have a strong view of their brands and the environments they’re creating. That’s been an invaluable lesson for me every step of the way [with the collection].
In the time you’ve been working, how has what you do changed?
There has been such a shift in interiors. What goes into designing a space is different. For instance: Eight years ago, would I have been thinking about how something looks on Instagram? Probably not. I’m thinking about the future in all sorts of ways. When I designed Alex’s store on Mercer Street [in SoHo, New York] ten years ago, I wanted to do something really important; that felt like the powerful thing to do. Now...the idea of permanence feels almost old fashioned. It’s much more modern to have something ephemeral, transient, that lasts for only a few months, or something that can be moved to the other side of the world. To be able to adapt feels right for the times.
I always had this dream of a co-existence of spaces. When I did the [New York] accessories store Edon Manor, I wanted it to look like a little bookshop; it came out of the idea that an apartment could be a store, a store could be an apartment. I had a woman asking me if I could make her home look like that Edon Manor! Space is space. Stores can be on the second floor, showrooms on the ground floor, and restaurants can be pop-ups.
How has your own taste evolved and changed?
Aesthetically I was always a more-is-more person. It has taken me a decade to edit. I used to be drawn to antiques, but these days I’m more interested in pieces by artisans or local fabricators, people who work with leather or with stone in new ways. It’s building the love of the pieces into the making of them. Whereas before I had so much stuff at home; when I woke up I would trip over the furniture on the way to the bathroom. Recently I was in my den, watching TV, and I just got up on a stool and took down the drapes. It just feels like it’s time to live with less.