French-born designer Gwenael Nicolas is an interiors and product designer who has lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. After earning his bachelor’s of arts degree in interior design from the École Superieure d’Art Graphique (ESAG) in Paris in 1988 and an MA in industrial design at London’s Royal College of Art, Nicolas moved to Japan as a freelance designer in 1991. He moved to Japan initially because “we can create a world if we wanted to. Everything can be imagined and thought out. This was a fantastic realization. That’s why I came to Japan, because here, that’s possible,” he told Designboom magazine.
In his youth, Nicolas’ brother, a movie producer who works with esteemed director George Lucas, brought him to watch Star Wars. It was a revelation for the budding designer, who realised then that creation was possible and wanted to be involved in that. With producer Reiko Miyamoto, he established Curiosity agency in 1998 and has since collaborated with household brands like Issey Miyake, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Uniqlo, and Nintendo.
Known for minimal, airy spaces with a particular focus on light and movement, or flow, through spaces, Nicolas is the mastermind behind the Uniqlo megastore in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and the new Berluti and Fendi boutiques, full of his signature geometric lines. His first ever fashion collaboration was with the Japanese designer Issey Miyake, known for imaginative pleating and for whom he has designed stores and perfume bottles.
“Women’s fashion is important for its complexity and organic nature, always stimulating. They’re crossing each other all the time so that’s interesting,” he once said.
His work has earned him multiple accolades. In 2007, he was twice honoured by the Japanese Society of Commercial Space Designers and thrice honoured by the Display Design Awards in 2005 and 2006. In 2009 he was awarded the Ku/Kan prize, Japan’s most prestigious prize for interior design.