The Elphinstone Bridge in Mumbai, apart from its maddening traffic jams and speeding vehicles, offers views (on your left while driving towards Lower Parel) of a classic French brand name plastered on the highway-facing glass-built facades of the Indiabulls Financial Centre. For the uninitiated, Roche Bobois (pronounced Rosh Bo-bo-e) is a super posh, super famous furniture brand from France. It set foot in India via the Mumbai store in 2014 and has been particularly well-accepted for its offerings like the Bubble Sofa.
So it was a no-brainer when I was offered the opportunity to sit down for a cup of coffee with Sacha Lakic, the man behind Roche Bobois’ designs. Fortunately, we were both in Moscow at the same time (my editor also wants you to read about my FIFA World Cup adventure in Russia). While I was making my way from the confines of Elphinstone Bridge (my office is right next to it), Lakic was flying out from his design studios in Luxembourg.
Born in Belgrade, Lakic moved to France with his family at a very young age. His father was a designer for some of Avenue Montaigne’s most decorated brands and the same gene very clearly made its way into the son as well.
Famously inspired in his growing years by the Ford Mustang, Sacha started his career at the Alain Carré studio – which at that time was the pinnacle of the design trade – in 1986 before moving to head the designs of Franco-Japanese manufacturer MBK-Yamaha. From concept bikes to mass-produced models and show bikes, his designs there earned him the Janus design award in 1993. Lakic’s body of work expanded even further with the establishment of his own studio in 1994.
In 2018, his ever-widening portfolio now includes scooters and motorbikes for Piaggio and Bimota, the ‘Why Not furniture’ range with David Lange, watches and fashion accessories with Jean Colonna, and also the powerful Wattman electric motorbike. More recently, he has been internationally recognised for his work with Venturi on the designs of cars such as the Fetish, the Volage, the Eclectic, the Astrolab and the America; and Blacktrack Motors — his own custom café racer brand that combines vintage aesthetic with a modern design DNA.
My creative process is very different. I have to be in a quiet place, have my own music away from the noise
During our meeting at the spectacularly artsy StandArt Hotel in the Russian capital, he came across as an easygoing middle-aged ‘dude’, who you could make friends with even at a bar. He breaks the ice by telling me about his unlikely connect with India. A builder from the outskirts of Mumbai, who loves his designs for Roche Bobois, hilariously keeps texting on a regular (almost daily) basis – even requesting to work with him.
Besides this important piece of information, we also spoke about his creative process, his idols, the future of Blacktrack, upcoming designs and of course a lot of cars and bikes. Excerpts:
Have you visited Moscow before? Does it inspire your designs in any manner?
I’ve been to Moscow before, but only in winter. The sky is grey and it’s wet and messy. It’s a completely different picture. It reminds me of the communist architecture. But now, everything’s moving towards lifestyle and living, and it’s becoming more international.
It makes me feel good, but I don’t necessarily get ideas here. My creative process is very different. I have to be in a quiet place, have my own music away from the noise – preferably by the sea. Here, in the city, I rather feel like having fun (laughs).
What designs are you working on currently?
I’m working with Roche Bobois for two projects every year with 7-8 models in each one — so lots of production over there. Right now, I’m designing the 2019 SS collection. It’s a year-long process of designing, so we have to work with these timelines.
..and what about Blacktrack?
So currently, we have the BT01 – based on the vintage Honda 82 model, and the BT02 – that follows from the Thruxton 2017. We’re now launching a full carbon model, which is closing the BT01 story.
I want each of my products to be unique so there is a personalised aluminium stamp on each product to add to its value as a collectible. For the BT02, we made two machines with different finishes. The Thruxman is made in vintage style, like the Northam Banks of the 50s. The other one was more contemporary. That one has been sold.
Is there any update on the BT03?
The BT03 is based on the Harley Fat Bob 2018. My style is the café racer, I love it. So here I’m trying to remove the Harley parts and replace them with lightweight composite aluminium parts. I want to enhance performance not by increasing power, but by reducing the weight. The power to weight ratio for me is the key.
Everytime we remove one piece, we measure the weight and see how much we have reduced. Only by reaplcing the wheels, the sub-frame, the seats and the metallic parts, we’ve already reduced 35-45 kilos. The body is going to be as usual, connected with the history of some famous bike. It’s like a reminder of something, but in a different shape and colour.
How long does it take to finish one of these projects?
We started working on this bike last winter – beginning of December (2016), and it will be finished by the coming September (2018). If you want to do the things right, it takes time.
Creating designs is like making music. I feel like a musician doing it
What have been your sources of inspiration?
Everytime I talk about the Mustang – it’s the beginning of the story. Before I saw this car, I wasn’t paying much attention to cars. I was a normal kid, going to school. So suddenly, I saw this one Mustang and kept looking at it, from the inside etc. And then I looked at other cars. But no, this particular car, in that kid’s head, invoked a lot of things. First, I became more curious. I started observing things. I started asking why this car makes me so emotional.
And then I also started to train my memory. It’s because everything wasn’t available at a click back then, unlike today. You had to look at things, memorise and try to sketch it,. That’s what I did. I invested so much passion and energy to reporuddce this car through sketching. Of course it was so difficult. But I never stopped and then my level of sketching became much better than my peers.
Very soon, I also realised that this Mustang was symbolically showing the power of design. Because if you can control the shape of things – find the right balance between textures, proportions etc, you can control the emotion going out of that thing. You can connect with the other person that way. It’s like music and I feel like a musician doing it.
Did you have idols while growing up?
I never had one single idol. I’m more into respect for many different people, and not necessarily from the field of design. Specifically though, our spiritual father as a designer was Raymond Loewy. He put the principles of the industry on the table. He made it clear that if you want to make a product for mass production, it should look good. In all industries, engineers are still designing products. But more and more people are now understanding that a design expert is also a good idea. Loewy thought it in the 50s.
What has kept you motivated in life?
Something inside pushes me to keep moving forward and not look back; to not be satisfied with what work I’ve done. I’m always focused on what next. People know me from many years so projects keep coming my way, thankfully. There are startups, there are other networks that it gets difficult sometimes (laughs). But the energy is there — like a kid who wants to keep doing; make something new that hasn’t been created.
How do you keep up with the ever-changing market of trends?
Usually I don’t’ focus on trends. It’s something that’s about to happen, but it’s something that’s already there as well. If you try to stick to a trend, it’s already too late. Trends are changing so fast, I always try to be a little bit ahead or on the side or anywhere else. I try to create products like never before. They are very emotionally designed. For me, that’s the best trend. It’s what people expect from me.
How do you look at India as a potential market?
Unfortunately, I’ve never made a stop in India. It’s the only way for me to understand what is the potential for me. I don’t want to listen what people say about India. There could be some truth to the cliches, but I want to see things for myself. With things like Blacktrack, I’m trying to touch the market of collectibles, and not the mass markets. But maybe one day I’ll be there, you never know.