Interview of Loïc Fel : “Artists are the start-uppers of design”

Sustainable Brands Paris is organizing a creative pop-up store event, a “purpose store” called CONTREMARQUES, invented by Loïc Fel, former sustainable development manager for the BETC agency and cofounder of the Coalition for Art and Sustainable Development (COAL) with Sami Kadiri, former Product Manager at L’Oréal and M&A Analyst at BNP

What is Contremarques?

Contremarques is a creative “purpose store” whose ambition is to gather a diversity of emerging brands and designers whose point in common is their degree of commitment. These brands are selected on the basis of the diversity and complementarity of their approaches and typologies. Some are in the process of just being formed, while others come from big groups.

Why the name “Contremarques”? 

Contremarque, or countermark in English, was an additional mark placed on a package of goods to confirm its quality. We made our selection based on the same idea. But, of course, it’s also to say that committed brands work in counterpoint to the current brands because they talk about reality more than image… 

The artistic approach is an innovative one. What difference do you make between artists, designers and brands?

Artists work upstream, in research, in the cauldron of innovation. They have no obligation to achieve results, which gives them tremendous freedom. Designers, meanwhile, look for efficient forms to support the new ideas, working from a wide variety of criteria on which to evaluate this efficiency. Finally, brands intervene to deploy the innovations and disseminate them throughout the social and economic fabric.

These three actors often work together and examples are numerous.
Even Contremarques has already used this kind of collaboration! Pauline Avrillon is an artist who invented pastels from soil taken from around Corsica. Each color is named after its native village and the line reveals all of the island’s chromatic variety. And brand called La Petite Papeterie Française saw her work in the Countremarques press kit and contacted the artist to work together on eco-friendly pastel papers! 

Another example: the luxury group Richemont has just created Baume, the green kid sister of the immense Baume & Mercier brand. It’s an interesting approach: the “luxury” aspect of these premium watches is not defined by how precious their materials are, but by the quality of the craftsmanship and the environmental consideration.

What’s trending with the committed artisticdesigners you know?

More and more artists are working in teams with people who have other skills – often engineers or scientists. They collaborate on “works” that are part of ambitious programs to explore the solutions to our planet’s problems. For instance, growing algae as a food substitute or vapor recovery systems in buildings to counter drinking water outages, etc.  

The big corporations are fascinated by startups and their capacity for innovation. But they don’t see artists the same way.

Yet there are many similarities between how they both work because, in a way, artists are the start-uppers of design.

Just like startups, the brands we present are all incarnated, they are all carried by a designer who can be named. Even at Baume, within a big group, it is primarily a personal approach. Profiles are often atypical and do not come from the industry. That’s the case with “17H10”, for example: business suits designed by women who wanted to work differently and who do not come from fashion but from advertising.

Each in their own way, all of these artists challenge industry and retail with a new outlook. 

Is this creative artistic approach reserved for small structures?

For design, just like for innovation in general, the big groups often have more difficulty accepting novelty and the small players are often more agile. But this could change, especially because the small actors can get big, with markets that are growing very quickly. This is the case with Lamazuna, an organic, vegan, solid cosmetics brand. The brand is growing very fast despite its very “specific” positioning. Creative design can lead to real business successes!

Business: some artists are doing very well!

Some make a lot of money, of course. But other artists use business as a means.  Minerva Cuevas in Mexico, for example, who supports green causes and develops artistic projects in the form of a business or nonprofit. And that is an art form in itself!

Another example is Olivier Darné, in Saint Denis, who has for years been growing a group called “Parti Poétique” that explores the public space on the theme of pollinizing and urban planning. And, he creates jobs as he does so, with market gardening and restaurant services. So it’s also a business project.

More globally, I can’t wait for the big groups to be managed by artists or philosophers. We know that today they are run by business school grads and we can see where it is taking our planet. With a little more creativity and perspective, I am convinced we could do better!

Interview by Olivier Blond


The Contremarques “Purpose Store” gathers designers on the theme of reproduction and multiplication and challenges standardization. 

December 12-16, 2018 at 96bis rue Beaubourg, Paris 75003

Coal is a nonprofit whose aim is to promote sustainable development via the visual arts to drive innovation and new perceptions.