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What is essential?

The essence of “The Little Prince,” the most famous work of the aristocrat French writer, poet and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944), lies in the lines uttered by the fox when meeting the young prince during his travels on Earth: “On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux” — “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

These lines are all the more true at a time when economies all around the world are struggling to recover after the worst financial crisis in decades. When you ask people what seems essential to them, the answers fluctuate depending on their subjective views: family, wealth, pleasure, time or love; even though each person has a private vision of what really counts.

To the members of L'Observatoire de la Maison, a think tank created by the Maison & Objet trade show, it is utterly important to grasp, understand and foresee the changes happening and to come, in order to provide better answers to the current state of things. In the design industry, in particular, the trend seekers agree that businesses can benefit from preparing timely strategies in times of crisis. The following are three tentative ways of considering what is and will be the essence of the contemporary art of living for the few years to come.

Minimum

With the theme “Minimum,” Elisabeth Leriche foregrounds a demand “for less and for better things.” Speaking on the sidelines of this year's Maison & Objet, which ran from Sep. 7 to 11 in Paris, she remarked that the search for essence is now giving “more and more importance to space, emptiness, transparency and lightness.”

“In our society of hyper-consumption, which has been worn out by the continuous race for novelty and obsolescence, exhausted by the noisy proliferation of signs and disoriented by the growing complexity of our world, 'beauty is hidden in simplicity,'” she explained, citing Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa's quote.

This change toward progressive dematerialization, however, is not limited to a simple search for bareness. Muji's new design approach, titled “Project Fitness 80,” also reflects the tensions of the moment: “An emerging eco-awareness that is leading us to separate the useless from the essential,” she noted.

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Exploring the digital era
French designer Elisabeth Leriche believes that the search for 'essential' is now giving more and more importance to space, emptiness, transparency and lightness. (Dimitri Bruyas, The China Post)

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