The grace of the Tango. Orbiting planets suspended in space. Garments that crumple and fold in fluid ways. These are a few of the things designer Nikhil Paul referenced while thinking up prototypes for Paul Matter, his lighting brand and studio. “I like to live with my prototypes for a while, breathe some life into them, and see how they work in different spaces”, explains Paul. Step into Paul’s cool chiaroscuro studio in Shahpur Jat, dappled with light and shade, and you’ll find yourself in what feels like a parallel universe, with glossy patinas, dancing silhouettes, and little clusters of burnished brass.

Paul’s journey towards launching his own brand began at a course in business design in Milan, which led to him working in the south of the country for six years after. “There’s definitely a ‘Made in Italy’ sort of ethic that I follow religiously”, a statement with which he references the Italian handmade tradition in designing a product, with attention to detail in every screw, nut, and bolt. Working with lights, however, was total happenstance, the outcome of a side-project that sat within a lake-facing space with large picture windows (and a view) fit for a countryside cottage. “It was a lovely studio space, and I wanted to play with lighting indoors. The lack of lighting options in the market led to me designing my own, and that was the first of Paul Matter (and Tango, my first collection).”

“I love collaborations. I think the dialogue between two people is always interesting, and the outcome always unexpected”, states Paul as he proceeds to list out past and prospective pairings. His newest collaboration with Kallol Datta, the fashion designer, is appropriately monikered Overlay and Underlay, a limited handcrafted edition that plays with proportions and Kallol’s signature fabric folds, that according to Paul are reminiscent of garbage bags and exactly the kind of unexpected inspiration he was hoping for while researching different aspects to design. “Kallol isn’t one of those guys who is going to do what you want him to do. That said, you know that you’re going to get a very sound voice echo through your designs. It’s both exciting and scary in equal measure. I love how it turned out”, fondly claims Paul. Together, the two created patterns in fabric, which they dip-dyed in plaster of Paris, froze into folds, and finally translated to metal. “Every year I want to do one collab with somebody, who I believe can add value to my brand and the product”, confesses Paul nodding towards fashion designer Rimzim Dadu’s candy-like textured fabric that sits in his studio, draped across a dented steel trunk under an orb of light to gauge how it interacts with the space, shadows, and illumination.
There’s something ethereal about Paul’s designs, a calmness by way of a soft pool of light that emits from its canopied (or orbed) source. On the other hand, hardwearing details like a large volume of heavyweight mirrored steel remind you there’s nothing too precious about them either. “I didn’t want to adopt an industrial sort of output — all our pieces are customised, handcrafted, and made-to-order”, and that’s what makes Paul’s hundred pieces really special, true to the space they feature in, and at home everywhere. Modular elements are the foundation of Paul’s designs, to allow for configurations that can be compact or sprawling, as desired. His second collection (and one that’s closest to his heart), Satellite, was inspired by the work of Sol LeWitt, whose designs are linked to a minimal art movement in the ’60s and ’70s. “My designs are architectonic — Satellite 1, 2, 3, and 4 can be used as individual pieces or as clusters, and there’s so much scope to play around with them”, says he when asked if his designs are meant for larger spaces. “My product really evolves with custom orders and that’s what builds the whole research and development side of things.”

Paul refers to his pieces as “collectibles”, designs that are an outcome of a “learning by doing” approach. With a clearly well-developed aesthetic sense, his collaborations are testament to the whole ‘two heads are better than one’ philosophy, and while we don’t know who the next collaboration will be with, we do know it holds a whole lot of promise. “The plan for the first two years was to create good work, and to see this work in the right space and context”, says he, and in light of this statement, we think he’s definitely made it to the spotlight.

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