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Inside the world of French designers Studio KO

In demand globally, this French design duo create transportive spaces with a hint of retro flair

Folie restaurant Soho London
Deret Yann

Sweeping into Folie on a drizzly winter evening is a little like stepping onto a yacht. Ushered in through velvet drapes, leaving London’s Golden Square behind you are immediately transported to a parallel universe where the glamour factor is high, the interiors palette and curves retro and sexy. And that was the whole idea, says owner Guillaume Depoix, the Parisian restaurateur who requested ‘Riviera-style cool’ to reflect his elegant Mediterranean menu.

Who else to appoint to realise this vision than Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty, aka Studio KO, masters of transportive spaces with a hint of nostalgia, as proven by their 2014 breakthrough project, André Balazs’s Chiltern Firehouse. In fact, so enamoured was the American hotelier with their work, he later entrusted them to refurbish his beloved Chateau Marmont.

Interiors at Folie restaurant Soho
Deret Yann
Dining area at Folie restaurant
Deret Yann

Their partnership is a winning combination of individual strengths; one practical, one conceptual

Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty Studio KO
Noel Manalili

The pair, who are partners in both work and life, met in the late 1990s while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, an institution responsible for training countless generations of renowned international architects. Directly after earning their diplomas they opened their first Paris-based office in 2000, followed by a second hub in Marrakech in 2001, and have since amassed an impressive portfolio of global projects listing restaurants, retail sites (including concepts for Balmain and Aesop) as well as hotels, such as the Heure Bleue Palais in Morocco.

‘WHEN A PROJECT IS SUCCESSFUL IT BECOMES A PORTRAIT OF ITS OWNER.’

Their partnership is clearly a winning combination of individual strengths; one practical, one conceptual, as they both acknowledge. ‘We have distinct personalities,’ says Marty. ‘I am the draftsman, the pragmatist, thinking things through with drawings and sketches.’ By comparison, Fournier is the self-confessed dreamer, ‘expressing my visions through words and concepts’, he muses. ‘In the end it’s a four-handed musical score.’

Chiltern Firehouse hotel London
Chiltern Firehouse
Yann Deret

In 2017, there followed yet another landmark commission from the late Pierre Bergé, longtime partner of Yves Saint Laurent. Dedicated to the work of the legendary couturier, the 4,000-square-metre Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech incorporates innovative references to his designs, including an intricate brickwork façade reminiscent of the tactile warp and weft of woven fabric, as well as smooth white walls designed to evoke the velvety lining of a couture jacket. ‘The museum combines both fashion and Morocco; two worlds that we are very familiar with and that are very dear to our hearts,’ says Marty.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech
Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech
Nicholas Matheus

Despite these illustrious achievements, the pair are equally as proud of their private residential projects which, they say, start with the same thought process as any of their more prestigious builds.‘When a project is successful, it becomes a portrait of its owner,’ says Fournier.‘Our approach to any brief is always contextual, and cues come from various sources, including the client’s personality, or the geography and cultural history of the site. There is always a kind of “coupde foudre” – we build the creative and narrative process from there, and try never to repeat ourselves.’

Next up for the duo is Dragon, a cocktail bar in Saint-Germain-des Prés for French chef Cyril Lignac, after which the book is open for their next challenge. ‘There’s a dialogue that tests preconceived ideas and breeds innovation, and it can sometimes be intense and exhausting, but more often it’s exhilarating,’ says Marty of their undeniably dynamic relationship. ‘It’s a creative conversation that never ends.’ studioko.fr

This article appeared in ELLE Decoration March 2020

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