Coming across something cool and playful that’s well-designed doesn’t happen a whole lot. When you go to NEENINEEN’s website, you’ll find everything curves around your expectations of pottery and introduces you to a world that just invites you to play. Flexuous handles which grace the mugs will brighten dreary mornings. Strategically placed geometric shapes in pastel colors on the surface soothes the eye. The pottery line has a uniqueness that isn’t serious but designed in a way to take seriously.
“I feel like design is very serious, my aesthetic is not in the serious realm. Even if it’s not the most ergonomic, but it looks fun, and it will brighten your day. [My work is] something that doesn’t blend in with everything else.”
NEENINEEN certainly does not blend in with everything else. Paris born-and-raised now works in Los Angeles, Ninon Choplin founded the company just two years ago. Ninon finds inspiration in the Californian approach to life; it’s okay stand out, be yourself, wear color. Something they didn’t experience so much in the colorless Parisian aesthetic where they grew up. “When I’m on the [Paris] Metro I feel like everyone knows I’m not from here. I feel like a red dot because I’m wearing color.”
“I felt reunited with a material that I haven’t worked professionally before. I had this weird feeling like it was waiting for me the whole time.”
Ninon first encountered working with clay in their grandmother’s studio as a child. They went on to RISD where they studied industrial design. Even though the ceramics classes were always full, the college had a broad program so they explored other mediums such a metal. After college, Ninon headed out to the Los Angeles where they first took a wheel-throwing class where they fell in love with the medium. “I felt reunited with a material that I haven’t worked professionally before. I had this weird feeling like it was waiting for me the whole time.”
As a formally trained industrial designer and a RISD graduate, they embed a design process in their work. Each design takes careful planning and ideating. “I spend a lot of time thinking about designs; I tend to have shapes come up in my head. I’ll either draw it or make it on a 3-D modeling software just to see what it would look like. But sometimes I have it in my head and make it straight from there.”
Aside from wheel-throwing and hand-building, Ninon has started to work more in 3-D modeling and slip cast. The pipes, for example, were rendered on a 3-D modeling software, then sent out for 3-D printing, from there a slip-cast mold was made for production. Interestingly, they are able to create a seamless aesthetic throughout the collection. For their next project, Ninon will create a collection based on the arches of French architecture through the slip-cast production process. This will enable them to work on a larger scale than the smaller mugs and pipes.
“Because I feel like I’m in the middle of both genders, I like to make it really confusing. Just because it’s my personal identity and I like to have fun with that. I like the ambiguity of it.”
Ninon’s perfectly lives a balance between life and art, every aspect of their creativity and identity go hand in hand. Identifying as genderqueer, Ninon expresses that in their work, “Because I feel like I’m in the middle of both genders, I like to make it really confusing. Just because it’s my personal identity and I like to have fun with that. I like the ambiguity of it.” Like the playful shapes of the handles on the mugs, they like to play with our expectations around creativity and gender. For example, we have certain ideas about what kind of work women create versus men, and Ninon likes to challenge those paradigms. “An aesthetic that’s put on people who were born of the female gender who are more masculine. You expect somebody to be more rugged, but I make these delicate feminine shapes.”
In the two years since Ninon took their first started working in ceramics, they have made a lot of progress, starting a brand which has shown in exhibitions such as Clay LA. They have learned a great deal about pottery in such a short period of time, but the biggest lesson is letting go of something if it falls apart. “You never know what is going to happen until you get the glazed piece out of the kiln,” Ninon said.