“In a social context, when people talk about stuff, I don’t want to hear what brand are they trying to sell me—I think that’s really cheap. I’m Chris, I make lights, whatever.”
It’s a refreshing start to a conversation with Christopher Boots, the local lighting designer feted by some of the world’s biggest brands.
We visit Boots in his Fitzroy studio. The streets lined by large oaks and restored facades are a far cry from the suburb’s working working-class roots, when Boots’ studio would have been home to one of many factories that formed the beating heart of the area’s industrial past.
From an outsider’s perspective, Boots is living the dream: a studio in a fashionable suburb—which also doubles as his house—and luxury brand Hermes calling to design the Christmas lights in their New York store.
Inside, Boots’s studio is a flurry of activity flanked by the fixtures that have brought him acclaim the world over. By one wall, there are iterations of Boots’ signature crystal fixtures, the Prometheus series: handmade chandeliers embellished with quartz around a ring of bronze.
The beginning of Boots’ story is familiar – despite being in his graduating class’ top five per cent, he struggled to find his feet. After getting out of a degree in Cinema and Linguistics, Boots took six months off to “re-calibrate”.
“I sat on the dole for six months, which was the best thing ever,” Boots says. “It was the first time in my life that I was actually free of any obligation, where I questioned whether I wanted to work in a structure. I’m grateful for having that option to opt out sometimes—it’s really important to take time off in order to re-calibrate within your own internal direction.”
And the rest, you could say, is history.
Boots went on to complete a degree in Industrial Design at Swinburne, and soon landed a job with lauded lighting designer, Geoffrey Mance. Mance’s untimely death in 2007 saw Boots and his colleagues bequeathed with the company. In 2010, Boots established his own practice.
Christopher Boots’ studio launched soon after, and it was his signature made-to-order fixtures that have seen him collaborate with architects, designers, and homeowners. From conception to completion, Boots has a fascination with how we engage with space. For the Hermes commission, Boots furthered these ideas through the theme of ‘metamorphosis’, and surprisingly was given a fair degree of creative control.
“The story that I was trying to tell was the evolution of consciousness from the big-bang through to an era of post-humanism, using these little vignettes of humanity’s points of evolution—the discovery of fire, the age of machines and so forth. I always wanted to have that meta-story to be told,” he says.
“Hermes was really receptive to that. They in fact encouraged me to push the envelope with what was naturally an art deco brand,” he says.
Being a local bespoke designer that looks globally, Boots curates his practice with a discerning eye, utilising a series of agencies receptive to his studio’s desire for quality, small-run objects around the globe. This often involves collaboration with an architecture studio over several projects, and for Boots, it’s been Melbourne’s design and architecture practice Elenberg Fraser that has turned up with the goods.
“Elenberg Fraser’s been really supportive of us in using local, especially for a practice that has expanded and is really mending Melbourne’s skyline,” he says.
“I think we really do need high-density cities … when you have an opportunity to build something to that kind of scale, my take on it is: you should be supporting local manufacturing, you should be supporting local industry if it’s available and obviously if it works for you.”
Currently, Boots is working on an iteration of the BCAA light for Elenberg Fraser’s development of the Ralston Apartments in South Yarra, which Boots says, speaks volumes about Melbourne’s urban fabric.
“In the Ralston in particular, it’s not quite boutique because it’s medium size, but their focus once again is the basic elements: form, materiality, and timelessness. That just means that the quality of what gets done is at least maintained as much as possible, which is different to the developer-driven projects in Melbourne.”
“We’ve all got to deal with it, we’ve all got to transport ourselves on the same roads, we’ve all got to look at these buildings as go to work or come from work. So it affects everybody. To think that over time, we’ll have poor quality buildings is really criminal. Melbourne’s meant to be the world’s most liveable city.”
Boots forms part of an emerging suite of Melbourne’s creative class who have made the world sit up and take notice. His works have been picked up from New York to Dubai, and he’s managing to buck the trend of having to move overseas to get your work noticed. And he’s not just a lighting designer, but a local designer who sees his work within the context of the social and cultural prism in which he operates. In the next two weeks, his studio will be moving to a new location two blocks away from his current one. And for a man who’s just finished up with a Hermes commission, the biggest consideration of this move will be “a clean fucking floor”.