Very few people realise that Lexon is actually a French brand. But when you deal in global people pleasers, what does that really matter?
There’s no logical explanation for passion. France’s René Adda has spent his whole life designing “attractive objects”. The kind of everyday accessories that never leave your side and serve to make life more enjoyable. A radio, a speaker, an alarm clock, a calculator, a rucksack... It’s a fascination that has taken him a long, long way, as Lexon, the firm he founded almost thirty years ago, designs, develops and distributes its products in nine thousand retail outlets across one hundred countries. The Chinese can’t get enough of his brand, and Americans actually think it’s American. But what makes Adda proudest of all is the artistic recognition the brand has received, coupled with exciting encounters with both well-establish designers and up-and-coming names that have found fame through the brand. Lexon currently holds some 230 design awards, and on 20th March 2000, the little Tykho radio, designed by Marc Berthier, was the first-ever item to feature on the cover of Time Magazine, accompanied by the title “The rebirth of design”. A veritable accolade.
But the road to success was by no means clearly mapped out from the start. Rather than sitting his exams for the Bac (the French equivalent of A-levels), Adda decided to head off for a spin on his motorbike. Why? “Because it was a nice day”. At 19, he ended up getting a job at his dad’s firm, a Parisian company that imported Japanese cigarette lighters. In the 1970s, clouds of smoke were sexy, lighters chic and swanky, and Japanese versions were trendy and cheap. “Schoolwork wasn’t my thing, which is something I totally regret. But the day I set foot in my dad’s firm, I knew I’d found my calling.” At 21, he embarked on his first trips to Asia, taking in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. The dragons were already beginning to roar. He got to grips with the factories’ manufacturing processes and got a whole host of products adapted to suit his tastes, from writing products and bags to clocks, watches and electronics. Back in those days, huge trade fairs with thousands of exhibitors simply didn’t exist, just “a handful of micro-fairs for each category, with no more than thirty stands” he explains. “And there was no Internet, of course. I spent hours poring over local directories and contacting chambers of commerce. I travelled miles and miles, often just to come home empty-handed.” Already a visionary, the young entrepreneur began redesigning the products he sourced. With success. “My dad couldn’t believe it.” Mad about manufacturing, he gradually forged his own local network, and his fondest memories are of engaging with some amazing people all around the world. At the end of the 1980s, he finally left the family business behind and launched his first design brand, then going on to find the magic formula in 1991 on founding Lexon. “An international-sounding name, with an added x for a more modern touch.” His concept? Collaborate with “real” designers and cultivate the magic of design.
Lexon retails appealing, reasonably priced products, that generally fulfil a single purpose: listening, awakening, transporting, illuminating, writing or telling the time. What makes them so special is the fact that they’re both attractive and self-explanatory, making excellent business gifts. “I exhibited at Maison&Objet from the start, and I haven’t missed a single edition. This one must be my 64th” says the founder with a smile. Adda works with the cream of the design crop, and there’s fierce competition to become part of the Lexon fold. The selection process is underpinned by the founder’s ruthless brief: innovation within simplicity. “I say to them: you have 5 seconds to win me over. Exactly the same time it takes to win over a customer in a store.” And more specifically, the concept must be brand new. Adda cites the Flip alarm clock, designed by Adrian and Jeremy Wright, as a prime example. It resembles a small rectangular box with a digital screen. When it rings, you simply have to flip it over to switch it off. “On” is emblazoned on one side in huge letters, whilst the other side says “Off”. It’s totally instinctive to use first thing in the morning when you’re still half asleep, which has resulted in the Flip being sold 1.3 million times over the course of the past 7 years. The tiny Mino speaker, which comes in a myriad of colours and fits snugly in the palm of the hand, is another good example, having sold 1.5 million units in just two years. The Tykho radio, meanwhile, has won a place in museums the world over thanks to its resemblance with a hand-drawn transistor. The idea of adding a colourful rubber coating to make it suitable for use in the bathroom was pure genius, and its tactile monochrome appearance is simply irresistible. French designers José Levy, Mathieu Lehanneur and Ionna Vautrin along with Catalan’s Eugeni Quitllet are other names whose designs fit the founder’s stringent criteria. Another example Adda likes to use is industrial designer Dieter Rams. For him, “good design” must be innovative, useful, aesthetic, understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, thorough down to the last detail, involve as little design as possible and environmentally friendly. And when it comes to electronics, the first rule for being environmentally friendly is to come up with a product designed to last.
Many people thought that the Tykho would be superseded by new technology, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. The little radio has proved to be extremely adaptable, and has gradually been transformed into a Bluetooth receiver/speaker. Combining universal functions with outstanding shapes has made Lexon synonymous with timelessness. And that’s precisely what attracted young business prodigy Boris Brault, another Frenchman, whose work currently straddles Asia and the USA. With Adda looking to secure his business’s long-term future, the two entrepreneurs have recently decided to join forces to write the next few chapters in Lexon’s story. The BOW (Be Over the World) group has integrated research laboratories in both Geneva and Shenzhen. Brault has already sold several million connected watches, all reasonably priced and beautifully designed (sound familiar?), manufactured in Switzerland under the MyKronoz brand. With his input, Lexon can be sure to leverage the full power of the digital generation. The brand has no less than one hundred new products currently in the pipeline... It’s hard to imagine what could possibly hold these two associates back as the same inexplicable passion drives them relentlessly forward.
Par Caroline Tossan
Illustration ©Sarah Bouillaud