See INAX's Latest Collection Of Bathroom Fixtures Showcased During Milan Design Week
Tension, Squoval, Volcano—now here are three words and concepts that would not normally come to mind, nor would one associate as signature elements of a brand known for their sanitaryware and ceramic tiles. And it goes without saying, that’s without addressing the "elephant in the room," which is "What is a Squoval?"
As the Japanese brand INAX makes its case for a more aggressive stance of creating global brand love and recall, those three signature elements play very important roles.
The entrance to INAX’s The Rituals of Water at Superstudio Piu, Milan Design Week.
And what better place to mount this campaign than at Milan Design Week, at the Salone del Mobile 2019. Offsite from the main Salone, at Superstudio Piu, INAX had come to roost during this year’s Design Week, and it was a wonderful choice. If the Salone is more trade fair, about selling and products, Superstudio is the enclave for the more artistic in intent, the ones more concerned about statement and brand vision. And this was exactly what was on Paul Flowers’ mind. As LIXIL’s Chief Design Officer, he oversees both LIXIL Water Technology and LIXIL Housing Technology, and holds umbrella responsibility over LIXIL brands such as INAX, American Standard, and GROHE; he was global Senior Vice-President of Design at GROHE from 2005 to 2015.
Two of the INAX vignettes that showcase their products in creative home settings
For Paul, it was all about telling a story—taking all the cultural aspects and the pride in craftsmanship—that together form part of the close to 100-year INAX legacy, and making it a known commodity. And the challenge, admittedly, is the built-in reticence of the Japanese to beat their chests and talk about themselves.
LIXIL Chief Design Officer Paul Flowers expounding on INAX’s Cerafine wash basins
Like, who knew that the first commercially manufactured INAX shower toilet was made over 50 years ago? It’s a very popular product in Japan, with high penetration in households (over 80%), and yet, for decades since its inception, the Japanese were timid, uncertain it was a product that could be in-demand outside Japan. Or that the birth of INAX in 1924 is connected to Frank Lloyd Wright and him needing a company to create and manufacture, with precision, the exterior tiles he would need for his iconic (and now demolished) Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
The very first Shower Toilet manufactured in Japan, some fifty years ago
And so the INAX story became "distilled" in The Rituals of Water—something that is very Japanese yet something the world could grasp and be enthralled by. In Japan, water is more than just a liquid, it purifies the soul, it’s an element in attaining peace or washing away hesitation. It’s ceremony and ritual, and water is an important catalyst for many aspects of Japanese day-to-day life. It’s this kind of sensibility that’s imbued in every INAX product. As Paul Flowers would expound on the brand’s DNA, he brought it down to three essential traits: essence, sophistication, and thoughtfulness.
Four of the Cerafine basins with images of the waterscapes that inspired their specific executions
Under Essence, we’re talking about functionality, purity, honesty, and quality. Under Sophistication, we’ll find intelligent designs that bear etiquette and were created with attention to organization and detail. Under Thoughtfulness, the focus is on intuitive designs that are useful and caring. The approach taken by INAX's design groups as they develop products is to think of the consumer first and foremost while letting their imagination lead the way.
And this is when Paul brought up the Squoval. It’s essentially a square with oval edges, like a fingernail. Paul talked about how this brand DNA had to find physical manifestations in every INAX product, and this would be achieved by always having the three signature elements of Tension, Squoval, and Volcano, where the Volcano would be the ridged element often seen in the controls of the product, such that even on feel alone, one would know where the knobs and dials are located. The very distinct Aqua Blue of INAX is another telling feature that’s subtly placed within the product design. And the Squoval would be the "heart" of the product.
Two samples of the exciting ceramic work that’s part of the INAX legacy
The Cerafine Ceramic basins on display were another example of how INAX is out to be very Japanese and yet have global appeal. The inspiration for the basins are bodies of water or waterscapes that are found from the South to the North of Japan. It’s an aesthetic that bends to nature, and has its source in things Japanese yet results in subtlety and delicacy that can be appreciated all over the world.
With INAX, it’s not just about products, but asking you to create your own world and letting the brand help you achieve that. It’s a design philosophy that starts off in an insular fashion (i.e. Japan), but reaches out with beauty and functionality that’s universal in appeal. The 2019 Collection was testament to all that, and more.
Photographs by Philip Cu-Unjieng