Attracted by both art and technology, Michel Buffet prepared to enter the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers (ENSAM) and opted for a compromise: After studying at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD), from which he graduated in 1953, and making a promising start as a model designer, he discovered ergonomics during his military service in the meteorological service, and then industrial aesthetics1 in full swing when he joined Raymond Loewy’s Compagnie de l’Esthétique Industrielle (CEI) in 1956, where he continued his career until 1985, before setting up his own design office, Vecteur Design Industriel. Until its closure in 2000, his work focused mainly on transport systems: vehicle architecture, materials and equipment, ergonomics, signage, brand and network images.
His studies at ENSAD put him at the heart of the influential milieu of interior architects of the Reconstruction period, such as Marcel Gascoin, and he came into contact with the first generation of French interior designers who were just ahead of him, such as André Monpoix and Pierre Guariche, with whom he became friends.
In the effervescent early years of the Trente Glorieuses, he began designing interiors as soon as he left school, creating furniture and lighting, which he exhibited at the Artistes Décorateurs and Arts ménagers shows in 1953 and 1954, and at the Milan Triennale in 1954. Among his lighting designs, the B211 floor lamp, published by Robert Mathieu, has become an emblem of his creations. It is part of the collections of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
His promising career as an interior designer soon turned towards the nascent field of design, then known as industrial aesthetics. After reading Raymond Loewy’s book La laideur se vend mal8 in 1953, which he felt was decisive, he came into contact with the pioneers in this field: first at Technès, the first industrial design consultancy founded by Jacques Viénot in Paris9, where he spent a brief period in 1954. There he met Jean Parthenay and Roger Tallon, who introduced him to the design of industrial products. Then, in 1956, he joined the CEI (Compagnie de l’Esthétique industrielle), newly founded by Raymond Loewy. Loewy, a designer of French origin, made his name in France with the introduction of self-service department stores in the United States, a concept still unknown in France. The Paris office was run by Harold Barnett. He started out in office and shop fitting, product design, graphic design and brand image.