Roger Tallon is one of France’s most important and prolific designers. Born in Paris in 1929, he was central to the development of the profession of industrial design in France from the postwar era until his death in 2011. Over his lifetime, he was responsible for the creation of over 400 diverse and innovative designs, from one of the earliest portable televisions to the award-winning TGV high-speed train and other models for Eurostar.
From 1944 to 1950, Tallon studied engineering. After graduation, however, he embarked upon a career in design, working for a short period of time as a design consultant for Caterpillar and DuPont in France. In 1953, he joined the design consultancy Technès, working under Jacques Viénot (1893-1959) and Jean Parthenay (1919-2007). Tallon was quickly promoted to Technical & Artistic Director, eventually succeeding Viénot as Director after his death in 1959. At the same time, he provided design consulting services and developed products for a number of international corporations, including Peugeot, Kodak, Fenwick, General Electric, and General Motors. In 1973, Tallon left Technès and created his own design agency, Design Programmes SA.
Tallon believed that good design is rooted in rational problem solving rather than artistic expression; that the aim of design should be nothing less than societal advancement. Realizing that his profession was relatively unknown in France, Tallon sought to propogate the word “design” within French vernacular. In the late 1950s, he established the first French design course at Paris’s École des Arts Appliqués of Applied Arts, and then the design department of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in 1963.
While that vast majority of Tallon’s design work was technical and product driven, he did occasionally take on more “artsy” projects, including designing the interior of the Garage nightclub for filmmaker Raoul Levy in 1964, which resulted in Tallon’s famous Module 400 Series (later sold through Galerie Lacloche until the 1970s).
Though he was relatively unknown outside of design circles, he was always at the forefront of innovation. Iconic designs from Tallon’s career include the Japy Typewriter (1958), Wimpy Chair (1960), Super Caravelle Refrigerator (1960), Télévia P111 Portable TV (1963), TH Staircase (1964, later produced by Sentou), and the Mobilier National Cryptogamme Stools (1969).
By the late 1960s, Tallon focused primarily on transportation design; first with the Mexico City Metro (1968) and Montmartre’s funicular railway in Paris (1970), then through his long-term collaboration with the SNCF (French National Railways). His designs include the first Corail Train (1975)—a term coined by Tallon himself from his “comfort on rail” concept—as well as the TGV Atlantique (1986); TGV Duplex; and Eurostar (1994). Tallon created all of the interior designs for the trains, down to the light fixtures and staff uniforms.
Tallon received the French National Grand Prix for industrial design in 1985 and the Insignia of the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres from the president of the SNCF in 1992. In 2008, he donated all his files and records—including drawings, technical plans, photographs, and patent applications—to the Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, which mounted a major Tallon retrospective in 2016.
Tallon passed away in 2011.
* Images courtesy of Les Arts Décoratifs