The Designer Who Redefined The Olympic Torch

Mathieu Lehanneur’s design proposal for the Olympic torch and cauldron beat more than 10 other designers. He explains his vision and why Australia is an important market for him.

Article by Hannah Tattersall

Photograph courtesy of Mathieu Lehanneur.

French designer Mathieu Lehanneur is no stranger to recognition. With collections in the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, Lehanneur also recently partnered with AirBnb to transform the iconic clock room in the Musée d’Orsay into private accommodation. 

But never has the work of Lehanneur been as visible to the public as it will be on 26th July, when Lehanneur’s designs for the Olympic torch, the torch relay cauldron and the Olympic cauldron will be broadcast around the world during the Paris 2024 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. 

Lehanneur was one of at least 10 designers asked to submit design proposals for the three iconic structures back in 2022. While there were some constraints in terms of height, weight, and ensuring the flame would never burn out, in terms of creative inspiration, finishes, colour and shape, the brief was fairly open, Lehanneur tells T Australia from his factory in Ivry-sur Seine on the outskirts of Paris. 

French designer Mathieu Lehanneur's submission for the Olympic Torch beat at least 10 other designers. Photograph courtesy of Mathieu Lehanneur.
Mathieu Lehanneur has also designed the torch relay cauldron and the Olympic Games cauldron for Paris 2024. Photograph courtesy of Mathieu Lehanneur.

Lehanneur designed the torch in a symmetrical shape – wider in the middle and narrower on top – to signify the equal ambition of Olympians and Paralympians and of men and women (for the first time, the Olympic Games will include the same number of female competitors as male).

“The fully symmetrical shape is to embody this idea of equality,” he explains. “I also wanted to make the torch speak about Paris and I was inspired by the Seine that goes across the capital and that is going to be the stage for the opening ceremony. 

“I play on this idea of liquid. This is a reason why on the bottom part of the torch you can see these kind of reflective ripples on the metal – in order to express the surface of La Seine.”

Mathieu Lehanneur's Factory in Ivry-sur Seine on the outskirts of Paris. Photography courtesy of Mathieu Lehanneur.

Lehanneur’s work is already popular in Australia and he hopes to open a showroom or gallery here soon. The Ritz Carlton in Melbourne has just commissioned a large marble piece for its lobby which will look like a giant pond or lake “but with a green marble where you can see the waves and the reflection of the lights on those waves,” he says, adding “since the very beginning we received a very strong interest and welcoming in Australia… for a weird reason, I sell more pieces in Australia than in France.” 

Popular among antipodeans is Lehanneur’s Inverted Gravity collection – furniture featuring big blown glass vessels supporting marble tabletops or sideboards. Pieces within Ocean Memories, a collection based on waves and currents, are also sought after. “Probably because Australia is of course very connected with the ocean and seas and waves,” says Lehanneur. 

“Since Australian people love what we are doing, it really makes sense for us to make a step towards you.”

Popular among antipodeans is Lehanneur’s Ocean Memories collection, a collection based on waves and currents. Photography courtesy of Mathieu Lahanneur.
The designer is well known for his Inverted Gravity furniture collection, many of which are popular among Australian collectors. Photography courtesy of Mathieu Lehanneur.

Until then, all eyes are on the Olympic torch and the ever-burning flame, which is making its way through France, passing prestigious vineyards including Saint-Emilion, Chablis and Layon, to sports stadiums such as Marseille Stadium and Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium in Saint-Etienne, to famous landmarks like the Lascaux caves, the mediaeval city of Carcassonne and the Palace of Versailles, until it arrives in Paris to ignite the Olympic cauldron in front of billions of people. 

“I’m not allowed to reveal anything right now, but you will see very soon. It’s another chapter,” says Lehanneur. “I designed them like a whole story so it’s just like a family; it’s just like the different chapters of the same history.

To have been involved in this project is a dream, he says. “The history of the Olympic Games, the energy of the athletes, the fraternity of human beings. And in that world, it’s the moment that we can feel the fraternity. It’s quite rare. So when an object is able to combine all of this, it’s really crazy.”

Musée d’Orsay’s clock room, which has been transformed into a luxurious bedroom by Mathieu Lehanneur. Photograph courtesy of Mathieu Lehanneur.