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There is something odd about an editor’s letter not written by the editor. It’s a contradiction in terms – a witness statement not recounted by a witness; a pastor’s sermon from the unordained. Yet such an introduction does reflect the way our magazine is made. The 208 pages that comprise this issue of Disegno do not come from a single person’s vision, but rather from collaboration. They are created by a team of talented designers, writers, subeditors, photographers and illustrators, all working in concert. An editor’s letter seems a strangely monolithic way of capturing such a many-headed process. It is a process that we also recognise in the world we write about, where the notion of architect or designer as auteur seems increasingly outdated. The people who fill these pages have produced extraordinary work, but not in isolation. Across design there is an acceptance of the value of collaboration; an acknowledgement that we do not live in a blank canvas ready to be daubed by a lone genius. Such a theme is confirmed across this issue. Architectural critic Edwin Heathcote examines Brazilian modernist Lina Bo Bardi, a creator of astonishing architecture, but someone who always recognised that the public’s relationship to her work was more important than any manifesto. Ditto Konstantin Grcic, who we visit on the eve of his retrospective at the Vitra Design Museum. Grcic is one of design’s most celebrated practitioners, but his output is hugely varied, always shaped by the collaborators who surround him. There are further examples. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby have done more than anyone to forge the discipline of critical design, but in an essay by novelist Will Wiles we discover that their work is constantly challenged and reinforced by the students they work with. Similarly Boudicca, a fashion house perhaps more singular than any other, is critiqued by fashion designer Felix Chabluk Smith, who discovers a studio infatuated with the messiness of the world it finds itself in. It’s a point best captured by our collaboration with Nathalie Du Pasquier, who has created the cover and residency artwork that runs throughout this issue. Du Pasquier rose to prominence as a member of the Memphis collective in the 1980s, a group led by designer Ettore Sottsass. Du Pasquier remembers Sottsass as “the gatherer of the people” and it’s a description that resonates with Disegno. This magazine is a gathering of people, not a solitary vision. Without our plurality, we wouldn’t succeed.
No.6 s/s 2014
THE CULTURE OF DESIGN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF PUBLISHER
Johanna Agerman Ross email@example.com DEPUTY EDITOR
Oli Stratford firstname.lastname@example.org RESEARCH EDITOR SALON CO-ORDINATOR
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Rio Jade Ali, Ashitha Nagesh SUBEDITORS
Rosie Spencer, Guy Weress EDITORIAL INTERNS
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Daren Ellis, See Studio firstname.lastname@example.org ART DIRECTOR
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Disegno Tack Press Limited 283 Kingsland Road London E2 8AS +44 20 7739 8188 disegnodaily.com
The cover features Construction 2014, painted wood, by Nathalie Du Pasquier. Photograph by Ilvio Gallo. WORDS BY
Anna Bates, Tamsin Blanchard, Felix Chabluk Smith, Caroline Evans, Sarah Frater, Hannah Gregory, Edwin Heathcote, Madelaine Levy, Nina Power, Kristina Rapacki, Jana Scholze, Will Wiles. IMAGES BY
Cecil Beaton, Michael Bodiam, Boudicca, Bureau Betak, Adrien Dirand, Amira Fritz, Ben Ingham, Ina Jang, Matthieu Lavanchy, Attilio Maranzano, Ben Quinton, Rita Platts, Linus Ricard, Oliver Saillant, Chris Tang, Märta Thisner, Dominic Tschudin, Hayley Warnham. COLOUR MANAGEMENT
Complete Creative Services completeltd.com PAPER AND PRINT
This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Symbol Tatami 115gsm with a cover on cast-coated Splendorlux 250gsm, from Fedrigoni UK. THANK YOU
Thank you to Clémence and Didier Krzentowski for your help, Nathalie Du Pasquier for a wonderful collaboration, George Sowden for your hospitality, Konstantin Grcic for your generosity of time, 10 Corso Como for your support, Jere Salonen and Marcus Bayley.
In order to put this issue together we are very grateful to all contributors and for the help of Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi, Charlotte Newman, Monique Zumbrunn, Montserrat Alvarez, Gareth Williams, Anja, the Jocks&Nerds team and the haughty little dog who lives at The Fox. Finally, we would like to thank Kristina Rapacki for her outstanding work as Disegno’s editorial assistant over the past two years and wish her luck with her PhD. CONTENT COPYRIGHT
The content of this magazine belongs to Tack Press Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask first. TACK PRESS LIMITED
Disegno is part of Tack Press, along with men’s fashion magazine Jocks&Nerds.
frame bag by konstantin grcic
INTRODUCTION Writing about design
DISEGNO SALONS Announcing our upcoming lecture series
LUSTRE GABRIEL Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s crystal chandelier at the Palace of Versailles
THE PAST IS PRESENT Felix Chabluk Smith’s graduation collection enters the Costume Archive at the Met in New York
OBSERVATION 1 Céline’s sphere heel
WALK-IN ARCHIVE The new Clothworkers’ Centre designed by Haworth Tompkins architects OBSERVATION 2 ProtoPaper
THE PRACTICE OF THE EVERYDAY As his exhibition opens at the Serpentine Gallery, Martino Gamper reflects on the quotidian DIRTY READING Nina Power challenges the rise of titillation and objectification within design media OBSERVATION 3 Look 14 by Vivienne Westwood
LUDIC EXPERIMENTS Julia Lohmann shares her plans for developing kelp as a flexible design material
OBSERVATION 4 Titanium and acetate sunglasses
THE NEW MEDICI Critic Sarah Frater looks at how luxury brands have become the leading patrons of the arts
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS Designer and artist Nathalie Du Pasquier assembles a series of collages for the Disegno Residency NO COSY CORNERS Designer Konstantin Grcic prepares for a retrospective at the Vitra Design Museum
148 164 178
COLOUR IN DESIGN Designers talk about changing attitudes to colour and its use in design THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI Edwin Heathcote investigates the legacy of the modernist Brazilian architect
SEEING THROUGH Tamsin Blanchard analyses transparency in fashion and its influence on the construction of garments
FOREST AS IDEA GENERATOR A critical essay about the growing importance of the forest as a symbol and material store for designers
BOUDICCA’S LIQUID GAMES The avant-garde fashion studio on life at the periphery CONSPICUOUS CONSTRUCTION The architecture of the fashion show
REALITY ISN’T WORKING Novelist Will Wiles talks to Dunne & Raby about future narratives in critical design
16 Disegno. CONTENTS
ALAÏA ON CHARLES JAMES Azzedine Alaïa considers the impact of America’s first and most respected couturier PREVIEW 1 Luca Nichetto for Mjölk
SELECTED READING Key titles on the life and work of architect and designer Charlotte Perriand
WRAPPING ARCHITECTURE Anton Alvarez reveals his plans to translate his thread-wrapping technique to the scale of a building PREVIEW 2 Chimney pots by Wieki Somers PREVIEW 3 Eley Kishimoto’s wallpaper
INDEX People and brands in this issue
Sketch of Lina Bo Bardi’s Bowl Chair with patterned cushions. ILLUSTRATION Arper
Salons Disegno Lectures
April – June 2014
Now in its third year, Disegno Salons is a series of insightful, entertaining and informative design events. For spring/summer 2014 we are introducing a new strand to our salon programme – the Disegno Lectures. Led by eminent scholars, these lectures will delve into the history of design, architecture and fashion. Guests can expect a series of relaxed and illuminating evenings that will reveal the ways in which contemporary design has been shaped by its past. FOR A FULL PROGRAMME OF DISEGNO’S SPRING/SUMMER SALONS VISIT DISEGNODAILY.COM/SALONS
18 Disegno. SALONS
Lustre Gabriel Itâ€™s a few hours until the unveiling of Lustre Gabriel, a chandelier designed by Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec for the Palace of Versailles. The French designers are pacing their studio in Belleville, Paris. The chandelier has been installed for over a week and the brothers have just finished giving feedback on a film about the project. >
22 Disegno. LUSTRE GABRIEL
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec look on as their chandelier is installed in the 20m-high Gabriel staircase at the Palace of Versailles. PHOTOS Linus Ricard
The chandelier was built on site by a team of Swarovski engineers over a period of 24 hours, after three years of development work by the Bouroullecs.
> There is impatience rather than celebration in the air. Ronan doesn’t understand why there isn’t a shot of the chandelier in its entirety in the film, and Erwan is busy on a different project, hanging over the computer of one of their design assistants. “I have to consider the probability that when I die, it will still be there,” says Ronan. “Versailles is such a symbolic thing in France and having done this project is something that might stick to me as a label, a very strong one.” Approaching the Palace of Versailles to the southwest of Paris feels as if you’re entering a historical Disneyland. We all vaguely know the stories that were played out here, snippets of information picked up in history classes and countless films and books. This is not just one of France’s most celebrated and famous buildings, but also an ostentatious symbol of the Ancien Régime, which came to a bloody end with the French Revolution in 1789. Despite Versailles’ dubious symbolism, it’s been preserved, celebrated and improved over the past 200 years. About 6 million tourists visit annually to marvel at its Hall of Mirrors and Battles Gallery, as well as the once-upon-a-time bedchamber of Marie-Antoinette. Nowadays, many visitors enter the palace through the Gabriel staircase, a space only completed in 1985, but built according to the 1772 drawings of French architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel. This classicist and rather cold two-storey staircase, executed in stone and marble, is the setting for the Bouroullecs’ Lustre 24 Disegno. LUSTRE GABRIEL
Gabriel, or Gabriel Chandelier. “When I came for the first meeting with [then president of Versailles] Jean-Jacques Aillagon to discuss if we wanted to be part of an invited competition, I went just to be polite,” says Ronan. “I thought this wasn’t for us, as we never do unique pieces.” Yet three years on, there it hangs. A 12m-tall chandelier made up of four seemingly delicate strands of crystal, looped to form an organic decoration that illuminates the Gabriel staircase through the latest LED technology. The signature is undeniably Bouroullec, its sinuous lines and organically-created shape recalling their Lianes light installation at Galerie Kreo in 2010, or the Algues room-partitioning system for Vitra from 2004. And yet, it’s so other. The ostentation of crystal feels far removed from their previous material choices, but then again this project is quite unlike any of their other engagements. Ever since the Gabriel staircase was completed there has been a sense of something missing in the space. When Aillagon became president in 2007, he decided to tackle the void. “It’s a very dry space,” says Aillagon, “so when I arrived at Versailles I decided it should be given personality through an artistic or architectural intervention.” The proposal was Aillagon’s, but he had to consult the curators and the national administration of historical monuments to seek expert opinion. The decision was made easier by the fact that Aillagon had previously invited contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons and Japan’s Takashi Murakami to exhibit at the palace. Both set the scene for the proposal of a permanent
intervention. Contemporary sculpture, it turned out, looked intriguing against 17th-century architecture. “So, now the question was: ‘Should we commission an artist to execute a piece of art, a painting for the ceiling, for example, or commission a designer to create a piece of furniture?’” says Aillagon. He asked for advice from Martin Bethenod, then director of the FIAC art fair, now director of Palazzo Grassi in Venice. A competition was launched, not for ideas, but rather to ascertain suitable participants, and, upon the advice of Bethenod, Aillagon resolved to work with a designer. “There was a real need for furniture in this space, and therefore we didn’t need to think of transformation through a purely artistic lens,” says Aillagon. “Also, having a designer rather than an artist carrying out the transformation would be less likely to be polemical.” But that doesn’t mean Lustre Gabriel has nothing to say. Consisting of 800 crystal lenses fitted around a core of LED lights,
“Having a designer rather than an artist carrying out the transformation would be less likely to be polemical.” the chandelier’s physicality is palpable; with a weight of around 500kg, it still manages to look effortless. It even moves gently, a quality Erwan likens to Foucault’s pendulum, an experiment demonstrating the rotation of the Earth, named after French physicist Léon Foucault. “One of the big questions was how to be delicate and yet create something strong,” says Ronan. “Something with a contemporary character that worked with the space and still reflected us. We knew we probably had to create something big, because the space is 20m-high, so at first we tried to find a chameleon approach. For some months we thought that stone could be the material for this chandelier.” The result of those early experiments can be seen in the much smaller Perles de Jaspe necklace that the Bouroullecs created for Galerie Kreo in 2012 (Disegno No.4). Although stone was eventually replaced by crystal >
> in the chandelier for both practical and emotional reasons – as Erwan puts it, “I think crystal within the confines of a palace brings a kind of comfort” – the
necklace grew out of research for the chandelier is telling; references to bodily decoration in Lustre Gabriel are difficult to ignore. “A necklace is built around this
“We would have loved to have kept the door open – I mean, we spend our life fine-tuning things, but here fine-tuning was impossible.” bell shape of each of the pearls in the necklace is retained, albeit elongated, in Lustre Gabriel. In the necklace, each bead tightly cups its neighbour, hiding the structure that holds them together. The same holds true for Lustre Gabriel, although the clear-cut crystal lets you see more of the structure. That the 26 Disegno. LUSTRE GABRIEL
question of how to be strong enough to sustain wear, but still soft enough to interact with the body and generate a very natural gravity and shape,” says Ronan. Yet both brothers insist that they did not design the shape of the chandelier, only the shape of its components. “It’s not a shape that we designed – well, we built it, but it’s a natural
shape in the sense that it’s defined by gravity,” says Erwan. Lustre Gabriel is a product of its time. Despite its grand historical surroundings, its creation has been funded through sponsorship, rather than grants. “There was no money and we had to find a sponsor,” says Ronan. In agreement with Versailles, the studio chose Austrian crystal producer Swarovski for a few reasons, the most compelling being its accuracy and the rigour of its engineers. “I’m fascinated by their culture of precision,” says Ronan. “I wanted to be sure that in 50 years someone could come and still look after it.” This method of funding resonated with Aillagon, who authored the French 2003 law on sponsorship and foundations. The law’s intention was to facilitate and develop the practice of patronage in France. “Its impact is very positive,” says Aillagon. “It doesn’t mean public action is to decline, quite the contrary. I think heritage preservation and expression of creation will be at their best if they benefit from the combination of public and private funding.” Regardless of the positive impact of corporate funding for the arts, it is nevertheless a privilege to “buy” space in the midst of France’s cultural history. Lustre Gabriel doesn’t just showcase Swarovski’s product. It also buys the brand an enduring cultural capital that will prove priceless. Swarovski’s benefit from the project shouldn’t underplay its importance to the piece’s creation. As the custom-made crystal components were fastened together around the chandelier’s LED core by Swarovski engineers on 11 November 2013, there was still uncertainty as to what its final shape would actually be. “The shape got into position just when the final piece was lifted from the ground,” says Erwan. One after another, the crystal cups were pulled into the air by a team of workers positioned in the eaves of Versailles. The workers’ only view of what was happening below was four small holes drilled through the Gabriel ceiling. Everything had been double and triple-checked at the Swarovski research facility in Wattens, Austria, but that 13m-high warehouse space could not quite prepare the team for the pristine 20m-tall shell of the Gabriel staircase. “It had to be done in one shot,” says Erwan. “We would have loved to have kept the door open – I mean, we spend our life fine-tuning things, but here fine-tuning was impossible.” It was only after the installation that it dawned on the Bouroullecs how crucial the precise distances between the different strands had been. The chandelier was carefully planned to occupy a 4.2sqm area of the ceiling, as anything bigger or smaller would have altered its shape significantly. Yet once installed, it emerged that 4.2sqm was the only size it could’ve been. The ceiling of the Gabriel staircase is supported by structural beams, through which the studio was not able to drill. Fortunately, at 4.2sqm, the chandelier fell exactly between two of these beams. Had the design been even slightly larger or smaller, it would have been uninstallable. “We didn’t know that beforehand,” shrugs Ronan. Despite the slight frustration in his voice, he looks relieved. The three year project has come to a beautiful end.
Johanna Agerman Ross is the founder and editorin-chief of Disegno. The film mentioned in this piece is now re-edited and available to view on disegnodaily.com.
Opposite and this page: Lustre Gabriel was made from 800 specially designed crystal components threaded around a stainless steel skeleton containing LED lighting.
The Past is Present
a lot of other collections don’t have equal value in terms of fashion, but its relationship to our collection was so pronounced.” The presence of Chabluk Smith’s work in an historical archive makes a curious kind of sense. Disjecta Membra is built around strata of historical data, its name derived from the Latin term used to describe scattered fragments of artefacts. Its pieces are highly fragmentary, zig-zagging through centuries of menswear in an effort to trace and illuminate a male ideal that recurs throughout the history of dress. “The more I researched menswear from the past, the more I realised that everything has the same physical ideal,” says Chabluk Smith. “For example, the rediscovery of classical statuary in the late 1700s is really what gave birth to the modern suit, and it’s that musculature that “The absolute maturity of the designs that we still see as attractive today. So happened to coincide with material we even though a jacket from 1600 had and a show we’re researching – it’s looks entirely alien to, say, the one an aberration really. I don’t believe it was that Bryan Ferry wears in the video ever done before.” for Let’s Stick Together in the 1970s, Late last year, the Met purchased five pieces from the MA graduate collection they say the same things. They are of London-based menswear designer Felix both trying to give the wearer Chabluk Smith, a student of the Royal College bigger, more muscular shoulders of Art. The collection, Disjecta Membra, was and a tiny, narrow waist.” first shown in his graduate show in May. By Disjecta Membra brings these December it had entered the Met’s archive, influences together like collage, one of the most prestigious of its kind in the a medium Chabluk Smith worked world. “Our focus is on the established houses, with in his research. One look is but when I presented it to my colleagues, our a sleeveless jacket cut to a 1950s feeling was that if we’d seen John Galliano’s silhouette, worn with a coat cut to a graduate collection we would’ve wanted to 1900 frock pattern, a shirt based on collect that too,” says Koda. “It is not that a 1938 tuxedo jacket and trousers derived from an 1860s cavalry fit. Another is even more retrograde – a recreation of a coat worn by the French court official Étienne Chevalier in an altarpiece from 1464. Yet the designer still managed to create fashion that is absolutely contemporary. “It’s historical without being costumey. It’s even sort of hip-hoppy,” says Koda. “When you saw it on the catwalk, there was a swagger, a dandyish aspect in the hoodies and volumes that can be seen in street fashion.” Chabluk Smith explains that the idea of historical dress used out of its right place, in part, first came from Le Grand Meaulnes, AlainFournier’s 1913 novel about lost love. “I became fascinated by a short passage: one of the characters, Augustin Meaulnes, comes back from a mysterious journey and has picked up an odd waistcoat,” he says. “It’s described as ‘something that young men who danced with our grandmothers wore to balls in the 1830s’. I liked this idea of historical dress out of its right place, picked up both because it’s a memento and for its appeal.” Koda became aware of the designer’s work in the International Talent Support competition last summer, which was hosted in Trieste,
“It was an eccentric situation,” says Harold Koda, the fashion scholar and curator in charge of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York.
28 Disegno. THE PAST IS PRESENT
Italy, for which Koda was on the jury. “It was a graduate competition with extraordinary collections, but his spoke to me as a costume historian,” says Koda. “It was so clearly rooted in the historic past, Tudor period garments, but he was able to transpose it to make them contemporary.” Despite Koda’s admiration for the collection, its purchase was primarily precipitated by Bizarre Silks, an exhibition planned at the Costume Institute for autumn 2016 that will examine the figured fabrics popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. A rich floral pattern of poppies and chrysanthemums that Chabluk Smith used in the collection was originally designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite in the 1760s. While he first saw the silk in the V&A archive, the waistcoat for which the pattern was designed is held by the Met. But Chabluk Smith’s jacquards, woven by British silk-weaving firm Vanners, are not like-for-like reproductions. Instead, he redrew the pattern using darker elements that work like vanitas paintings. “I imagined the florals had been planted in the 1760s,” he says,
“It’s historical without being costumey. It’s even sort of hip hoppy.” “and had – like the garments’ forms – been neglected before being rediscovered. So the poppies and chrysanthemums had been overgrown and swamped by nettles and weeds, and become infested with spiders, while the luscious pomegranates are rotten and have wasps crawling around them.” The move towards jacquards was however a departure for Chabluk Smith, who had no previous experience with designing textiles. “When I looked at all this historical costume, I was initially blocking out all the incredible embroidery and other decoration,” he says. “But then I suddenly realised that I could utilise surface design as well as the cut to convey a richer narrative.” It is a narrative that will fit in with the other items in the Met’s permanent collection – historical dress presented alongside the work of contemporary fashion houses such as Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen. “It still feels odd when I think about it,” says Chabluk Smith, now a designer at men’s label E. Tautz. “When you spend so long with the stuff, you’re sick of the sight of most of it by the end. But I do miss the frock coat from ‘look 1’ – I would have liked to keep that and wear it.”
Madelaine Levy is a writer and editor-at-large at Bon magazine.
Opposite page: 1670/1720/1951 Parka from Disjecta Membra. Silk Jacquard, cotton and sheepskin. PHOTO Dominic Tschudin This page: Collage by Chabluk Smith showing the inspiration behind one of his creations.
THE PAST IS PRESENT
“I DON’T THINK ABOUT COLOURS, I JUST USE THEM — PERHAPS REFLECTING THE DAY, MY MOOD OR THE WEATHER.” NATHALIE DU PASQUIER
2 Disegno. TITLETITLETITLE
PHOTO Matthieu Lavanchy
Céline’s Sphere Heel Shoe heels traditionally fall into two camps. There are those that make a virtue of their solidity – the cuban or wedge heel – and those for which the appeal lies in a seeming fragility. Embedded within the concept of a stiletto, virgule or kitten heel is the sense of surprise that it can even support a body. Exploration of heel typologies was at the centre of French atelier Céline’s summer 2014 footwear collection. Céline’s creative director Phoebe Philo balanced calfskin shoes on an assortment of geometrically shaped heels – trapezoids, rectangles and, most strikingly, a brass sphere.
In 2012 French footwear designer Christian Louboutin characterised high heels as “pleasure with pain”, but Céline’s sphere heel plays upon a different dichotomy. It attracts attention precisely because it falls awkwardly between the two heel camps. It is robust – the foot is balanced on a thick bronze platform – yet simultaneously there is a precariousness. We are unaccustomed to a sphere as a stable base and it seems as if the heel might slip from under the shoe at any time – like rolling your foot across a marble. A spherical heel is a challenge to our preconceptions.
Oli Stratford is the deputy editor of Disegno.
CÉLINE’S SPHERE HEEL
The vast Clothworkersâ€™ Centre contains 500m of rail storage and 7,000 drawers. PHOTOS Philip Vile
32 Disegno. WALK-IN ARCHIVE
Walk-in Archive “We came upon this collection of French photographs from the 1950s and ’60s. One was of Yves Saint Laurent’s studio and another of Christian Dior’s,” says Graham Haworth of London architecture practice Haworth Tompkins. “Something about them really struck us. We tried to emulate this feeling >
> of the working studio with Clothworkers’, in terms of both function and look.” The Clothworkers’ Centre is a new space designed by the firm for London’s Victoria and
century men’s doublets and incredibly fragile Indian textiles. The main study room – where seminars are held and objects can be examined more closely – maintains the atmosphere of a public library reading room. It is quiet, expansive and meditative, with mahogany panelling and bookcases along the perimeter. Haworth explains that they also had fashion at the forefront of their minds when designing the interior: architectural interventions, such as the use of gold for the lighting rig running along the ceiling, are small-scale but conspicuous. “We wanted an air of Peter Marino about the place,” he laughs. “We didn’t want to make it too much like a Bond Street store, but we wanted a bit of that flavour in there – to reflect the sumptuousness of the V&A’s collection in the architecture.” Suzanne Smith, curator and central manager of the V&A’s fashion and textile department, pulls out a large, unmarked white box hidden behind one of the unassuming mahogany panels. It contains Christian Dior’s 1947 Bar Suit – part of the groundbreaking
The public is now able to see individual pieces up-close – a service previously reserved for those with academic or curatorial affiliations. Albert Museum. It was created for the storage and preservation of the V&A’s vast fashion and textiles collection spanning two millennia, with pieces from Asia, Africa and Europe. The public is now also able to see individual pieces up-close by appointment – a service previously reserved for those with academic or curatorial affiliations. The Clothworkers’ Centre is in Blythe House, Kensington, the headquarters of the old Post Office Savings Bank from 1903. The Grade II-listed building’s baroque facade is in keeping with those of the V&A in South Kensington and V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, and the building’s immense spatial potential makes it ideal for housing the collection. “We produced £1.5m worth of wardrobes,” says Haworth. “It’s all state-of-the-art compressed storage, too – a lot of work went into the interior design of those cabinets. They’re all individually structured.” This 3,345sqm storage space consists of 500m of rail storage and 7,000 drawers of precious, often historically important pieces – from Vivienne Westwood’s Watteau evening dress from the 1996 Les Femmes Collection, to a pair of 17th34 Disegno. WALK-IN ARCHIVE
New Look collection. “This is one of our most frequently requested items,” Smith says, holding up the 4kg skirt. “Probably because there is such enduring interest in the 1950s. This was made just after the war, and really represented the New Look coming in. The whole idea was to enhance the figure and the hourglass shape. It would have looked very different to what people were used to.” On another floor, a dedicated conservation area has been designed with both conservators and visitors in mind. It is bright and spacious, with individual extractor fans at each workstation. Whilst working on restoring items in the collection ahead of the V&A’s exhibitions, conservators will also take time to give talks and small tours. “We had this idea of Clothworkers’ being like a functioning studio, and the curators really liked it as well,” Haworth says. “It offers the experience of being ‘behind the scenes’, which complements their curated displays.” This increased accessibility to the collection is a major development not just for the V&A, but also for museum archival practice in general. Only those affiliated with academic institutions are traditionally able to apply to view museum collections, but Clothworkers’ requires only an
online application and a two-week wait. Any interested member of the public can apply. “We once had a visitor who was a fashion student in the 1970s,” says Smith. “She had won a prize for her work and, for better or worse, the reward was that the dress would be held in the V&A collection. When Clothworkers’ opened she came back to visit with her daughter, and saw her work for the first time since that year.” In a restricted-access room, specialised storage units hold the most delicate pieces. A vast collection of women’s shoes is arranged chronologically on shelves in cupboards, charting the progression of styles from the 17th century to the present day. Behind another set of cupboard doors, drawers hold a slightly eerie miscellany of dolls in boxes and Asian fans. “I believe the oldest item we have is a piece of intestinal wrapping from an ancient Egyptian tomb,” Smith says. Further on, specialised cold storage units hold the V&A’s large collection of furs. “The cold prevents them from shedding, and keeps them lustrous,” Smith explains. This is the only part of the collection that is not easily accessible to the public, due to the fragility of the items, a fact that is strongly reflected in the architecture. In stark contrast to the rest of the Clothworkers’ Centre, this area is like a cave: dark, cold and small. Haworth applies the idea of the hidden cave of treasures to the Clothworkers’ Centre as a whole. “When we first visited the building it was so huge and empty. There was a special feeling to it that made you feel very privileged to be there and we really wanted to keep that in the architecture. “It’s amazing that behind a very frothy Edwardian baroque facade in the middle of Olympia you find all this stuff,” says Haworth. “It’s almost like Aladdin’s cave, or Narnia.”
Ashitha Nagesh is a London-based visual-arts journalist. The Clothworkers’ Centre, Blythe House, London W14. Access by appointment only: email@example.com.
This page: The gold lighting rig reflects the opulence of the collection. Opposite page: The conservation area (above); many of the pieces are highly fragile and historically important (bottom).
PHOTO Matthieu Lavanchy
ProtoPaper The design of three-dimensional objects often begins with a two-dimensional plane of paper. As a medium that manifests process, paper is the surface on which thoughts are written, ideas are sketched, and patterns cut. New technical paper ProtoPaper takes the medium one step further, allowing paper to quickly transform flattened geometries into physical forms. In 1925, Hungarian mathematician Tibor Radó discovered that all surfaces can be rationalised into a set of triangles, where each triangle side is shared by two adjacent triangles, forming a mesh. It is now called Radó’s theorem. ProtoPaper takes this theory and standardises triangulation into two equilateral triangle patterns: one using squares divided into four triangles, another using 36 Disegno. PROTOPAPER
hexagons split into six triangles. These geometries simulate the way surfaces are subdivided in 3D computer modelling programmes, allowing digital forms with complex curvature to be quickly prototyped using an analogue material. By pre-perforating this triangular mesh onto 150gsm cartridge paper, the sheets can be folded along the perforation lines to create shapes that were previously confined to the computer screen.
Manijeh Verghese is an architect and the salon co-ordinator of Disegno. ProtoPaper is produced by London-based ProtoPaper Lab, and can be purchased from art supply stores. protopaperlab.com
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The Practice of Everyday Life Martino Gamper is frying eggs. The yolks are coagulating in the frying pan and when they reach just the right consistency he serves them up on two plates with toasted Turkish bread. Tea has already been poured into fragile porcelain cups. It’s a relatively simple breakfast, but a picturesque one, especially when placed on the table in Gamper’s east London studio. The tabletop is teal, with >
38 Disegno. THE PRACTICE OF EVERYDAY LIFE
Andrea Branzi’s 1981 Gritti Bookcase installed in Martino Gamper’s Design is a State of Mind. PHOTO Hugo Glendinning
THE PRACTICE OF EVERYDAY LIFE
> white segments that radiate from its centre. It was made by Gamper using fragments of discarded Gio Ponti furniture. “I’m interested in the parts of design that are to do with our everyday-ness,” he says. It’s this everyday-ness that Gamper has a formidable talent for imbuing with wonder. His work gives meaning to even mundane tasks – like frying an egg. The Italian designer is busy preparing an exhibition on this very theme, to be staged at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Design is a State of Mind opens in March and is only the gallery’s second design show, after Konstantin Grcic’s Design Real in 2009-10. While Design Real’s premise was to look at a series of industrially-made objects that represented the importance of good design in everyday life, Gamper’s show is less pointed – it is about how we engage with the things around us. The exhibition presents a series of shelving systems selected by Gamper but all created by different designers, ranging from Swedish functionalist Bruno Mathsson, to Italian experimentalists such as Angelo Mangiarotti and Bruno Morassutti. Each shelf serves as a display case for the personal collections of Gamper’s colleagues in the design industry. “The exhibition is about how you look at things, how you live with things, how you integrate design as part of your life,” says Gamper. Maki Suzuki is showing his collection of terracotta bricks, while Enzo Mari will share a collection of paperweights and Marc Newson a group of knives. The collections are also documented with supporting interviews and stories published in the exhibition catalogue, designed by Alex Rich. “I went to see Enzo Mari yesterday,” says Gamper. “We had a long conversation and he told me he thinks that he’s failed as a designer and that’s a little heartbreaking.” Italian designer Mari is in his 80s, and throughout his career has attempted to change the design industry, condemning its consumerism and vanity. His Autoprogettazione collection was
40 Disegno. THE PRACTICE OF EVERYDAY LIFE
Above: Maki Suzuki’s collection of terracotta bricks. Below: Martino Gamper sits in his studio in Hackney, east London. PHOTO Ben Quinton
a series of blueprints for making furniture from readily available components, disseminated free of charge, 40 years before the rise of the open-source movement. Though his ideas still impact on designers
upheld as the ideal. In Gamper’s own work, this is expressed through reworking already existing materials and designs. In his 100 Chairs in 100 Days project in 2007, he built a century of new chairs from existing
“The exhibition is about how you look at things, how you live with things, how you integrate design as part of your life.” and the system in which they operate, Mari does not consider them to be successful, because they have not yet changed the politics of the wider industry. “And that’s what’s changed in design,” says Gamper. “I don’t think we consider that there’s only one solution to everything anymore; there isn’t this one design that can solve every problem. Instead, there is design for different situations or for your geographical need.” In many ways, Gamper operates in the field French scholar Michel de Certeau wrote about in The Practice of Everyday Life (1980). The book investigates how we shape the world around us by consuming it, thereby emphasising the importance of consumption in contrast to the 20th century’s more dominant concern: production. De Certeau’s book looks at the “art of doing”, where daily activities such as walking, reading, dwelling and cooking are considered acts of creativity and a form of resistance to the strictures of modern society. The design industry has traditionally been concerned with the efficiency of production, with great emphasis placed on mass manufacture. But in recent years the design process has changed drastically; industrial production is no longer always
ones. His Gio Ponti table – and the series it’s part of, If Only Gio Knew – functions in the same way. But Gamper is not solely preoccupied with making objects. In his practice, he has also developed disparate events such as Total Trattoria, a pop-up restaurant concept. It is this philosophy, rather than Gamper’s own work, that is expressed by Design is a State of Mind. A model of the Sackler Gallery sits on Gamper’s desk, complete with miniatures of the iconic shelving systems exhibited in the show. The designers’ collections have also started arriving, the plastic crates they are stored in taking up the studio floor. It’s a curious juxtaposition that these shelves, which experimented with ways of manufacture and production in the mid-20th century, will serve as exhibition display cases for the objects collected by contemporary designers from the detritus of everyday life. Yet it is a concept that serves as a perfect example of De Certeau’s ideas in real life. Everyday life.
Johanna Agerman Ross is the founder and editor-in-chief of Disegno. Design is a State of Mind is at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, until 21 April 2014.
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Dirty Reading If desire itself always has something of a sadness about it – the disappointment after its fulfillment, the creeping gloom of realism – a desire that depends on nostalgia for desire itself is surely even grimmer. Yet a whole wave of contemporary magazines, whose knowingness, archness and irony threaten to drench the reader in a tidal wave of meta-sexual malaise, have sprung up in the past year, describing themselves variously as “a publication for leisurely stimulation”, in the case of Barcelona-based Odiseo; “of contemporary erotics and experience, if a tagline you must”, as New York magazine Adult puts it; and as searching for “a new definition of porn” and as “visual stimulus” for London-based Talc. Prefigured by publications such as French magazine Paradis (founded in 2006), this new breed of classy erotica seeks to fuse thinkpieces – on everything from nuclear waste (Odiseo) to David Cronenberg (Adult) – with sophisticated photos and (in the case of Odiseo) oil-pastel images of naked women. The urtext for all these publications is, of course, Playboy – or at least a fantasy of Playboy where the articles genuinely excite as much as the breasts do – though credit must go to the Odiseo reader who can sustain their passion for photographer Olya Oleinic’s pictures of model Stefanie Crombach through writer Francis Melville’s description of sexually transmitted diseases in the essay that immediately follows them: “Diseases such as syphilis flourished through Europe from the 16th to 19th centuries, and many found that binding themselves to a monogamous church-sanctioned marriage was better than the promiscuous chancres of the genitals that often awaited the unwed.” Because of the present ubiquity and accessibility of porn, there is a niche market for those who fetishise what it must have been like when porn was the odd hidden magazine in dad’s wardrobe, and similarly for those who find it amusing to combine a variety of porn suffixes. Thus Talc exists for those for whom “furniture porn” means something a little more than salivating over space-age chairs or lusting after curiously empty living rooms. In practice, this means model Emily F. Shaw naked, back arched and head out of frame, lying on an orange upholstered daybed by Hans Wegner, or 42 Disegno. DIRTY READING
model Jordann topless, wearing a Rolex Submariner (“easily identified from only the slightest glimpse of its distinct, military bezel”) in a black-and-white shoot that looks a bit 1960s. This suffixability of porn, where everything can become the object of excitement, becomes ironically literalised. You want furniture porn? Well, here it is! Not just the chair, but a naked woman, too. Interviews with Barbara Nitke, who photographed 1980s porn sets, and Leonard Koren, founder of LA’s Wet magazine in the 1970s, as well as postmodern design and Letraset typeset, conjure up a world where critiques of objectification are already passé. The underlying sentiment behind Talc seems to be the idea that its creators can’t really be involved in treating women like objects, because they are so upfront about the fact that they are literally treating women like objects. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, for all its post-exploitation archness: putting the desire back in to design looks awfully similar to turning the clock back on everything else. In January there was outrage over a photograph of Russian gallerist Dasha Zhukova sitting on artist Bjarne Melgaard’s homage to Allen Jones’ Chair. Jones’ 1969 original was a model of a white woman in bondage, a leather seat attached to her thighs. Melgaard recreated the piece in its entirety, the only difference being that his model was black. The subsequent debate over the work demonstrated that design and art cannot pretend to be exempt from political and social critique. Yet the escapism of Talc and Odiseo speak of a retreat
– of porn as a condition of contemporary life – creates the condition of the reinvention of porn as that which is both specific and general: if you can’t get rid of porn, you might as well try to attach it to your other interests and carve out a space for your desires to comingle. Adult does something a little different to the post-porn porn of Talc and Odiseo. Edited by writer Sarah Nicole Prickett, it seeks to engage much more critically with sexual experience and culture. There’s an obligatory reference to Playboy (and Playgirl) in its editorial, alongside a declaration that the editors came to Adult “from a boredom with our own nostalgia” and that the magazine aspires “to a more intelligent age”. The writers, photographers and illustrators who introduce themselves in personal-style ads at the beginning are young – mainly in their 20s and early 30s – and enjoy “dramatic waist-tohip ratios and wide-set, melancholic eyes”, for example. The writing is smart, with a smattering of fiction, interviews, email exchanges and recipes. There are articles about state surveillance (Katie J.M. Baker), growing up gay (Alexander Chee) and transitioning (Samantha Leigh Allen), as well as nods to Italian Marxism, race and gender theory. Adult is no magazine for straight, white, male suburbanites (with or without furniture fetishes), but some of the more stereotypical photoshoots of girls in swimwear might arrest their flicking finger for a minute or two.
It is as if the ubiquity of internet porn – the inescapability of desire in all its crass availability – has created the need for a more luxurious, niche world out of reach of a few clicks. to a world of hidden signs and closed rituals, no matter how many women are on board. Talc was co-founded by writer Fauzia Musa, and female writers and photographers feature heavily. Odiseo has a few too, but its overall feeling is much more old-school gentleman’s mag. It is as if the ubiquity of internet porn – the inescapability of desire in all its crass availability – has created the need for a more luxurious, niche world that lies out of reach of a few clicks. “Porn is now also used to describe a collection of objects or photographs of objects that appeal greatly to our particular tastes and aesthetics preferences,” as Max Reyner puts it in an essay for Talc. The generalisation of porn
The new erotic magazines walk a difficult line – those that address the context of their own creation, such as Adult, are aware of the obvious traps that lie in wait for those who would seek to resurrect the vintage secrecy and furtive desires of a pre-internet age. Those which simply seek to take up its implication that everything is porn, so why the hell not just fuse all your interests together, such as Odiseo and Talc, run the danger of looking out of date in far more ways than they intend to.
Nina Power is a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Roehampton and author of One Dimensional Woman (2009).
Postmodern porn magazines for a new generation. PHOTO Chris Tang
PHOTO Matthieu Lavanchy
Look 14 by VivienneWestwood For British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, clothing is a catalyst for change in an increasingly destructive world. Once famed for statements of rebellion and provocation, she is now more commonly associated with campaigning against global poverty. It comes as no surprise that her resilient lobbying has materialised on the catwalk of her Gold Label, the semi-couture line heralded as her most premium. While the spring/summer 2014 collection featured Westwoodâ€™s characteristic theatrical shapes and opulent prints, one piece stood in direct contrast. This was Look 14, a dress designed to flatter in its modesty and 44 Disegno. LOOK 14 BY VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
minimalism. Yet the simplicity of the design is highly deceptive. Created in collaboration with a female collective producing textiles in Burkina Faso, west Africa, the fabric is hand-woven by just one individual, which means it can only be made to a limited width. The design process was therefore reversed, with the dress designed to fit the fabric, rather than the other way round. It is also for this reason that Look 14 has not been put into production; it is a true one-of-akind garment, rather than a real catalyst for change. At least for now.
Rio Jade Ali is a London-based freelance fashion writer.
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Ludic Experiments “I just started with a pile of kelp,” says Julia Lohmann, German designer and head of the Department of Seaweed, five years on from her first experiments with the material. The department, an ongoing research project, was temporarily installed at the Sackler Centre at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum from April to September 2013, as part of a design residency undertaken by Lohmann. >
46 Disegno. LUDIC EXPERIMENTS
Experimental work with kelp created during Lohmann’s residency at the V&A in 2013. PHOTOS Petr Krejčí
> Its agenda was to develop seaweed as looked on. The exhibition served a design material, a process that could be a dual purpose – it was an witnessed by the public through a series opportunity to develop new of workshops and open studio days. It is techniques for treating seaweed, research that earned Lohmann the Arts but also a response to the polished Foundation’s 2014 Materials Innovation award. ostentation of many Salone The research conducted by the department displays. “For a few years I’d is also part of Lohmann’s PhD thesis, funded found it increasingly irritating how by the Arts and Humanities Research Council finished objects were presented and jointly supervised by the V&A and the more and more glossily and Royal College of Art. It is an exploration of sumptuously at fairs,” she says. the possibilities of seaweed that addresses “I always found the unfinished, not only its material properties and or the process behind something, applications, but also the wider institutional more interesting. And in Milan it framework for the development of a new was getting worse; the pedestals material – or rather, the lack thereof. “If were getting higher and higher.” you work with a company, they will have At this stage it became evident to specialists who know about the materials, Lohmann that seaweed harboured they’ll have the machines and the techniques,” extraordinary design possibilities. says Lohmann. “But if you design with your The key to developing processing own material, none of that is in place.” techniques was by analogy – The early stages of Lohmann’s project were seaweed can be made to resemble informed by ludic experimentation. She first a variety of materials, such as glass, encountered seaweed as a potential design wood, lacquerware or leather. But material in 2007 during S-AIR, a design the ideal scenario for Lohmann residency in Sapporo, the largest city on is when seaweed surpasses an Japan’s Hokkaido island. “I worked with the analogous material. “If you have good, and a community that looks Ainu, the native people of Hokkaido. One man an iPhone cover in translucent after it, it’s usually a good recipe gave me a workshop on how to skin salmon seaweed treated like leather, you for sustainability.” and make traditional salmon leather by rolling can see through the cover when the This concern returns Lohmann’s and hammering it for 12 hours,” says Lohmann. phone lights up — that’s actually project to the broader framework “I also went to a seaweed farm where I was better than leather!” she says. of material development. Over the given a bag of seaweed. I was so fascinated Lohmann drew on the knowledge past five years she has built up of collaborators and specialists, a network of specialists, a body of ranging from milliner Moya Hoke knowledge, an array of techniques, and marquetry craftsman David and a theoretical foundation. But Linley, to marine biologist Professor where is the structure in which this Juliet Brodie from London’s Natural amalgamation can operate? This, History Museum. Brodie was initially says Lohmann, is the challenge: “I apprehensive about Lohmann’s want to make sure the next person project. “When I showed Brodie who’s interested in seaweed doesn’t what I was doing, she said it was have to start from scratch, so I wonderful, but that kelp has enough problems as it is,” says “It has the absolute Lohmann. “Everything we humans start using we mess up terribly transformative quality and that’s something I’m dreading. of a magic material.” Seaweed could be so sustainable. My fear is that suddenly there’s such a hype that everyone starts need to find a way of documenting dredging it up from the coasts and sharing the information.” without considering the impact. It Lohmann plans to revive the needs to be done in the right way.” Department of Seaweed as a “cloud” What is the right way? Lohmann department. “It should dock on and turns to economic theory to address off other institutions. It could just as the potential pitfalls of using kelp well be at the Science Museum, for design and manufacture, citing the Natural History Museum, or the American economist Elinor Ostrom. Marine Biology Institute,” she says. Ostrom received the Nobel Prize “As a place for practitioners to come in 2009 for her research into how together under a non-commercial “commons”, the cultural and natural roof, the museum is unique. Its other resources available to all members function is to collect, compile and of a society, are governed. “When share knowledge, which is also you have a resource looked after what I’m doing.” with how it was big and leathery when wet, by a community,” says Lohmann, Lohmann plans to use her Arts and then has such a different translucent “usually it is kept pristine and perfect Foundation stipend to find new character when dry. It has the absolute over many centuries. Whether it’s institutions on which to dock the transformative quality of a magic material.” a grazing field or the local fish Department of Seaweed and to On her return to London, Lohmann sourced grounds, it’s maintained because build the necessary structure for seaweed from a sushi restaurant and used the community has an interest in it cultivating and sharing knowledge it as part of a performative exhibition at staying there for the next generation. that it generates. “I don’t want to the Galleria Nilufar during the 2008 Salone It goes wrong when someone who patent this,” she says. “It’s so much Internazionale del Mobile in Milan. Together doesn’t have a long-term interest bigger than what I can do.” with her husband, designer Gero Grundmann, in the resource steps in. My project Lohmann spent a week creating kelp is about governing the commons Kristina Rapacki is a PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art. constructions in the gallery while visitors in a way. If you have a common
48 Disegno. LUDIC EXPERIMENTS
This page and opposite: Lohmann explored the highly varied material possibilities of seaweed during the residency.
PHOTO Matthieu Lavanchy
Titanium and Acetate Sunglasses “The absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being,” wrote Czech writer Milan Kundera in his 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. In marketing texts accompanying products from sneakers and laptops to bicycles, cars and chairs, lightness is increasingly presented as a virtue. Whereas previously it was weight and heft that implied quality, it is now lightness that dominates the vocabulary of luxury. Designed by Danish eyewear brand Lindberg, these black titanium and acetate sunglasses are 50 Disegno. TITANIUM AND ACETATE SUNGLASSES
part of that trend. Characterised by lightness in both form and weight, their shape is simple and graphic. Well-known for being both lightweight and strong titanium is widely used in highperformance machines such as jet engines, missiles and spacecraft. The lightness of Lindberg’s glasses has limited functionality of course, but it is as Kundera wrote – symbolically, lightness promises a way to transcend the everyday. By tapping into this, luxury products hope to convince us to buy them.
Oli Stratford is deputy editor of Disegno.
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The New Medici Even on a dull February afternoon, the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation (Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la création) shimmers. Frank Gehry’s edifice in Bois de Boulogne park in Paris is sculpted from a dozen giant glass sails that seem to fill and furl in the wind. As clouds scud across its reflective surfaces, it is somehow set in motion. The €100m-plus museum, led by former Musée d’Art Moderne director and Venice Biennale curator Suzanne Pagé, will open this year and house the Louis Vuitton Foundation and its contemporary art collection, as well as hosting exhibitions, multidisciplinary performances, symposia and educational programmes. Despite delays and legal wrangles, the building represents the pinnacle of LVMH’s (the multinational luxury goods conglomerate of which Louis Vuitton is a part) wide-ranging involvement in the arts. Alongside the foundation, LVMH oversees its Young Fashion Designer Prize, in-store art commissions, and product collaborations with artists such as Julie Verhoeven, Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami. In December 2013 the scale and scope of this patronage prompted New York architect Peter Marino to liken the brand to the fabled Quattrocento dynasty of 15th-century Italy. In a conversation with fashion designer Marc Jacobs, hosted by the Architectural Foundation at London’s Tate Modern, Marino declared: “They are the new Medici.” Marino knows of what he speaks. For two decades he has been luxury brands’ go-to designer, creating some 30 stores for Chanel, 20 for Louis Vuitton, and 15 for Dior. They are designs that include both the arrangement of retail space and artworks to fill it. A piece by British sculptor Richard Deacon for Louis Vuitton’s Singapore outlet is just one of many commissions. 52 Disegno. THE NEW MEDICI
LVMH is in good company. Most luxury brands on Interbrand’s top 100 list moonlight as arts patrons and collectors. Miuccia Prada’s Milan-based Fondazione Prada hosts contemporary art exhibitions. Prada opened another outpost in Venice in 2011 and a third Rem Koolhaas-designed venue will open in Milan in 2015. Prada’s neighbour in Venice is Gucci owner François Pinault, whose foundation in the Palazzo Grassi stages temporary exhibitions that draw on his art collection. Cartier meanwhile stole a march on LVMH, Prada and Pinault with its Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. Formed in 1984, the gallery showcases established and fledgling artists from its base in Paris’ 14th arrondissement, a building designed by Pritzker prizewinner Jean Nouvel. The art collaborations of LVMH, Prada, Pinault and Cartier are the most prominent examples of patronage, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Apart from the now-routine sponsorship of museums and exhibitions by airlines and banks, art-based philanthropy is a corporate commonplace, with the Perrier-Jouët Arts Salon Prize for contemporary craft and the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which pairs emerging artists with established masters, among the best known in the field. In addition, there are numerous
projects and events large and small that generate work for artists and designers, and prestige for brands. Swarovski’s long-running Crystal Palace series and its associated projects have seen commissions from designers including Ron Arad, Zaha Hadid, Tom Dixon and John Pawson explore the artistic potential of industrially produced crystal. At the Design Miami trade fair in 2013, the company exhibited Brazilian architect and designer Guilherme Torres’ crystal rainforest installation Mangue Groove. Champagne brand Perrier-Jouët was also at the event, showcasing an installation by Dutch designer Simon Heijdens that drew on the brand’s art-nouveau heritage (Émile Gallé designed the anemone of its Belle Époque cuvée). The list of luxury-art linkups is extensive, but sheer quantity alone does not justify a comparison to Florence’s Medici family. From the late 1430s until his death, Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), the dynasty’s founder, financed the rebuilding or redecoration of numerous churches and monasteries, including San Marco, San Lorenzo, and Badia di Fiesole. And it wasn’t just buildings that Cosimo financed, but also their frescos and altarpieces, including works by Ghiberti, Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi. As well as Medici patronage of public buildings and entertainment, there were private palaces – such
as those at Cafaggiolo and Careggi – created by Michelozzo, who also designed the Palazzo Medici in Florence, in the courtyard of which was placed Donatello’s bronze David (c. 1440), a work commissioned for the site. And that was just Cosimo. The list of religious and secular patronage of the later Medici – who over 300 years progressed from merchants, bankers and politicians to popes and aristocrats – is spectacular. Lorenzo il Magnifico (1449-92) is thought to have commissioned Botticelli’s Primavera, while his son Pope Leo X (1475-1521) was behind the so-called Raphael Cartoons that depict scenes from the Acts of the Apostles, including the Miraculous Draught of Fishes. His cousin Pope Clement VII (1478-1534) contributed the Laurentian Library and The Last Judgment from Michelangelo, while Marie de’ Medici (1575-1642), the Queen of France, continued the family’s arts patronage into the 17th century. Marie – the great-greatgranddaughter of Lorenzo and wife of King Henry IV of France – commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to adorn the Luxembourg Palace, a building by Salomon de Brosse that she called her “Palais Médicis”. Next to this track record, modern patronage pales, though a roll call of buildings and artworks may be the wrong method to understand today’s luxury brands and their Quattrocento forebears. A better approach is to analyse motive, as well as the relationship between art, religion and society. For the early Medici, the Catholic Church was both a mindset and the backdrop against which their patronage played out. The church defined lending money at interest, usury, as a sin, which proved problematic for the Medici who were Europe’s preeminent bankers. The family’s endowing and adorning of churches was therefore partly a way of salving conscience, of negotiating Christian mores and Renaissance economics. “[Religious patronage was a way] of expiating the sins of banking,” said University of
Sheffield public-history lecturer Catherine Fletcher on Radio 4’s In Our Time. Luxury brands operate in a different cultural and financial system, but one with its own problems. The weakness of the global economy is a situation of which brands are well aware. It’s a small leap from Medici patronage as a religious salve to modern patronage as a way to offset profits in an age of austerity. Atonement was not Cosimo de’ Medici’s only priority however. His wealth lent him political power, but Florence’s status as a republic made patronage one of the best ways for Cosimo to consolidate his position. In a city state ruled by a rotating council, image and influence were key. Cosimo strengthened his hand by cultivating the valued ancient Greek virtue of magnificence, the performance of great – typically expensive – acts when appropriate to circumstance: the creation of public buildings and notable art. In this respect, the luxury brands have much in common with the Medici. They, too, seek to enhance their reputations through patronage, and by allying with the prestige of the art collector they tap into an ancient source of status – employment for artists, aesthetic discernment for themselves, and a safe distance from the mundane world of trade, commerce and industry. Opening collections to the public also chimes with modern enthusiasm for gallery attendance, with brands physically meeting the cultural aspirations of the gallery-going public. >
What brands can borrow from art is a seriousness, longevity and status, adding to their symbolic capital. THE NEW MEDICI
> In his book The Logic of Practice (1990), French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu suggests that possessing economic capital does not always equal power. Instead, to become truly powerful one must acquire symbolic capital, “playing for stakes that are non-material and not easily quantified”. Financing a new public gallery by a renowned architect may be the most influential, image-boosting thing a brand can do, an act that can earn symbolic capital along the way. At its most prosaic, such patronage is a recurring name check. The brand is mentioned over and again with each museum visit, each web hit, each editorial. But patronage also leverages the intellectual and creative heft of art, which promises to deliver qualities such as emotional truth, intellectual enquiry and sensual allure. However gorgeous their creations may be, brands cannot offer this on their own. What they can do is borrow from art a seriousness, longevity and status, adding to their symbolic capital along the way. In turn, brands are elevated beyond the realm of commodities and trade, areas in which they may be accomplished practitioners, but which have never enjoyed the prestige of art. None of this implies that luxury brands are cynically manipulating patronage and philanthropy, treating them as mere branches of marketing. Neither is it to say that they do not truly support contemporary design talent, nor that their products aren’t finely crafted, nor that they shirk social responsibilities; “[The Medici] made spending money on
beautiful things expected. [If you have] great wealth, you owe it to your community to spend money on great buildings,” says Evelyn Welch, professor of Renaissance studies at King’s College, University of London. Yet the brands are still commercial enterprises and quick to spot the impact of patronage on profits. While Marino commissioned art for Louis Vuitton’s stores, creative director Marc Jacobs was collaborating on product development with designer and artist Stephen Sprouse, among others. These enterprises helped to quadruple Vuitton’s profits from 1997 to 2007, transforming what had previously been a luggage firm into an internationally renowned fashion brand. According to Interbrand, LVMH, Prada, Gucci and Cartier have a combined brand value of $47.5 billion. Such a colossal figure owes much to financial skill and accomplished management, but is underpinned by a cultural acumen that channels current-day artistic and spiritual concerns. In this respect, they are very much the new Medici.
READING LIST In Our Time, Radio 4, 26 December 2013. Medici Money, Tim Parks. Profile Books, 2006. Cosimo de’ Medici and the Florentine Renaissance, Dale Kent. Yale University Press, 2000. The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank 1397-1494, Raymond De Roover. Beard Books, 1999. The Government of Florence Under the Medici 1434-94, Nicolai Rubinstein. Oxford University Press, 1997. The Logic of Practice, Pierre Bourdieu. Polity Press, 1990.
Sarah Frater is a writer on design and performing arts based in London.
“The Medici made spending money on beautiful things expected. If you have great wealth, you owe it to your community to spend it.” 54 Disegno. THE NEW MEDICI
MeirĂŠ und MeirĂŠ
Dornbracht Sensory Sky ATT
dornbracht.com/sensory-sky firstname.lastname@example.org Product Design Sieger Design
image : She Said bar stool by nitzan Cohen Sa l on e del Mobile , Mil a no w w w. M at t i a z z i . eu
8 . â€“ 1 3 . 4 . 2 0 14
H a l l 2 0 / S ta n d e 2 5
Mattiazzi has the honour to introduce
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
NATHALIE DU PASQUIER IS LEANING OVER A TABLE FILLED WITH NEAT ROWS OF SHEETS OF PRINTED A4 PAPER.
Every now and then she swaps the pages around, takes a step back to get an overview, then moves in again, making another swap, creating another picture. “I guess this is what I do, I am assembling things, which is the process I’ve always used, especially in my textile designs and paintings,” says Du Pasquier, a French designer and artist based in Milan. The work taking shape in front of her, The Construction of a Collection and a Collection of Constructions, fills 17 pages scattered throughout this issue of Disegno. The title’s reversal reveals both Du Pasquier’s distinctive working process and the way she has built up her practice over the years. The collection herewith consists of a collage of snippets and fragments, which Du Pasquier has photographed, photocopied, printed and reassembled. Even a scrap of coloured paper seems to hold immense potential in her hands. Born in Bordeaux in 1957, Du Pasquier first became immersed in the design world when she moved to Milan at the age of 22. She found herself in the midst of a vibrant design scene and soon became involved after attending meetings instigated by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass. These were the early days of the influential Memphis Group, and Du Pasquier’s experiments with illustration soon became a vital part of the movement’s output, which found space for her textile designs, and the furniture she made in collaboration with her partner, British designer George Sowden. “We would talk and get together, and Mr Sottsass would look at the things we’d been doing. In the end he was the one to decide what would be in the collection – he was the mind behind it all, the gatherer of the people,” she says. Despite her passion for design, Du Pasquier changed her focus at the age of 30, gaining
representation from, among others, Hong Kong-based Le Cadre Gallery. It was a fruitful relationship, with Du Pasquier’s paintings resonating with Chinese ideas of harmonious composition. “I think they look at painting in a very different way in China,” says Du Pasquier, for whom that market represented a main source of income. Feng shui references may sound clichéd these days, but her understanding of space makes for an almost meditative treatment of form. “I knew a patron who couldn’t choose a painting without his feng-shui master,” she says. “He really understood the composition of the paintings and their elements, something that was positive to the viewer. That doesn’t exist here, or at least it’s not something that’s recognised by the art world.” Since this relationship with China drew to a close in 2009, Du Pasquier has been producing work for Australian firm Third Drawer Down, US fashion house American Apparel and Danish-British collaboration Wrong for Hay, with rugs, embroidered and printed textiles, and homeware. Such projects have been a chance to revisit her archive, generate new prints, and begin to redefine her relationship with the design world. “The crisis was hitting these middle-range galleries in Europe and I was very happy when some opportunities to work again in design happened around the same time,” Du Pasquier says. “My approach to designing textiles is really not so different. I started again from where I stopped 30 years earlier.” Her process is still analogue, made up of the same layering of paper cut-outs, scribbles and felt-tip lines. But now it’s carried out in a world that has gone digital and global. While her Memphis
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textiles were produced at a silk factory outside Milan, she now works with brands in Australia and factories in India. Du Pasquier thinks some of the newly awakened interest in her work could be a reaction against the digital. There was also the 2011 Postmodernism show at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. “I think that put a new focus on mine and Memphis’ work,” she says. “But I think there is space in the world for what I am now. My work is simply another idea about making things, or arranging things, for the home.” This concept of arrangement is the area of design with which Du Pasquier seems most comfortable. Working out of her two-roomed studio in Brera, Milan’s historic art district, she spends a lot of her time building ‘constructions’ – works that sit somewhere between sculpture and installation. Comprising painted wooden blocks collected from a local carpenter, they are three-dimensional compositions that serve a variety of purposes. “Some are large, some operate as shelves, some can be transformed into an instrument of exhibition,” she says. “They appear in different colours and configurations; they are variously assembled – unadorned, or used to hang paintings. Sometimes you can enter them. It becomes a game of construction, a combination of shapes, that you can play with again and again.” Du Pasquier’s constructions fill both rooms and often feature in her paintings, a medium that remains important to her practice. Indeed, she is reluctant to divide the constructions and her paintings, seeing their transformation into canvases as simply a reconstruction of their constituent forms. Her most recent paintings
are abstracts – reduced graphical versions of earlier, more literal, still lifes – and recall the simplified forms of Le Corbusier’s first purist compositions, or the balanced objects in muted tones of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. But Du Pasquier is reluctant to discuss influences or her precise methodology. “Every time you use a straight line someone else has used it before,” she says, and she is similarly ambivalent about her treatment of colour: “I don’t think about colours, I just use them; perhaps reflecting the day, my mood or the weather.” If her working method is instinctive, it is nonetheless highly practised. Set colour palettes frequently recur in ways that seem to reference the industrial qualities of Milan, a city whose greyscale is intercepted by flashes of 1960s Metro interiors and early 20th-century painted facades. Indeed, it is hard not to read Milan as a constant reference point in Du Pasquier’s work. She loves its juxtaposition of building styles and there is an obvious architectural influence in her constructions’ occupation with space. Spatial understanding has always dominated her creations. Piece by piece, line by line, she builds up a sense of order within her work, delighting in the way in which that order might be altered or reconfigured at any moment. As in the compositions she has created for Disegno, Du Pasquier’s disparate works are essentially concerned with the equilibrium between forms. “I never follow a fixed plan”, she persists. “I put them together, and when I feel it’s alright, I stop.”
Hannah Gregory writes on art, spaces and culture for Domus, Frieze and Icon, among others. She is currently editing a non-fiction book in Milan.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
62 Disegno. THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
Konstantin Grcic at his apartment in Berlinâ€™s Hansaviertel housing estate. Grcicâ€™s studio is based in Munich, but the Berlin apartment serves as a space for quiet reflection.
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No Cosy Corners Konstantin Grcic has forged his career through uncompromising devotion to the ideals of industrial design. Now, an exhibition at Vitra Design Museum will spell out his vision for the future and challenge the format of retrospectives. WORDS Jana Scholze and Johanna Agerman Ross PHOTOS Linus Ricard
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1 Antonello da Messina (c.1430-1479) was a Sicilian-born Renaissance painter strongly influenced by early Netherlandish paintings.
Interbau was a large-scale architecture project in West Berlin in 1957 that took the form of a exhibition. Only part of the development was completed in time; the remaining 35 buildings were added by 1960.
Stalinallee (now Karl-Marx Allee) was a monumental boulevard in East Berlin built by the GDR in the 1950s. Its socialist-style towers were designed by Egon Hartmann, Hanns Hopp, Kurt W. Leucht, Richard Paulick and Karl Souradny, bookended with towers by Hermann Henselmann (1905-1995) in the wedding-cake style of socialist classicism.
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n room 62 of the National Gallery in London hangs a small painting by 15th-century Sicilian artist Antonello da Messina.1 Little bigger than an A3 sheet of paper, it portrays 4th-century Christian theologian Saint Jerome reading in his study – a peculiar piece of miniature architecture, or a very large piece of furniture, sitting within a vast ecclesiastical space. At its base, small steps lead up to a platform where Jerome sits in deep concentration. The shelves behind him contain various objects of symbolic and religious nature, while arched windows reveal a view of a field, a town and birds in flight. “That picture has been important to me for a long time,” says German industrial designer Konstantin Grcic. “It’s in my library of references.” A three-room apartment in an Alvar Aalto-designed building in Hansaviertel, Berlin, is Grcic’s equivalent of Jerome’s study – a quiet retreat from his Munich studio. He has a view of the other buildings in the Interbau2 estate, which was initiated on the occasion of 1957’s International Building Exhibition. It was West Berlin’s response to Hermann Henselmann et al.’s no-lessfamous East Berlin socialist building project Stalinallee,3 created during the Cold War when buildings functioned as propaganda for political systems on either side of the Wall. In the west, celebrated international architects such as Arne Jacobsen and Oscar Niemeyer were commissioned to rebuild Hansaviertel adjacent to Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. Today, the area is quiet and green, and many residents remain from its inauguration more than 50 years ago. The wellpreserved buildings make it a much-visited design destination, but compared to the bustling central neighbourhoods that have come to define Berlin in recent years, it’s something of an oddity. Grcic retreats to Berlin for about 10 days a month. The rest of the time, if he’s not travelling, he spends in Munich. “The Berlin space has an element of freedom to it,” says Grcic, wearing what seems to have become a uniform: dark-rimmed glasses, dark jeans, a navy sweater, a dark-blue blazer and his hair slicked-back. His high-top black leather loafers are pristine; he looks comfortable, but smart. “I am so used to working with assistants and having constant dialogue and distraction, so being on my own is a very strong experience,” he says. “I’m confronted with my own limitations, which is nice as it forces me to think twice and a little harder.”
Such reflection is typical of Grcic. Even 25 years into a successful career as an industrial designer, he remains restless and humble. He has weathered 1990s minimalism, the ostentation of the 2000s and the recent recession, and given into none. Instead, he has cultivated his own language, creating objects and furniture that push boundaries of both manufacture and use. Chairs by Grcic such as 360° and Chair One for Italian furniture manufacturer Magis became instantly recognisable expressions of the early 21st-century and its modes of production. His largest forthcoming project however – developed over three years – is not a product or piece of furniture. It is an exhibition, a format to which Grcic feels close. “Exhibition-making feels very familiar to me,” he says. “My mother had an art gallery and exhibitions were a part of the >
A tubular steel chair from from the Midtown project for Muji sits under the Pipe desk for Muji-Thonet in one room of the apartment. In the foreground is Grcic’s School side-table, manufactured by Böwer.
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“It is true, my designs are not for all and not for all the time. This ideal of design being something for all; I learned a long time ago that I’m not the one who has that magic touch.”
Vitra Design Museum was established in 1989 by Vitra CEO Rolf Fehlbaum as an independent private foundation.
Parnham College was established in 1976 by John Makepeace (b. 1939) to create an integrated education programme for furniture designers and makers. It has since been amalgamated with the Architectural Association.
> environment I grew up in.” He curated Design Real at London’s Serpentine Gallery in 2009; an exhibition about the concept of comfort at the 2010 Saint Étienne Design Biennial; and was involved in the German pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, among others. But the upcoming show at Vitra Design Museum4 in Weil-Am-Rhein, Germany is a new proposition. It’s billed as a retrospective, but instead of merely looking to the past – as the word entails – it also looks to the future.
Grcic was born in Munich in 1965, grew up in industrial Wuppertal and came to Britain in the 1980s to study cabinetry at Parnham College in Dorset.5 Under the tutelage of furniture designer and maker John Makepeace and other teachers, Grcic honed his skills as a craftsman in wood. “Arriving at Parnham House from a German school education, John encouraged in me a kind of open-mindedness towards life and work that was enormously liberating,” Grcic has said. “It would be true to say that the two years at Parnham were key to my future career.” Although it was crucial to Grcic’s development, he left the school and its focus on making to continue his studies at London’s Royal College of Art (RCA), where he studied industrial furniture manufacturing, inspired by books on Marcel Breuer, Gerrit Rietveld and Achille Castiglioni. British designer Jasper Morrison had just graduated from the RCA and Grcic still remembers being confronted with his work. “When I entered the Royal College, Jasper’s work started appearing in the press and it was shocking how precise, refined and essential it was,” says Grcic, for whom Morrison became a jumping-off point. After graduating in 1990, Grcic worked with Morrison for a few months. But after returning to Germany that Christmas he was refused reentry to the UK without a work visa and became stuck in Munich. He founded a studio there in 1991 and from this base, Grcic has grown and developed into one of the most prominent European designers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Through his studio he has also played a role in the development of the now established designers Stefan Diez, Saskia Diez, Nitzan Cohen, Pauline Deltour, and architect Ascan Mergenthaler of Herzog & de Meuron, all of whom have worked as assistants in his office.
Back in Berlin, Grcic’s apartment is small. Its interior blurs leisure and work space; two rooms have desks, but there is no sofa. In the main room, Grcic works sitting at his Pallas table by ClassiCon, overlooking Niemeyer’s building. There are more of his own designs around – he uses a bright turquoise 360° chair at the dining table; a rust-coloured Miura stool is an impromptu charging station for electronic devices; a grey Mono side table props up an artwork. Mixed in with these are pieces by various other designers, from Italian maestro Vico Magistretti to Berlin-based Jerszy Seymour. What is striking is the large number of chairs. Grcic has dining chairs, a desk chair, stools, even an Arne Jacobsen children’s chair. But he has no armchair. In Grcic’s world, it seems, there are no cosy corners.
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Grcic recently summed up his attitude towards chair design in a film on nowness.com, in which he discusses Enzo Mari’s 1975 Box chair. “A bad chair is a chair that performs all of the requirements but remains just a chair,” he says, “one that I use to sit on, but when I get up, it didn’t mean anything to me.” The line is delivered with such intensity that he might as well be speaking about a rejected lover. He argues that a good chair must have something extra beyond the functional that touches you. As he speaks, his hands run over the punched-plastic seat of a yellow Mari chair. It is provocatively materialistic and, despite the film’s faux-intellectualism, it neatly sums up Grcic’s passion and emotion towards design. His own work can’t easily be dismissed as “not meaning anything”; instead, it prods the user to consider it, albeit not always positively. Grcic >
The apartment contains a mixture of Grcic’s own work and that by other designers. Here, Berlinbased designer Jerszy Seymour’s Workshop chair is positioned next to Grcic’s own ES shelving system for Moormann.
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Throughout his career Grcic has worked with a number of industrial manufacturers. Some of the resultant works include, from left, clockwise: the Tom stool and 360Â° chair for Magis; the Alle cinque e mezza tray for Serafino Zani; and Frame bag for Maharam.
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Z33 – House for Contemporary Art is a museum in Hasselt, Belgium. It was established in 2002 and runs an extensive programme of temporary exhibitions.
> constantly pushes at the boundaries of what is tasteful, comfortable and practical. “It is true, my designs are not for all and not for all the time, maybe for specific situations, exclusively for some, but that’s fine,” he says. “This ideal of design being something for all; I learned a long time ago that I’m not the one who has that magic touch.”
The Box chair is the one Grcic uses at his desk in the Munich office. Spread over two floors in a building close to the city central station, it has a pleasant clutter of paper models, prototypes, books and a workshop. Five designers work with him every day. “Office life is an energetic mixture of focus, ruptures and banalities, conscious decisions and unexpected coincidences, seriousness and nonsense,” says Grcic. “Ideas often come unexpectedly, and it can be jokes rather than historical reference or technological experiments that cause them.” If the office’s pace and atmosphere propel ideas forward, the Aalto apartment in Berlin is more attractive as a thinking space. Grcic moved in four years ago, coinciding nicely with the run-up to the Vitra Design Museum retrospective. It is a period in which Grcic has been able to think and reflect on his work with a distance that was not possible beforehand. A retrospective exhibition is relatively straightforward for a museum to produce. The objects to be exhibited are largely predetermined by the person’s career and typically come from few sources, making the loan process easier and therefore cheaper. Equally, the subject is normally of some renown, meaning a retrospective is often a shortcut to high visitor numbers. Yet despite these advantages, many museums seem to hesitate before representing a single person’s work and life, especially if that person is still active. Retrospectives bring their own challenges.
The first difficulty is one of priority. The featured designer should obviously be involved in the exhibition, if possible, but can’t be asked to write their own biography or place their work in design history. So, whose voice is the dominant one: the designer speaking about their work, or the curator celebrating and interpreting it? Furthermore, is critique even possible if the format suggests a public form of recognition and celebration? When the Design Museum in London celebrated the 80th birthday of founder and trustee designer Terence Conran in 2011 with an exhibition, The Way We Live Now, a critical analysis of his achievements was not forthcoming. Similarly, the exhibition on British architect Thomas Heatherwick at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2012 was described by several critics as promotion; an overwhelming number of projects confirmed the creativity and productivity of Heatherwick’s studio, but an analytical examination of that work was largely missing. The other extreme was a show on French designer Philippe Starck at Centre George Pompidou in 2003 – there was no work at all, just a circle of 12 talking heads (all Starck’s) in an empty gallery.
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Vitra Design Museum appointed a diverse curatorial team for the Grcic exhibition. It comprises museum director Mateo Kries, Z336 director Jan Boelen, and Grcic himself. “It made sense to include Konstantin in the process,” says Kries. “But, of course, we didn’t give him carte blanche.” The three not necessarily concerted voices secured a critical distance from the subject matter, opening up
This page and opposite: renderings produced by Grcic’s studio that demonstrate the installation spaces in his Panorama retrospective at the Vitra Design Museum. Work Space (left) includes Grcic’s Medici chair for Mattiazzi and Life Space (right) features OK and Mayday lamps for Flos. RENDERS © KGID
Grcic’s work for stimulating debate and productive friction. Grcic compares the process of exhibitionmaking to working with a furniture manufacturer: “a process where concepts change, get dismissed and develop.” This approach demands commitment. Three years is a long time for a designer but also for a museum, especially a relatively small institution such as Vitra Design Museum. It was Grcic who suggested understanding the exhibition as a design project, something valuable to his studio and which would challenge his thinking, assessments and speculations about the meaning of design, and its place and effects on society. Grcic’s co-curation is therefore driven by an interest in exploring new territories. “I wanted to learn something with this project,” he says. The curators decided that rather than offer a chronological overview of the studio’s work, the exhibition should provide an innovative canvas against which to show it. It is this “canvas” that became Grcic’s main preoccupation. The focus of the exhibition, titled Konstantin Grcic: Panorama, is on three immersive installations that present Grcic’s vision of life in a near future as well as his furniture and objects. The scale and focus is entirely new to Grcic, who hasn’t previously worked on interiors of this scope. The installations are focused on Life Space, Work Space and Public Space. But they don’t attempt to reproduce existing environments; they’re artificial, playing with the confusion between real and unreal, existing and imagined spaces.
In his research Grcic built up an image bank of curious interiors: sparsely furnished but heavily technically equipped cabins of round-the-world sailing boats; stills from low-budget sci-fi film Moon; an interior constructed from paper by artist Thomas Demand; da Messina’s painting of Jerome; artist Donald Judd’s studio in Marfa; a Pin-Up magazine editorial in which artist Shawn Maximo used Grcic’s furniture to construct futuristic computer-generated interiors; and an office 30m beneath Stockholm in a former nuclear shelter transformed by architect Albert FranceLanord. The slideshow brings French anthropologist Marc Augé’s 1995 book Non-Places to mind, where he argued that the anonymous spaces of supermodernity – airports, the bland interiors of hotel chains, supermarkets – are places where we “are always, and never, at home”. An observation that now rings even truer given the constant connectivity afforded by mobiles and tablets.
In Life Space, Grcic plans to reinterpret Saint Jerome’s study, the microarchitecture of which will become a built-in modular living unit with handles for easy removal and installation. It’s a sort of plug-in-and-play scenario, which can transform even the most stripped-back spaces into something resembling a place for living. In the background is a view of an airplane taxiing to gate, suggesting that our future living scenarios may take us out of the comfort of domestic spaces altogether. Work Space will be dominated by a large table/platform with finished work and unfinished prototypes of Grcic’s designs. A projection on the wall shows a collage of footage and images indicating design and production processes, as well as everyday life in the Munich office. But the environment – at least from the renders on Grcic’s computer – looks more like a bunker or a sci-fi film set in space. “It was important to invent scenarios that clearly indicate they are not in any way a representation of my private or work environments,” says Grcic. “That is not the type of show I am interested in.” The main element of Public Space prompted the exhibition’s title: >
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Grcic overlooking a print out demonstrating the 28m-long panorama that is present in the Public Space installation of his retrospective.
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“The exhibition allows me to pause and reflect on my work’s place in the world – this may sound pretentious, but you realise how small your contribution is.”
Opposite page: Grcic works from his Pallas table in the Berlin apartment. He designed the sheet metal table for ClassiCon in 2003.
> a 28m-long panorama painted by London concept artist Neil Campbell Ross. The painting will span the room’s perimeter, giving visitors the impression they are standing on a raised platform looking down at a fictional cityscape. This idea is emphasised by a high metal fence placed in front of the panorama. The space will be furnished with examples of signature Grcic pieces, the castaluminium Chair One for Magis and Landen outdoor seating. Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra commissioned Landen as a limited edition, but even this proved optimistic. It now only exists in two prototypes and one realised design. It is one of Grcic’s most uncompromising and experimental pieces, with four seats in a circle facing each other. Access is difficult and interaction between its users become unavoidable and somewhat forced. It’s a fitting object for the exhibition’s theme. Landen presents a provocative take on social interaction that jars against existing models. Grcic says he never intended to perfect a certain style, but a formal and aesthetic language is recognisable in his design. It derives from intense observations of social and cultural environments, detailed knowledge and experience of design and production processes, and inspiration drawn from visual culture. The temporary spaces at Vitra Design Museum will provide him with the medium to more clearly spell out these references. They will also enable a dialogue with visitors; the scenarios are open-ended rather than conclusive. “The exhibition allows me to pause and reflect on my work’s place in the world – this may sound pretentious, but you realise how small your contribution is,” says Grcic. “There is so much I haven’t done and will never be asked to do. By placing my work in the broadest social and cultural context, I have a chance to indicate where certain design ideas are coming from and how I would like to see the work understood.”
One senses that the exhibition’s futuristic theme isn’t just a response to the notion of a retrospective, but part of Grcic’s personal view of his work’s position in a changing industry. Grcic had the fortune of establishing his career as a furniture designer at a time when industry was blossoming and there was a clear focus on Italy as its geographical centre. This status quo is now being challenged. There are new manufacturing and consumer markets, new technologies, as well as a generation of young designers actively pursuing other ways of reaching those markets. “For a few years, I’ve become aware that there’s a gap or a disconnect between my way of thinking and doing things,” he says, “and what is happening with a younger generation of designers. I never thought that would happen. I feel quite old-school, almost modernist in my approach.”
Such reflectiveness has coincided with Grcic launching several designs influenced by past masters. Bench B in extruded aluminium for Spanish manufacturer BD Barcelona is a knowing hint to Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona chair; metal-wire furniture collection Traffic for Magis hints at a slimmed-down version of Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand’s 1928 Le Grand Confort series; and the OK lamp came out of a request from Grcic to revisit Castiglioni’s Parentesi lamp from 1972 for Italian lighting brand Flos, using LED. It’s an interesting response, even if indirect, to an exhibition preoccupied with future scenarios. Considering modern society’s domination by abstract and non-physical entities like digital networks and data, couldn’t designing furniture be considered somewhat old-fashioned? “I sometimes ask myself this question,” says Grcic. “But I realise furniture is what I am most interested in and love, as it is so close to our lives. Furniture is a representation of our time and of social change, whether in a contemporary piece, a Breuer chair or an ancient Egyptian stool – they are all fascinating in a way which I doubt telephones or other electronic objects will ever be, but I’m well aware of the changes that are happening in manufacturing, distributing and funding furniture with open >
NO COSY CORNERS
“Vico Magistretti always told me when I was at the RCA that a good design can be communicated over the phone.”
7 Konstantin Grcic’s website konstantin-grcic. com was designed by Alex Rich and Jürg Lehni (Field Trip).
Brianza is in Lombardy at the foot of the Alps in Italy, near Milan. It is the manufacturing home of major Italian furniture brands including Kartell, Magis, Cassina, Cappellini and B&B.
READING LIST KGID: Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design, Florian Bohm. Phaidon, 2007. Konstantin Grcic: Entretien avec Pierre Doze. Archibooks, 2010. Konstantin Grcic: Champions, Alex Coles. Couleurs Contemporaines, 2011. Talking Interiors with Konstantin Grcic was a talk at the RCA on 27 February 2014. A recording will be available on rca.ac.uk.
> source design and so on. The classic and hierarchical system is in fundamental transformation and I am following this with fascination.” He might be modernist in his approach to industrial manufacture, as he proclaims, but that shouldn’t be misunderstood as out of touch. Grcic actively engages with contemporary debates around architecture and design through books and magazines, traces of which are spread around his Berlin apartment. The Munich office has an extensive library and Grcic can often be found reading there after-hours, as much for leisure as education. “I don’t read a lot of fiction,” admits Grcic.
Visitors to the exhibition will leave its last scenario via a tiny space where Grcic has provided a filmed commentary about his work. It’s striking how precise he is when describing his projects, always sincere and always serious, never short on detail; the attitude extends to the studio’s website, a clearly communicated design project in and of itself.7 Though these platforms are key to how designers communicate their work, a surprising few make the most of it. On konstantingrcic.com, each entry has a concise text that seems to anticipate the motivation of its visitor, giving personal insights into a project’s origins and the thinking process behind the object. Grcic himself writes the website; it is personal without being soppy, and leaves out little detail. “Language plays a big role in the development of a project,” says Grcic. “I have almost stopped drawing, I don’t do it much anymore and only with my assistants. But even a sketch supports the spoken or written word. Vico Magistretti always told me when I was at the RCA that ‘a good design can be communicated over the phone’. There was no fax or email back then so the phone was a shortcut for him when he called up the prototype maker in Brianza.”8 Though clear communication is Grcic’s forte, he has never been tempted to write academically or to verbalise his ideas around the industry and profession. The Vitra Design Museum exhibition and the accompanying film and catalogue can therefore be considered Grcic’s thesis on design. Konstantin Grcic: Panorama is a deeply personal endeavour. It ignores – even rejects – conventions of retrospectives that attempt to strike a balance between narrative, analysis and celebration. The exhibition attests Grcic’s interest in and engagement with the spaces and fabrics of society. In creating scenarios specific in their setting, but vague in terms of time and place, the exhibition allows reading of the spaces as critique, proposal, alternative or commentary. It not only invites, but demands that visitors pause, reflect, consider and speculate. By critically interrogating Grcic’s work in a wider context, it may provoke reflection on what a retrospective can and should be.
A few weeks before the opening at Vitra Design Museum, Grcic visits his alma mater in London to talk to its students about his work. Naturally, the retrospective plays a big part in the lecture. He’s conscious of how close the exhibition is and in summing up his feelings for the show Grcic reflects rather pragmatically, admitting to the auditorium: “I’m anxious to see if it will work and whether it will work as an exhibition. It has been an adventure for me, its a terrain in which I’m a total beginner, but I wanted it to be like that. Even if the show comes out a complete disaster, I would have learned so much.”
Jana Scholze is a curator of contemporary furniture design at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Johanna Agerman Ross is the editor-in-chief of Disegno. Konstantin Grcic: Panorama is open at Vitra Design Museum until 14 September 2014.
78 Disegno. NO COSY CORNERS
Examples of Grcicâ€™s furniture design displayed on the balcony of his Berlin apartment. From left to right: the Miura table for Plank, the Venice chair for Magis, and Chair One for Magis.
NO COSY CORNERS
80 Disegno. THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
Colour in Design It is an often overlooked subject for discussion, yet can fundamentally alter the experience of design. We look at the thinking behind colour. WORDS Anna Bates PHOTOS Michael Bodiam SET DESIGN Sarah Parker
82 Disegno. COLOUR IN DESIGN
Wogg 57 bookends by Loris & Livia for Wogg. A reflection of Constance Guissetâ€™s Chantilly lamp for Moustache can be seen in the middle bookend.
COLOUR IN DESIGN
British designer Sebastian Wrong (b. 1971) was a founding member of Established & Sons and is now the creative director of Wrong for Hay.
Based in London, Sebastian Bergne (b. 1966) is known for his work for German plastics company Authentics, French home electronics brand Moulinex and Italian manufacturer Driade.
Founded in 1950 by Willi and Erika Fehlbaum, Vitra is a family-owned Swiss furniture manufacturer that has since expanded into all facets of interior and furniture design.
Hella Jongerius (b. 1963) is founder of Jongeriuslab. She combines traditional craftsmanship with industrial manufacturing and new technologies.
See p. 22.
84 Disegno. COLOUR IN DESIGN
rocess, materials, form, production: interview a designer and the same topics come up. You may hear about the concept behind a work or how a personal memory shaped a design. But there is one subject that typically remains untouched by interviewer and interviewee: colour.
Colour is a decision that confronts every design, yet it remains largely unspoken. “It is completely underappreciated and underwritten,” says Sebastian Wrong,1 creative director of Wrong for Hay. But the industry’s ambivalence towards colour extends beyond journalism and into design itself. While colour has a proven ability to affect our emotions, it is often an afterthought; something “left to the end”, according to Industrial Facility’s Sam Hecht. For most designers, colour’s characteristics, behaviour and material properties remain a mystery.
In part, the reason for this silence is because colour bows to the market. The colour of a product is frequently driven by commercial sense, rather than design thinking. “I worked for Authentics,” says industrial designer Sebastian Bergne,2 “and colour was really important for them, but mainly – as it turned out – in communications. Although they presented their products in 12 colours, they sold 80 per cent in blue, black or white.” Very slowly, these statistics have started to shift. Ten years ago, Swiss brand Vitra3 sold 90 per cent of its products in black, white or grey, and it offered a choice of just 10 colours. Now, it offers 28. “Something has changed,” says Dutch designer Hella Jongerius,4 the brand’s new art director for colours and surfaces. “They’re convinced there’s a market.” Yet the move towards colour is not based entirely on instinct. Vitra has recorded a 20 per cent decrease in the number of products bought in greyscale. It is not a huge shift, but one the brand deems significant enough to act on. A desire for colour has also trickled into the mainstream. When Apple debuted its coloured iPhones last year, only 10 per cent of customers bought white. “I think it’s coming from fashion,” says Bergne. “People are talking about colour in a way they didn’t used to – they are even aware of Pantone.” But if the market for colour is growing more sophisticated, how is the industry reacting?
An immediate issue for designers is the sheer freedom afforded by the variety of available colours. “Actually, the subject of colour makes us feel a bit… unbalanced,” says French designer Erwan Bouroullec.5 “In product design a lot of factors need to be taken into consideration, like cost and weight. But for colour, there are no parameters.” This never-ending wheel of possibilities is a space most designers feel uncomfortable with; dealing with colour is not a feature of their training. “We did a brief project with a colour wheel,” says Bergne, reflecting on his design-school years. “And after that you don’t address it.” >
Clockwise from top left: W103 lamp by Inga Sempé for Wästberg, Serve table by Wrong For Hay, Profil shelf by Jörg Schellmann for e15 and Pal stool by Hallgeir Homstvedt for One Nordic.
COLOUR IN DESIGN
Flare sideboard by Scholten & Baijings for Schรถnbuch, Chantilly lamp by Constance Guisset for Moustache and Ro armchair by Jaime Hayon for Fritz Hansen.
86 Disegno. COLOUR IN DESIGN
COLOUR IN DESIGN
In 1925 Le Corbusier outlined his Law of Ripolin: an enthusiastic appeal for a fictive law to whitewash all buildings and replace all interior decoration with a coat of white enamel paint.
Chromophobia is an abnormal fear of a specific colour or colours.
7 In 1931 Le Corbusier developed the 43-colour ‘claviers de couleurs’ system for the Salubra wallpaper company.
Italian furniture maker Cassina was established in Milan in 1927 by Cesare and Umberto Cassina.
Influential furniture and interior designer Verner Panton (1926-98) was known for his futuristic designs and experimental use of plastics.
10 The career of French designer Philippe Starck (b. 1949) encompasses interiors, architecture, industrial design and furniture. 11 London-born industrial designer Jasper Morrison (b. 1959) specialises in furniture and product design.
88 Disegno. COLOUR IN DESIGN
> Despite this educational lack, there have been various attempts throughout the 20th century to theorise colour in design. Among the most influential is that of Johannes Itten, an expressionist painter and Bauhaus master who was recruited by the school’s founder Walter Gropius in 1919. Itten held a view on colour that contrasted to the predominant thinking of the time, a position summed up by French artist Eugène Delacroix’s proclamation that “draftsmen may be made, but colourists are born”. Talent with colour was seen as a natural gift. Itten, however, disagreed. “Close study of the great master colourists has convinced me that all of them possessed a science of colour,” he wrote. Not only did Itten think such a science should be prioritised (“Colour is life; for a world without colours appears to us as dead,” he said), he also believed that it could be taught, and outlined a series of principles, aided by colour spheres, to do so. These theories were later compounded in the seminal book The Art of Colour: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Colour, first published in 1960.
Yet Itten’s views fell from favour at the Bauhaus. As Gropius shifted his focus towards new technologies, mass production, and collaboration with industry, the school moved out of line with Itten’s belief in the craftsperson as the true artist. When Itten resigned from the school in 1922, Gropius instead found inspiration in early modernist architects such as Le Corbusier, who held altogether different views on colour.
In 1925 Le Corbusier outlined his Law of Ripolin, an enthusiastic appeal for a fictive law to whitewash all buildings and replace all interior decoration with a coat of white enamel paint. “His home is made clean… then comes inner cleanness,” the architect stated. Le Corbusier’s desire for “whitewash” was part of his call for a new order of rationalism, purity and truth. Whiteness, according to Le Corbusier, was not just an aesthetic issue: architecture’s technical superiority and morality depended on it. Yet Le Corbusier’s rhetoric was so effective “that the discourse of modern architecture has almost entirely failed to notice that most of his buildings are in fact, coloured,” wrote the artist and critic David Batchelor in Chromophobia6 (2000). Although Le Corbusier introduced a system for colour7 – which is still in use today by brands such as Cassina8 – his application of it has been largely ignored. White was, as Batchelor describes: “an aesthetic fantasy, a fantasy so strong that it summons up negative hallucinations, so intense that it produces a blindness to colour, even when colour is literally in front of your face.” Postmodernist designers perpetuated this myth by rebelling against it. “There are an incredible number of people who fight against the use of colours. But there are also many who fight against common sense,” declared Danish designer Verner Panton9 in his 1997 retrospective Notes on Colour. The late 1960s were defined by student protests and calls for a new social order, and the brash colours of the commercial paint chart became the designer’s communication method of choice. Yet while the shouting continued, the message waned. The bold use of colour that had characterised postmodernism gradually lost its context and dribbled, unnoticed, into the early 1990s, where it became mainstream and a part of the work of commercial designers such as Philippe Starck.10 Colour became associated with throwaway culture and, more than this, was blamed for it. “Designers like Jasper Morrison11 began to point out that the profession was not creating objects that would travel through time,” says Erwan Bouroullec. “There was a desire to come back to a simple reality, to show how things are made – to try to tell a simple truth.” >
Hang It All coat hanger by Ray and Charles Eames, in a new colourway by Hella Jongerius for Vitra.
COLOUR IN DESIGN
In Chromophobia, David Batchelor complained about the “rhetorical subordination of colour to the rule of line and the higher concerns of the mind.”
London-based artist Sophie Smallhorn (b. 1971) was the colour consultant for the 2012 Olympic Stadium.
Corian is the brand name for a solid surface material created by DuPont, primarily used for kitchen countertops and in bathrooms.
Founded in 1978 by brothers Nevio and Fabiano, Mattiazzi is a family-owned Italian furniture manufacturer working in wood.
15 Founded in 1865, BASF (Badische Anilin& Soda-Fabrik) is the world’s largest chemical company.
Founded in 1994, Dutch company AkzoNobel produces industrial chemicals, decorative paints, coatings and refinishing products.
17 The Eames plastic armchair was first presented in 1948 in a competition for low cost furniture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The shell of the chair was made of fibreglass-reinforced plastic and was developed with the help of Zenith Plastics.
> So how do modern designers address colour in a way that departs from its past associations? What are the contemporary narratives for colour?
The key reference is to a notion of “honesty”, with many designers expressing a desire for colour to link to the origins of materials. “I think a product has a lot to do with telling the truth,” says Bouroullec. “In general, I don’t like anything with a coating. More and more we are surrounded by things that pretend they are something else: you hear the story of the kid who thinks peas grow from a container, but they will get the same idea about coated plastic. Does the gold come from plastic or is the plastic extracted from the gold? People need to understand the realities around them to make the right choice.”
Bouroullec is not alone. Sebastian Wrong’s current practice with Wrong for Hay is concerned with using materials such as stone and resin that have their own colour. Exploiting the natural colours of materials in this way has become a preferred methodology for many. When Sebastian Bergne recently collaborated with artist Sophie Smallhorn12 to create Colourware tableware – a range that began with colour as its concept – they, too, wound up working with raw materials: “At one point we wanted to use pigment, but actually that is pretty impractical and expensive,” says Bergne. “So we used materials that were solid colour – bronze, felt, Corian,13 wood.” Of course, specifying solid colours in this way is rarely an option in mass production. As such, designers need to develop strategies for translating this methodology to an industrial scale. When Sam Hecht designed his wooden Branca chairs for Mattiazzi,14 he only used colours that related to the real life of the material. All the Branca colours come from a single leaf, photographed across the seasons, and colour-matched by a paint supplier. With paints and stains now offering seemingly limitless colour options, a conceptual approach such as Hecht’s helps narrow the field.
A greater challenge is in determining what “honest” might mean when taken out of the context of raw materials and applied to things such as coatings, plastic or fabric. It is an open question as to whether designers have studied colour’s behaviours and chemical composition as closely as they have the qualities of, for instance, wood or metal. The question becomes one about the particularities of industrial colour.
Chemical companies such as BASF15 and AkzoNobel16 – makers of injection-moulded plastic, coatings, car paint and fabric dyestuff – have achieved what scientists have been striving for since the 18th century: to conquer the effects of metamerism, the phenomenon by which colour appears differently when exposed to different types of light. In achieving consistent colour, science has thwarted tricks of the eye and put an end to natural variations in our perception. In addition, companies have developed colour that is stable in different temperatures, fade-resistant, scratch-proof and wear-proof.
The benefits of this are obvious to anybody who has witnessed the graceless ageing of cheap, old plastic. Stable colour, which behaves the same in all locations, and under all light, has its benefits, especially when at the scale of a non-returnable sofa. But this pursuit of constant industrial colour has its critics. According to Hella Jongerius, it has neglected “the richness of the colour… to get a good colour, you need at least ten ingredients. Industrial colour uses around three”.
90 Disegno. COLOUR IN DESIGN
Rather than apply colour at the end – as is standard in design practice – Jongerius has made colour her point of departure. Growing out of her work with Vitra, she bemoans the loss of colour irregularities in the company’s Eames shell chairs,17 a change that occurred when their original fibreglass was replaced with plastic. Jongerius strives to work with colour in a way that gives it back the vibrancy it lost on its way from pigment, to chemical, to standardised synthetic colour.
Each of Jongerius’ Hopsack fabrics for Vitra is woven from several colours, making experience of them multi-layered and more intense. “I developed a number of duo tones by playing with the textile colour and fibre thickness,” she says. Elsewhere, Jongerius specifies that her plastics use polychrome colours – made of several tones – so what one person might perceive as one colour, someone else could perceive as another. The method brings some of the mystery back to colour. Far from the provocative use of bold colour favoured in the 1970s, Jongerius selects nuances of the same colour. “I don’t pick green, but greens; not red but reds,” she says. “I pick colours made of other colours; the grey is a bit green, or a bit blue – the colours whisper.” It is an approach shared by a growing number of designers: the Bouroullecs, Scholten & Baijings18 and Jongerius all work in what Erwan Bouroullec calls a “shade manner”.
“Colour is tinting things, instead of being itself,” says trend forecaster and former Design Academy Eindhoven chair Li Edelkoort.19 “It’s the ultimate sophistication. Each year, it’s almost as if our retina is able to see more.” Edelkoort says designers seem ever more able to materialise shades between shades.
Bouroullec’s shade manner is a “post-icon” approach to colour – one that celebrates harmonies and compositions of shades in furniture, rather than the postmodernist’s love of a powerful note. “I think we are in a time in which we try to think of the long-term and be less provocative,” he says. His hope is that this quieter approach to colour will endure. If Verner Panton’s philosophy was that “one sits more comfortably on a colour that one likes”, designers such as Jongerius seem to think that you will sit for longer in a room surrounded by layers of your favourite shade.
Founded in 2000 by Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings, Scholten & Baijings is defined by its design handwriting of colour, craftsmanship and asymmetrical patterns. Li Edelkoort (b. 1950) is director of Studio Edelkoort, founder of Trend Union, and art director and co-publisher of colour-trend magazine View on Colour.
Founded in 1925 as an independent European quality-assurance organisation, RAL is a colour-matching system used for varnish and powder-coating.
Dutch studio Scholten & Baijings has perhaps pushed this approach the furthest. While the studio works in a fashion similar to Jongerius and the Bouroullecs, it is fascinated by how interest and longevity can emerge from new and unexpected juxtapositions. “There are so many options now, you can count RAL20 colours like mad,” says Stefan Scholten. “But it is very difficult to come up with something original.” It’s no surprise, then, that the studio’s distinctive aesthetic of gradients and lines arose from error. “We were trying to weave from orange to blue, but it didn’t work out,” says Scholten. “There were mistakes with bright stripes and suddenly a colour block. It was really frustrating. Then a friend saw the fabric and said, ‘This is really nice – this gradient with these errors.’ It sounds silly, but we needed these errors. We’re both perfectionists, and the errors provided us with new knowledge.” In Chromophobia, David Batchelor complained about the “rhetorical subordination of colour to the rule of line and the higher concerns of the mind. No longer intoxicating, narcotic or orgasmic, colour is learned, ordered, subordinated and tamed. Broken.” The point is simple. We are raised on colouring books and paint-by-numbers, and grow up prioritising form, borders and lines. Particularly in the design industry, use of colour is held prisoner within this structure. But by enabling accidents and ignoring hierarchies – in working in a way that is intuitive – Scholten & Baijings has successfully learned to work with and in colour, rather than control it.
The duo takes an atelier approach. Never working with RAL charts, they start with materials. “We do lots of hands-on studies, with paints and marker and lipstick – whatever. We just try different textures and colours, to see what goes together and what doesn’t,” says Scholten. “We add filters and layers. Then we look and we ask: how can we do this in industry? Is it spray paint? Can we print it?” The studio works extensively with coverings and coatings, and has exploited new technical innovations such as digital printing, which allows them to print onto wood, like with an ink-jet printer. It is a technique that enables colour-fading and sharp lines that were only previously possible using masking tape and complex spray painting. >
COLOUR IN DESIGN
92 Disegno. COLOUR IN DESIGN
Opposite page: Bento chair by Form Us With Love for One Nordic. This page: Colour glass by Scholten & Baijings for Hay.
COLOUR IN DESIGN
Opposite page: Colour Wood table (bottom) by Scholten & Baijings for Karimoku New Standard, from Twentytwentyone.com. Block table (top) by Simon Legald for Normann Copenhagen.
Inga Sempé (b. 1968) specialises in furniture, lighting, objects and fabrics. She formed her studio in 2000 and has worked with Cappellini, Edra and Ligne Roset.
Karimoku has specialised in woodenfurniture manufacturing for 70 years. Its New Standard was launched in 2009 under the creative direction of Teruhiro Yanagihara, featuring collaborations with emerging young talent.
READING LIST Chromophobia, David Batchelor. Reaktion, 2000. White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture, Mark Wigley. MIT Press 2001. The Art of Colour: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Colour, Johannes Itten. Wiley, 1974.
Thank you to Santucci & Co and Carole Lambert, agents for photographer and stylist. ASSISTANT Will Bunce DIGIOP Rhys Thorpe RETOUCHING Robert Moore Studio
“People live in small spaces... to live with lots of different colours you need space; colour is a luxury for people who can afford it.”
> The results of their work – pastel shades next to fluorescents; bright greens contrasting with luminous pinks; and black bleeding into pastel pink and mustard yellow – make the viewer study colour and see things in the combinations they hadn’t previously considered. Combined with the way it materialises colour, using irregular dying processes and gradient work, the studio has brought a new aspect to the industry’s treatment of colour. It is a point reinforced by Li Edelkoort’s assessment of this use of muted fluorescents with neutrals: “They’ve somehow single-handedly made the whole world wear fluorescent sneakers. It’s very rare that what happens in interior design goes outside [the industry]; usually it is fashion influencing design.”
Despite Edelkoort’s praise for the studio, wider research into and work with colour is laced with problems. One of the principal complicating factors is a limited colour choice for certain materials. Many designers innovate with new materials, but there are often very few colours available in such cases. And the market frequently dictates. For example, the RAL palette for metal coating is highly reduced: “You can only have the small RAL – they have a lot of yellows, but no light blue,” says French product and furniture designer Inga Sempé.21 Inevitably, colours that are in stock and available quickly and cheaply tend to be the most ubiquitous.
Further to the logistical issues, technical points rear their heads with particular materials. “Textiles are the hardest,” says Scholten. “You choose the colour you like – but whether you have a smooth or reflective textile influences it, as does whether it’s polyester or wool. These combinations can reflect the same red in 50 different shades. There’s a lot of communication involved – if you choose a colour, someone else does the dyeing. But what language do you even use for colour? You go back and forth… then you start weaving, and weaving gives ‘air’ to colour, which influences it too.”
Predicting how materials will materialise is near-impossible – a situation particularly true of pottery glazes – while others, such as plastic, are technically difficult to work with. An interested client is essential, as the risks when it comes to mass production are considerable. “In plastics, for each colour you choose, you have to make a minimum run, which is 10,000,” says Sebastian Bergne. Get the colour wrong, and you are left with a lot of stock you can’t shift. “You start to see why the world is not so colourful,” says Scholten.
Designers are further constrained in their experiments with colour by consumer realities. “There are many colours, but it is a fake freedom,” warns Sempé. “People live in small spaces, and to live with lots of different colours you need space; colour is a luxury for people who can afford it.” It is for this reason that a lot of the brave work done in colour is on the scale of tableware, teacloths, throws – “Things you can put away,” as Scholten puts it.
With these factors in mind, it becomes complicated to predict what will happen next in the development of colour. On the scale of the designer, the emphasis seems to be on experimentation: “It is our job to push industry,” says Jongerius. While the work of Jongerius and her contemporaries no doubt encourages industry to research the quality and materiality of colour, and demonstrates that consumers aren’t as limited in their tastes as previously considered, it is a small area of a big picture. Brands exhibiting at design fairs such as Paris and Stockholm earlier this year were strong on neutrals; even those who pride themselves on their colourful collections.
“Colour or colourfulness to me is not a sustainable concept,” says David Glaettli, creative director of Karimoku New Standard,22 a Japanese brand that makes heavy use of colour, but which recently moved into naturally finished products. The intention, Glaettli says, has been to deepen Karimoku’s collection, and make “timeless” and “truly lasting” products that are accessible to an international audience from Japan to Europe. It’s not an easy task, he says: “The markets are so fundamentally different.” Cultures experience colours differently; and within each culture, how people feel about colour changes. Because our perception of colour is emotional, its appeal is individual. The use of colour, as far as industry is concerned, will always be imprisoned by this scale.
Anna Bates is a design writer. She is launching the magazine Dirty Furniture this spring.
94 Disegno. COLOUR IN DESIGN
COLOUR IN DESIGN
96 Disegno. THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
The Centenary of Lina Bo Bardi A mid-20th-century architect and designer, Lina Bo Bardi is only now gaining the recognition she deserves. New exhibitions and furniture editions join her building projects in Bo Bardiâ€™s adopted home of Brazil, testifying to her architecture of freedom, flexibility and democracy. WORDS Edwin Heathcote PHOTOS Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi
98 Disegno. THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
An interior view photomontage of Bo Bardi’s Museu à Beira do Oceano, 1951. The museum was an unrealised project for Sã Vicente. Bo Bardi adopted elements of the design for her 1968 MASP museum.
THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
L 1 John Cage (1912-92) was an American composer, artist and music theorist.
Brutalism was coined by English architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1953 as a derivation of the French béton brut: exposed concrete.
3 A belvedere is a structure built to take in a view. The one in Trianon Park, São Paulo was protected so MASP was built around it. 4
See p. 198.
Irish modernist architect and designer Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was known for the Bibendum Chair.
Storefront for Art and Architecture is a nonprofit organisation founded in 1982 by architect Kyong Park.
7 The British Council was founded in 1934 as the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries.
The Insides are on the Outside was a 2012 exhibition with work by artists and architects inspired by Bo Bardi.
Arper is an Italian furniture brand founded by Luigi Feltrin in 1989.
ina Bo Bardi once told a story about composer and musician John Cage.1 He was being driven down São Paulo’s Avenida Paulista when he suddenly asked the driver to stop outside the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), a brutalist2 building designed by Bo Bardi and completed in 1968. Cage walked the length of the belvedere3 that runs beneath and around the massive concrete structure, flung his arms out wide and shouted: “This is the architecture of freedom!”
What architect wouldn’t delight in telling that story? But in Bo Bardi’s case, it seems more justified and less self-aggrandising than it might from others. Hers really was an architecture of freedom, of democracy. It was an architecture that allowed its users to adapt, inhabit and feel it was theirs.
Lina Bo Bardi (1914-92) was one of the great architects of the 20th century. Along with Charlotte Perriand4 and Eileen Gray,5 she was one of the pioneering women of modernism and designed some of Brazil’s most popular, striking and enduring modernist masterpieces. Although her works have always been a bedrock reference of South American architecture, they have been largely unheralded elsewhere. Now, however, they are finding an international audience. The widespread acclaim that evaded Bo Bardi in her lifetime is beginning to accrue.
In December last year New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture6 held a 99th birthday party for Bo Bardi, while the exhibition Lina Bo Bardi: Together – which debuted incongruously outside London’s chilly British Council7 offices in 2012 – is now touring Europe. Elsewhere, Rowan Moore’s book Why We Build (2012) used Bo Bardi as the central figure to explain its theory of how a more humane modernism might illuminate our lives, and in 2013 Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist staged an art exhibition8 at Bo Bardi’s São Paulo house, Casa de Vidro.
Even Bo Bardi’s original work has begun to be reproduced. Last year the Italian manufacturer Arper9 launched an edition of her prototype Bowl Chair, while Izé10 has commercially developed the horn-like door handles she designed for Casa de Vidro. Such a reversal in Bo Bardi’s standing 22 years after her death is an extraordinary development. What is it that makes her so relevant to contemporary design and architecture practice? Bo Bardi (née Achillina Bo) was born in Rome, where she gained a degree in architecture. After graduation she moved to Milan and worked for architect Carlo Pagani11 and later with the great architectural polymath Gio Ponti.12 In Milan, Bo Bardi combined her architectural work with a writing career, assuming the role of deputy director of Domus magazine in 1943. But fascism and the wartime years were not conducive to the practice or everyday life of an architect, a situation exacerbated by Bo Bardi’s membership of the Italian Communist Party.13 So, despite becoming involved in the planning of Italy’s post-war reconstruction, in 1946 Bo Bardi moved to Brazil >
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Lina Bo Bardi in Kamakura, Japan, 1978.
THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
Although her works have always been a bedrock reference of South American architecture, they have been largely unheralded elsewhere.
10 British firm Izé, founded by Edwin Heathcote in 2001, specialises in architectural fittings. 11 Carlo Pagani is an Italian architect who co-founded the practice Studio Bo e Pagani in 1940 with his then girlfriend, Bo Bardi. 12 Gio Ponti (1891-1979) was an Italian architect, designer, artist and co-founder of the magazine Domus. He built the Pirelli tower in Milan with Pier Luigi Nervi.
The Italian Communist Party was founded in 1921. Outlawed under fascism, it played a major role in the resistance and was the strongest leftist party after the second world war.
Italian-born Pietro Maria Bardi (1900-99) was a controversial figure in the Brazilian art community who wanted to modernise and popularise art museums.
15 Paulo Mendes da Rocha (b. 1928) is a Brazilian architect known for his concrete buildings. He won the Pritzker in 2006.
Brasil Arquitetura is a São Paulo architectural practice founded in 1979.
> after her husband, Pietro Maria Bardi,14 was offered the opportunity to establish a new museum of art in São Paulo: MASP. Almost immediately, she embarked on her first Brazilian project – the design of their home. The result was Casa de Vidro, a cocktail of European styles and the beginnings of a tropical flavour. Sandwiched between two slender slabs of concrete is a glass-clad interior, the sheet walls of which slide back to open the rooms out to the Mata Atlântica rainforest.
When Casa de Vidro was completed in 1951, the house was on the outskirts of the city; the area has since been subsumed into São Paulo as an upmarket villa quarter. It is a beautiful building, a modernist dream enabled by Brazil’s climate, where the warmth and lack of wind lets the thinnest of walls and the flimsiest of junctions come together in an ethereal, almost-absent envelope. Bo Bardi seems to have learnt from Ponti how to handle the juxtaposition between minimal modernism and the more personal artefacts of everyday and sentimental life. The antique sculptures, paintings and furniture that sit within Casa de Vidro create an interior landscape that contrasts against its setting of a cool, clear modernism. But the house represents the architecture of a designer still searching for her style. Later works would show that Bo Bardi needed the challenge of public space and engagement with the public realm to animate her ideas. Her house, exquisite as it may seem, is not her best or most striking work. That honour falls to MASP, the building in which she seemed to find her métier. Bo Bardi began work on the museum in 1957, commissioned to provide a permanent base for the museum that her husband had moved to Brazil to found. It may seem a striking example of nepotism, but Bo Bardi proved herself on the commission. Designed as a massive beam, the building extends over a huge expanse of concrete; an unusual choice given that MASP was built on a site where there was no real need to save space. Yet in elevating the building, Bo Bardi created a shaded public plaza below it, ensuring that this exclusive gallery embraced an inclusive space.
MASP’s plaza is a truly communal space. Some days, every inch is used as an antiques market, while on others it is a site for picnics or public protests. It is a space that is alive and vital. MASP’s massive concrete is powerful and, arguably, coarse and intimidating, but its rawness fits comfortably into the Paulista tradition, a school including Paolo Mendes da Rocha15 and Brasil Arquitetura,16 a practice founded by former Bo Bardi employees Marcelo Ferraz and Francisco Fanucci.
The museum’s presence in the urban landscape is striking, but in museological terms its greatest achievement was the interior. Here, Bo Bardi designed an internal landscape of pictures set into glass upstands; artworks were not displayed on walls, but rather as a field of layered images. Each step through this landscape introduced new relationships, with some pictures coming into view and others disappearing. Similarly, the route through the gallery was not dictated; >
102 Disegno. THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
Casa de Vidro, 1951. PHOTO Peter Scheier
THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
SANAA is an architecture firm in Tokyo. Founded in 1995 by Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966) and Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956), it won the Pritzker Prize in 2010.
This quote is from Bo Bardi’s final lecture, at Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade de São Paulo on 14 April 1989.
Metabolism was a Japanese architectural movement of the 1950s to 1970s based on ideas of organic biological growth.
Archigram was a group of avant-garde London architects promoting playful visions of a technocratic future in the 1960s and ’70s. 20
English architect Cedric Price (1934-2003) was famous for his influential, but unbuilt, Fun Palace project of 1960-61.
> visitors were encouraged to meander, making new, personal connections between the works. It is a tragedy that the current director removed these glass upstands, installing a more conventional series of dim, walled-in boxes. Bo Bardi’s design does have a kind of afterlife, however. SANAA’s17 interior for its new Louvre at Lens in northern France adopted some of its ideas, displaying artefacts in a continuous landscape such that they can be taken in one broad, visual sweep; or wandered between, each time creating new connections between disparate objects and periods. But how did Bo Bardi make the jump from the sleek minimalism of her Casa de Vidro to the brutalist urban engagement of MASP and her subsequent projects? “When you design something,” she once said, “it is important that it makes something that ‘works’, that has some connotation of use, of function. It is essential that the design does not simply fall out of the sky onto the heads of the ‘inhabitants’ but expresses some truth, a necessity.”18
To begin to understand what makes the architecture of Bo Bardi so different, so appealing and so enduring, it is instructive to look at one building in particular, SESC Pompeia in São Paulo. This building, or rather series of buildings, seems to prefigure many of the concerns of contemporary architecture – from adaptive re-use, to bottom-up adaptation – while also referring to avantgarde architecture from Le Corbusier to metabolism,19 and even Archigram20 and Cedric Price21 in Britain. In the SESC Pompeia, Bo Bardi blended all of these influences into a humane conception of architecture as a social – and socialist – good.
The SESC was established in 1977 on the site of a former barrel factory in central São Paulo. In designing the complex, a social centre, Bo Bardi eschewed the obvious option of demolishing the industrial buildings that already existed on the plot and instead retained and built around them. It was a decision that foreshadowed the current trend for reusing industrial infrastructure, but which had no sense of fetishisation of “the original” or “the authentic”. Instead, Bo Bardi weaved the new into the old, creating a fluid landscape and a resolutely public space. A small stream was created that runs through the reused factory space, and she designed chunky, robust furniture that is now populated by people playing chess, reading newspapers or eating sandwiches. It is more alive than any public institution I have ever seen; more a district than a building. >
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Opposite page: Sports Block, SESC, Fábrica da Pompéia. PHOTO Marcelo C. Ferraz This page: Reading lounges, SESC, Fábrica da Pompéia.
THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
MASP, 1970. PHOTO Luiz Hossaka
106 Disegno. THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
Bo Bardi had no single style and no particular method. Each building was approached afresh, and each was the recipient of its own architectural language.
22 Marcelo Carvalho Ferraz (b. 1955) is a graduate of the College of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of São Paulo.
> Curiously, however, SESC Pompeia is not a conventionally beautiful work. It is a piece of 1970s brutalism, the kind of architecture that often appeals to architects but appalls everyone else. The new blocks Bo Bardi designed for the project are stark concrete masses, with the occasional blobshaped opening torn out of their walls. Rather than its aesthetic, the SESC’s attraction lies in its mix of uses and the life that occurs within the interstices that lay between its industrial structures and new buildings. The smells of coffee and baking; of sun-tan oil on old ladies basking on the boardwalk; the hint of chlorine from the pools; and rubber and sweat from the basketball courts all merging in a mélange of life being enjoyed. It is, in a way, a reflection of a socialist dream that never happened – the factory as joyful social centre, a site of equality and happiness in which it is a pleasure to come to work each day. That the SESC serves as an image of a place in which social divisions crumble and life is lived communally and joyfully is no accident. It is a point that Marcelo Ferraz,22 one of the architects who worked with Bo Bardi on the SESC, is keen to enforce. “Instead of a ‘sporting and cultural’ centre, we began to use the term ‘leisure’ centre,” says Ferraz. “‘Cultural’, said Lina, ‘is too weighty, and can make people think they should perform cultural activities by decree. And that can lead to inhibition or traumatised dullness.’ She said the word ‘culture’ should be put in quarantine, given some rest, left to recover its meaning and depth. And the term ‘sporting’ implied competition and dispute – which she considered a harmful tendency in a society already excessively competitive. It would just be ‘leisure’, therefore.’”
The SESC is, of course, only a small part of Bo Bardi’s oeuvre, which is not an easy one to pin down. Bo Bardi had no single style and no particular method. Each building was approached afresh, and each was the recipient of its own architectural language. Indeed, the differences between the slender structure of Casa de Vidro, the chunky concrete of SESC Pompeia, and the structural bravado of MASP in downtown São Paulo are more striking than the similarities. This lack of a coherent, identifiable style might account in part for why there has been a slow build-up to real international recognition for Bo Bardi’s brilliance.
Yet it is this same flexibility that accounts in part for Bo Bardi’s renaissance. Her practice seems to resonate with a contemporary audience, with architects now searching for models that let people actively participate in architecture, rather than dictating specific uses. Similarly, they are considering how existing buildings might be woven back into the city without fetishising their age or their aesthetics, while debates about the nature of public space and encroaching privatisation remain prevalent. As architects struggle with all of these issues, up pops the spectre of Bo Bardi to give us hints along the way.
108 Disegno. THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
To an extent the reassessment of Bo Bardi is part of a wider appreciation for the role that women architects and designers played in the development of modernism. Alongside renewed interest in Perriand and Gray – designers whose desire to create a more humane version of modernism inevitably parallels them to Bo Bardi – the realisation of her talents is partly a product of our times, an overdue correction of a patriarchal history of architecture. Yet Bo Bardi’s sheer adaptability separates her from her contemporaries. Just as the heft and mass of MASP and SESC Pompeia tied them to the Paulista tradition of robust urbanity, Bo Bardi was able to embrace local materials and vernacular production methods and styles wherever she worked. In Brazilian colonial capital Salvador, where Bo Bardi lived and worked between 1959 and 1964, she became entranced by local crafts. The central stair of her Solar do Unhão Museum23 in Salvador was designed as a squared wooden spiral, a form inspired by a local craft technique for making wagon wheels.
23 Solar do Unhão is a complex in Bahia, Brazil, which houses the Museum of Modern Art. Restored by Bo Bardi, the museum opened in 1969.
Noemi Blager (b. 1960) is acting director of the Architecture Foundation in London. She has previously worked for Sheppard Robson and Rafael Viñoly Architects.
Such an ability to respond to constraints and circumstance is also evident in Bo Bardi’s product design. The Bowl Chair, created in 1951 for Casa de Vidro, is a simple design that predates and prefigures many of the more familiar modernist designs that it superficially resembles. “The chair is kind of Lina’s philosophy made concrete,” says Marco Benvegnu, brand manager at Arper, the company that has developed the chair from Bo Bardi’s original prototypes. “With this chair she was trying a very simple design that it would be possible to realise in Brazil with very basic facilities.” Just as she did with her architecture, Bo Bardi left the chair open to adaptation. The form of the chair is very simple – a circular wire frame on four legs into which a stiff bowlshaped cushion is inserted. This bowl can then be moved so that the chair becomes either forward-facing or something you can collapse into. It is, Benvegnu says, a simple, somewhat naive design. “It’s obvious she wasn’t a product designer,” he says. “There are other designs that are far more sophisticated than the Bowl Chair, but in terms of the concept it is very contemporary. She was looking for something useful – not something fantastical.”
It is that designed-in flexibility, a certain looseness in Bo Bardi’s work, that can be hard for bigger manufacturers to handle. “What she designed wasn’t always beautiful,” says Argentine architect Noemi Blager,24 curator of the Lina Bo Bardi: Together exhibition. “It was meant to improve peoples’ lives, to make them feel better about themselves. She listened, observed and absorbed everything.”
This sensibility drove Bo Bardi to determinedly avoid designing for an elite, as SESC Pompeia so notably illustrates. Social concerns were at the heart of all her projects. Izé’s recent revival of the door handles Bo Bardi designed for Casa de Vidro is a case in point. The handle is a curious shape and resembles a kind of animal horn when seen head on; in pairs, they look like Picasso-esque >
THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
Rather than moving towards Bo Bardi’s ideal, design has been ghettoised. It is a situation that would have concerned Bo Bardi, someone who managed to create an architecture for the masses with none of the self-righteous proselytising the phrase suggests.
The Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi has been headquartered at Casa de Vidro since 1995.
26 German architect and founder of the Bauhaus school Walter Gropius (1883-1969) is credited as a pioneering father of modern architecture. 27 Staatliches Bauhaus was founded in Germany in 1919 with the aim of creating a total work of art, where disciplines could collaborate.
READING LIST Stones Against Diamonds, Lina Bo Bardi. AA Publications, 2012. Lina Bo Bardi, Zeuler Rm De A. Lima. Yale University Press, 2013. Lina Bo Bardi, Lina Bo Bardi and Marcelo Carvalho Ferraz. Edizioni Charta, 1996.
> bullhorns. They are small, modest items, but their return to manufacture is vital. Bo Bardi had always intended them to become mass-production items, but never succeeded in bringing them to market. Like the Bowl Chair, the handles’ commercial emergence is a fulfillment of Bo Bardi’s original design ethos. She was always concerned with her designs reaching and serving the public. Whilst the proceeds from both the chair and handles will help maintain the Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi,25 there must be a sense of regret that these objects will now exist in a kind of design bubble. Arper’s chair is being produced in a limited edition, while the handles are a small-batch production and so unlikely to find their way into the public buildings that would have cheered the architect’s heart. Rather than moving towards Bo Bardi’s ideal, design has been ghettoised. It is a situation that would have concerned Bo Bardi, someone who managed to create an architecture for the masses with none of the self-righteous proselytising the phrase suggests.
In a talk given in 1990, two years before her death, Bo Bardi commented: “Unfortunately (or fortunately)… design has had its day. What was seen as the means to save humanity back in the 1930s – the time of Gropius26 and the Bauhaus,27 the time of the great architects – what was once a great Pacific Ocean, has become a puddle in a dirty pothole in the middle of the road. That’s where international design is at today: it’s over, in that it’s no longer our route to salvation – no one can be saved by a design.” She went on to ask: “Can a beautiful glass quench your thirst? Can a beautiful plate or chair save us from hunger or misery, sickness, ignorance or unemployment? This is the big flaw. It was a beautiful dream, but it was just a dream.” Yet Bo Bardi’s legacy proves a panacea to this bleak assessment. In fact her buildings should give designers hope. Her architecture wasn’t about beauty, it was about society. Marcelo Ferraz tells it like this: “When asked about the role of architecture by students who visited SESC Pompeia in the 1980s, Lina said, referring specifically to the Centre: ‘Architecture for me is to see an old man or a child with a full plate of food walking elegantly across our restaurant, looking for a place to sit at a communal table.’ And then she added, in a voice that conveyed a life given to work and to a dream of a better world: ‘We had a socialist experiment here.’”
Edwin Heathcote is architecture correspondent for the Financial Times and author of The Meaning of Home (2012).
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Bardiâ€™s Bowl, 1950. PHOTO Francisco Albuquerque
THE CENTENARY OF LINA BO BARDI
112 Disegno. THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
White embellished plastic coat and ivory satin side pleats slip by Simone Rocha.
114 Disegno. SEEING THROUGH
Seeing Through Transparency in fashion is not always about straightforward exposure. It can reveal as much about the designer as it does the body beneath the clothes. WORDS Tamsin Blanchard PHOTOS Ina Jang
A 1 Antonio Berardi (b. 1968) is a British designer of Sicilian descent. He launched his label in 1995.
French designer Hedi Slimane (b. 1968) became creative director of Saint Laurent in 2012.
Irish-born designer Simone Rocha (b. 1986) graduated from Central Saint Martin’s MA in fashion in 2010.
4 London-based Erdem Moralioğlu (b. 1977), known as Erdem, started his label in 2005.
Italian-born designer Giambattista Valli (b. 1966) debuted his label in 2005.
Phillip Lim (b. 1973) is an American designer of Chinese descent.
7 Scottish designer Christopher Kane (b. 1982) established his namesake label in 2006.
Italian designer Riccardo Tisci (b. 1974) joined Givenchy as creative director in 2005.
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veil can be a seductive thing. As a child, fashion designer Antonio Berardi1 went on annual visits from his home in Lincolnshire to visit his grandparents in Sicily, where the veils the women wore to church on Sunday had a profound influence on him.
“Back then, women had to wear black veils as a sign of respect,” he says. “My mum had veils for church, funerals, certain outfits.” These days, whenever he is asked to design a wedding dress, he insists that the bride wear a veil. “There’s something delicate, untouchable and pure about a veil.” It has something to do, he says, with Catholic guilt. “It is part and parcel of how I was brought up.” The veil – in the form of transparent and sheer fabrics – has become part of Berardi’s fashion vocabulary, a way of making women seem untouchable. He has adapted its use to both reveal and hide parts of the body, a theme he most famously employed with Gwyneth Paltrow at the premiere of Iron Man 3 in 2013. Paltrow’s dress was a simple derivative of those Berardi had shown two months earlier in his autumn/winter 2013 collection, but the garment only attracted major media attention when worn by her; the sheer side panels that ran its length gaining definition through her body. “That dress was just meant to be provocative enough to hint at something,” says Berardi.
The language of sheer is nothing new. In 1968, Yves Saint Laurent shocked his audience with bare breasts under fine black chiffon blouses. The “see-through dress” from his winter 1968 collection was sheer but for the ring of black ostrich feathers that covered its waist, while the lace-back dress from his 1940s-inspired collection in 1971 fetishised its wearer’s back, with a lace insert that plunged to the base of the spine. Hedi Slimane,2 Saint Laurent’s current designer, has resurrected the sheer blouses in his most recent collections for the house. On catwalks, sheer fabrics, barely-there tulles and delicate chiffons are now commonplace. For spring/summer 2014, they featured in the collection of Simone Rocha,3 who used a delicate chiffon blouse to contrast with a heavier, weightier skirt; while Erdem Moralioğlu4 made copious use of lightweight fabrics, describing his collection as “something ghostly… The woman is a shadow.” Other designers made similar use of the contrast between opaque and sheer, including Giambattista Valli,5 Phillip Lim6 and Christopher Kane.7 For Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci8 used tulle to obscure his models’ legs, creating a sheer skirt that has attracted the title “leg veil”.
Transparency leaves the maker – as well as the wearer – nowhere to hide, providing the designer with a way of exposing something of the way they work; the exposed innards of a garment can be just as important as the finished seams on the outside. Every seam, stitch and contour has to be finished to perfection because it will be on display. “There’s an old couture technique where you have a seam on tulle and you cut away the excess on each side and it becomes almost transparent,” says Berardi, who uses the technique if he wants a garment to look fine and delicate. >
Black blouse with ruffles in mousseline and black trousers with satin panels by Saint Laurent.
This page: Dress by Giambattista Valli. Opposite Page: Nude glitter long-sleeve top and black neoprene two-pockets skirt by Simone Rocha.
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Transparency leaves the maker – as well as the wearer – nowhere to hide, providing the designer with a way of exposing something of the way they work; the exposed innards of a garment can be just as important as the finished seams on the outside.
The exhibition runs from 5 April to 27 July 2014.
10 Antonio Marras (b. 1961) is a fashion designer with Sardinian roots. He launched his eponymous label in 1999.
READING LIST Fetishism in Fashion, Lidewij Edelkoort. Frame, 2013. The Anatomy of Fashion: Why We Dress The Way We Do, Colin McDowell. Phaidon, 2013. Antonio Berardi: Sex and Sensibility, Tamsin Blanchard. Thames & Hudson, 1999.
> Such a seam is delicate and won’t take much wear and tear, but its achievement is important to Berardi. “If you see the seams, it takes away the magic.”
For Erdem’s spring/summer 2014 collection, the use of transparent fabrics was a way of layering texture and meaning into his clothes. “It was very much about the juxtaposition of opposing references – and the idea of lightness was important,” says the designer, who laser cut one organza dress with multiple dots in order to mimic the perforations of a basketball jersey. Yet despite the ethereal quality of the show, his collection was inspired by school uniform. “There was the idea of floatiness and transparency, but I loved the idea of schoolboy shirts that became a diaphanous floating dress,” he says. “There’s a sweatshirt but it has been made of organza flowers, ostrich feathers, crests and shirt tails.” A delicate lace dress was worn over a white school shirt, giving it a very different look. “The suggestion of something is always so much more interesting than something laid bare,” he says.
Transparency offers a challenge, something that Erdem and other designers are keen to take up. When the Victoria & Albert Museum’s (V&A) fashion and textiles curator Sonnet Stanfill was researching for the London museum’s exhibition The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014,9 she found herself in Rome at the haute-couture atelier of Valentino. Two pieces in the exhibition make a feature of the flesh beneath the dress, with one coming from Valentino’s spring/summer 2014 Cabinet of Curiosities collection. “It is lace,” says Stanfill. “Transparent except for these roundels of silk, which go down the front of the dress.” The roundels are placed at strategic points to protect the wearer’s modesty and feature motifs from the natural world, but the rest of the dress is seethrough. “You don’t see private bits but you see the flesh because the lace is stitched on over tulle, so there is always coverage but it’s transparent,” says Stanfill. The dress is all about showing off craftsmanship. “There is not a machine in sight in the atelier and everything is made by hand, including much of the embroidery, which is done in-house. I was able to get up close to some of the gowns and there is so much surface embroidery, but you can barely see the stitching that fuses it to the garment.” By stitching the appliqué and lace directly onto the organza mesh, the clothes take on an otherworldliness and sense of impossible perfection.
The other dress in the V&A show that features transparency is by Antonio Marras.10 It has a seethrough appliqué of PVC – a retro, 1960s touch from an era when PVC symbolised all things futuristic and space age. Neither Marras’ nor Valentino’s dresses, are overtly sexual. Even with Berardi’s Paltrow dress, the idea seems to be to shroud the flesh in such a way as to create shadow, rather than simply reveal skin. “In some ways transparency is more naughty than the actual flesh,” observes Stanfill, “because there is this frisson that is very direct and sexual in the way that bare flesh isn’t.” But these exercises in transparency, both past and present, are by no means straightforward exercises in titillation. Instead they are about exploring craftsmanship, pushing the skills of the ateliers to their limit. Providing an X-ray vision of the garment, with every stitch and seam accentuated, transparency leaves the maker, as well as the wearer, exposed.
Tamsin Blanchard is the Telegraph Magazine’s style director and author of the book Green is the New Black.
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Airtex Organza dress by Erdem.
122 Disegno. SEEING THROUGH
This page: Blouse by Antonio Berardi. Opposite page: Dress and shoes by 3.1 Phillip Lim. ASSISTANT Michael Hayes, Semi Jang MODEL Delia Liu
124 Disegno. THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
Forest as Idea Generator From material exploration to providing a model for production techniques, the forest has become a site that contemporary designers are increasingly turning to for inspiration and problem-solving. WORDS Oli Stratford FORESTS Amira Fritz
126 Disegno. FOREST AS IDEA GENERATOR
FOREST AS IDEA GENERATOR
A 1 English author A.A. Milne (1882-1956) published The House at Pooh Corner in 1928.
English writer William Golding’s (1911-93) 1954 novel Lord of the Flies tells of a stranded group of schoolboys’ regression to a primitive state on an uninhabited island.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a Genevan social and political philosopher. His 1762 novel Émile, or On Education, is a treatise on the importance of education to society.
Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a German artist influential in both Dadaism and Surrealism.
John Constable (1776-1837) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) were English landscape painters and two of the foremost figures in Romantic art.
Opposite page: An oven built to produce charcoal by slow burning wood, created in 2012 by Formafantasma for its Charcoal project at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. PHOTO Luisa Zanzani
A. Milne’s second Winnie the Pooh book, The House at Pooh Corner,1 begins with a contradiction. It would start with an introduction, Milne says, but he did that in the first book, so what’s left to say? Instead, he offers the opposite. The introduction becomes a conclusion and Pooh says goodbye before he’s even said hello. “But it isn’t really Good-bye,” Milne reassures us, “because the Forest will always be there…”
It’s a somewhat mystical opening, especially for a children’s story, yet one that captures something of the allure of forests. They recur throughout art and literature, but seldom as straightforward settings. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies,2 they’re a degenerative force that lets inherent vice run wild, while in Rousseau’s Émile3 they’re an early schoolyard for civilisation. The forests of Max Ernst4 are abstracted and foreboding, whereas Constable and Turner5 painted them as romantic idylls. A forest is rarely just a forest, and this quality of otherness accounts for their cultural cachet. “It is not only in the Modern Imagination that forests cast their shadow of primeval antiquity,” wrote Robert Pogue Harrison in Forests: The Shadow of Civilization,6 “from the beginning they appeared to our ancestors as archaic, as antecedent to the human world.”
For many, such a pull has been difficult to resist, and we are accustomed to the forest as a muse for art.7 However, while woodlands have been eulogised by writers, painters and filmmakers, their creative influence is uneven. Designers, especially in the 20th century, have been largely unswayed. Although the design industry has always made heavy use of wood, its engagement with woods has been infrequent. The forest has been seen as a material resource and little else. Yet a generation of young designers is now emerging who look to the forest for inspiration. From established studios such as Formafantasma8 and Peter Marigold,9 through to more recent graduates such as Pippa Murray and Studio Swine,10 the forest has become a prevalent theme in design. To some, it provides material engagement on a grand scale; an ecosystem that offers not only wood, but which also proposes new treatments for that material. For others, the organic growth of forests symbolises progressive forms of manufacture that move away from the rigidity of industry and towards more spontaneous modes of production. Perhaps most strikingly, some studios have taken the forest to be a valid subject for design – a problem to be solved, rather than an inspiration in solving others. Designers are becoming attuned to the forest’s otherness.
Design’s traditional view of the forest was as a material store and this attitude abides; wood remains most designers’ introduction to their subject. “In design there is always a link to wood and one of the reasons is that it’s easy to work with,” says Augustin Scott de Martinville, a member of Big-Game and former head of the MA Product Design course at ECAL.11 “It’s an entry point to design that’s not linked to fashion. It’s always around.” >
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“In design there is always a link to wood and one of the reasons is that it’s easy to work with. It’s an entry point to design that’s not linked to fashion. It’s always around.”
Robert Pogue Harrison (b. 1954) is a professor of literature at Stanford University. Forests: The Shadow of Civilization was published in 1992.
7 From fables such as Grimms Fairytales, to films and novels including Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
Formafantasma is a conceptual design studio founded in Eindhoven in 2009 by Italian designers Andrea Trimarchi (b. 1983) and Simone Farresin (b. 1980).
Peter Marigold (b. 1974) graduated from the RCA’s Design Products MA in 2006. He is a member of London-based design collective Okay Studio.
10 Studio Swine is a London practice that examines vernacular design. It was founded by Azusa Murakami (b. 1984) and Alexander Groves (b. 1983) in 2011. 11 École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) specialises in graduate and postgraduate courses in art and design.
Max Lamb (b. 1980) graduated from the RCA’s Design Products MA in 2006. He founded his studio in 2007.
Lignin is a complex polymer in plant cells, which strengthens wood.
> Use of wood, however, is more complicated and varied than this introductory role suggests. There are softwoods and hardwoods; solid woods, greenwoods and processed products; laminates, chipboards, precision-cut planks and veneers; and you can steam it, saw it, carve it, turn it, mill it or mulch it. “But it’s surprising how many designers and architects we speak to who say, ‘Wood is an amazing material, we use it so much in our practice,’” says David Venables, the European director of the American Hardwood Export Council. “’Well, what sort do you use?’ You usually get a pause. ‘Wood.’”
Throughout the 20th century, one of wood’s predominant uses was as plywood, a quasi-manmade material that chimed with the era’s dominant movement, modernism. While solid wood cut from the forest is characterful and of variable quality, plywood is a regular and predictable sheet material. The homogeneity of materials such as plastic and metal suited modernism’s tenets of machining and mass manufacture. Wood, converted into plywood, could be treated similarly.
Despite these industrial advantages, production of plywood strips wood of some of its natural qualities, most notably the spontaneity that first attracts many to use it. “You can make wood look like plastic,” says Max Lamb,12 a London-based designer who has been lauded for his craft-like approach to industrial design. “You can make plastic look like metal. And you can make metal look like anything else if you really want to. Modern manufacturing means it is possible to twist materials into any form, but I like products to show exactly what they’re made from, without the designer needing to explain them. I like the product to do the talking.”
It is an approach that resonates with many contemporary designers, some of whom have begun developing uses of wood that better correspond to its origins. One of the most radical of these practitioners is Pippa Murray, a recent graduate from the Royal College of Art’s (RCA) Product Design MA. Murray’s graduation project Moulding Our Woodlands investigated the possibility of industrialising greenwood – unseasoned wood cleft from the tree. The result was a new material, sheets of wood shavings bonded by the natural polymer lignin,13 a chemical that leaches from the wood during treatment in a pressure cooker. Murray’s material is biodegradable, built from scrap that would otherwise be wasted, and can be shaped into simple structural forms such as chair legs. “Greenwood has a life of its own. Every twig, branch, trunk and cleft bit of wood has grown independently to anything else,” says Murray. “I wanted my approach to be a contemporary process, but my starting point was craft, in the wood and the environment. The only solution I could find to make an industrial process for greenwood was to take it down to a mulch and then build it back up. There was success in that, but wood loses something when you treat it in that way. I tried to industrialise cleft wood, but I knew that wouldn’t work. It’s too individualistic.” Murray’s reasons for working with the forest are political, a reaction to the design industry’s widespread use of energy-heavy processes and environmentally damaging materials such as plastics. “I like the expression of politics through making furniture and sourcing materials,” says Murray, “and that’s something that has a huge historical precedent if you look at things like the Utility Furniture scheme and Gordon Russell.14 There’s a factory near me that produces cellophane and it’s insane how much energy it takes to go from the cellulose in a tree to creating a Quality Street sweet wrapper – something that is used briefly and then thrown away. It all comes back to how and why we’re using our materials.” >
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A prototype for a charcoal filter produced as part of Formafantasmaâ€™s Charcoal. PHOTO Luisa Zanzani
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Today’s designers are not retreating into the woods out of nostalgia; they are looking to forests to provide solutions to contemporary design problems.
English craftsman and designer Gordon Russell (1892-1980) was chairman of the Utility Furniture Design Panel, which oversaw the design and production of furniture intended to cope with shortages of raw materials during the second world war.
15 Sebastian Cox (b. 1986) graduated from the University of Lincoln’s MA Design in 2011. He founded his eponymous studio in 2009. 16
See p. 88.
Marcel Breuer (1902-81) was a Hungarian designer and architect famous for tubular steel and plywood furniture he created while studying at the Bauhaus. 17
See p. 200.
> Working with a similar ethos is Sebastian Cox,15 a London-based furniture designer who produces commercial and bespoke pieces from coppiced wood, a sustainable material produced through a traditional method of cyclical forest management. Cox manages his own woodland and bases his practice around this methodology. The more regularly a tree is coppiced, he argues, the more regular – and hence industrial – its wood becomes. While coppicing is never likely to expand beyond a small-scale operation, it nonetheless presents a challenge to the culture of fast production and consumption. “What I’m offering is something that has come from a considered point of view,” says Cox. “I’m happy to accept that my side of the market may be small, but that’s OK. People need to decide how they want to consume. I’m a very strong believer that designers should take responsibility for what they make.” Both Cox and Murray are idealistic, but their practices nonetheless engage with the realities of industrial manufacture – Murray’s lignin sheets are a chemical treatment of wood that could be manipulated on a large scale, while Cox’s coppiced wood has potential as a renewable industrial material. This grounding sets their practices apart from design movements that have previously engaged with nature, such as the crafts revival of the 1970s. Unlike their predecessors, today’s designers are not retreating into the woods out of nostalgia; they are looking at forests to provide solutions to contemporary design problems.
Such an interest in forests as a guide for material use ties to wider developments within design’s relationship with materials and processes. “One characteristic of a lot of current projects is taking a material and seeing if you can create something different from it. Can you push a boundary?” says Gareth Williams, senior tutor on the RCA’s Design Products MA. “What I find with a lot of students is a desire to take control of a given production technology, which may be on an industrial scale. They’re very desirous to make their mark and have an effect, but a lot of the time feel alienated by the scale of global manufacturing.”
Although designers have always experimented with materials and techniques – from Verner Panton16 and plastic, to Marcel Breuer’s17 work with tubular steel – this tendency towards the miniaturisation of industrial processes, and the potential to assert control over those processes, is something new. In this sense, Cox and Murray’s forestry experiments tie to work such as Anton Alvarez’s thread-wrapping machine18 or Joe Pipal’s Sweatshop,19 a portable steam-bending jig. These are designers creating processes, rather than products. “They’re bringing techniques down so they can understand them and all their permutations, but also so they can control them, generate with them and manage them themselves,” says Williams. “They’re getting back to making with their own hands and constructing their own work, but they don’t want to become craft makers for an elite. What they’re working with is the notion of how you can be industrial as a craftsman. Forests are one way into that.” The growth of design’s interest in the woodlands can therefore be tied to an unease with modernism and the industrial revolution, a phenomenon characterised by the design critic >
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The Brish hat stand, designed and manufactured by Sebastian Cox. The standâ€™s body is made from coppiced hazel that Cox harvests himself. PHOTO Spadge UK
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Expedition details from Designers and Forests, a 2013 design project that examined the problems facing forests in Utah, USA. PHOTO courtesy of Designers & Forests
Joe Pipal (b. 1976) is a British designer who graduated from the RCA’s 2013 Design Products MA.
Joseph Grima is the former editor of Italian magazine Domus. Adhocracy formed part of the inaugural Istanbul Design Biennial. 20
Michele De Lucchi (b. 1951) is an architect and designer who has created products for brands such as Olivetti, Artemide and Classicon.
> Joseph Grima20 in the catalogue to his 2012 show Adhocracy – as “making perfect objects – millions of them, all the same, to the exactingly consistent standards prescribed by the International Organization for Standardization”. While the 20th century lusted after standardisation, a predominant concern of the 21st is a desire to recast serial production such that it can produce to scale, yet still result in unique pieces. “Every design movement is a sign of the time in which it was made,” says Italian designer Michele De Lucchi,21 “and today we are concerned with the comparison between industrial production and nature.” If the factory was the enduring symbol of the 20th century’s commitment to mass-produced goods, then the forest symbolises individuality and diversity in designers’ output; it is the symbol of the industrial craftsman. Peter Marigold, a London-based designer, fits this title better than most. Marigold has worked with conventional manufacturers including SCP, Arco and Skitsch, yet makes heavy use of natural materials such as wood, stone and clay. His finished designs are raw and improvisational, and typical of his oeuvre are his Split Box Shelves. They are built up from constellations of wooden quadrilaterals, the exact forms of which are determined by the angles of their corner braces – seasoned logs that Marigold randomly splits into four, relying on the geometric principle that the interior angles of any split shape add up to 360°. “The way I work is about removing my hand and evidence of my decision-making process from the products, and I think that’s a good mission statement for being a designer,” says Marigold. “If you go back to modernism, those designers declared that a certain table looked as it did because that was the best way to make it and the most efficient way. But they were lying. It was just another style; not the most economical, absolute, or perfect way to form a table. But it’s still very human to feel shame at your decisions and try to hide them. So the reason I use natural wood and similar materials is to absolve myself of the responsibility of designing surface and designing form. Allowing spontaneity is an abdication.”
A similar abdication to natural processes is present in the Austrian studio Mischer’Traxler’s The Idea of a Tree. Designed by Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler in 2008, the project is a machine that produces rigid cotton shapes that can serve as simple stools and lampshades. The machine is automated, but slavish to its environment. The Idea of a Tree is solar-powered, and the speed and nature of its production is governed by the amount of light it receives. On a bright day, it produces a thick weave with light colouration; on overcast days, the outcome is darker and thinner. The objects become testaments to their own production, with minor details about the day of their construction – ambient shadows or clouds – recorded in the final pieces. “It began with the question of how serial production could be adjusted such that its outcome was a unique piece,” says Mischer. The reference to the forest and trees, Traxler says, came naturally: “If you cut down a tree, you can read the whole life of its growth in its structure. A tree is a kind of recording device and we wanted to bring that quality into our objects.” It is significant that the
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Mischer’Traxler’s The Idea of a Tree, a solar– powered machine that produces simple cotton furniture pieces that record details of their ambient environment on the day they were produced. PHOTO courtesy of Mischer’Traxler Studio
studio’s motivation for exploring individuality in serial production is neither grandiose, nor conceptual. “It just makes objects a bit more special when you know yours is different from one of your neighbour’s, even though it’s the same product,” says Mischer. This modesty is the point. Designers such as Mischer’Traxler and Marigold are not trying to reset the achievements of industrialisation and modernism, but rather to further them. While factoryproduced items can appear sterile in their standardisation, forests present an alternative, more individualistic form of mass production; they’re a model for how industry might develop in the future. Pine trees in any given forest are, in one sense, the same – they’re all pine trees and they share a common form – yet there is vast variation between each tree. “Nature and its systems are very inspiring to us in how we work,” says Mischer. “It’s really about seeing how far you can twist production processes to get uniqueness.”
While these studios have let the forest influence their design process, others have taken it as the subject of their work. Formafantasma’s 2012 Charcoal was a series of glass vessels with activated charcoal filters. The use of charcoal as a purifying agent commented on and subverted the environmental destruction caused by charcoal burning, a practice once widespread in European forests and which remains prevalent in Congo’s Virunga National Park. Similarly, Studio Swine’s ongoing experiments with human hair bonded with bioresin – a material previously used to create spectacle frames – are now being developed into furniture to serve as an alternative to heavily exploited tropical hardwoods.
Such interest is partly motivated by guilt, with an estimated 18 million acres of forest lost each year. While design is not a major contributor to this loss – with most cleared to make room for housing and urbanisation, the timber industry, large-scale agriculture and cattle ranching – the industry’s reliance upon wood means deforestation remains a pertinent issue for designers. “We can’t pretend to live in a world where our actions have no consequences,” says Harry Richardson, co-founder of avant-garde design studio Committee and an initiator of Out of the Woods, a 2012 RCA project that examined the lifecycle of wooden products. “We’re going through a steep transition of change, and what’s interesting is that there seems to be a generational shift; designers over 40 are very different to those under 30. For many of the older generation, these concerns have been bolted onto their reality, whereas for younger designers they’re a given.” “Particularly among young designers, issues of guilt can be quite persuasive,” adds Gareth Williams. “We’ve already got a glut of everything and with issues such as pollution, ecology and global warming, it is very easy to think: ‘God, should I be designing anything?’” If the idealism of product design has faded however, optimism in other areas of the industry has flourished. Swedish designer Daniel Byström – who describes his practice as “community design”, using design as a research tool to solve problems affecting small-scale communities – joined Designers and Forests last summer, an expedition series founded by graphic designers >
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A pressure cooker created in Cumbria’s woodlands by RCA graduate Pippa Murray, who used it to develop lignin boards that formed the central part of her Moulding Our Woodlands graduation project. PHOTO Pippa Murray
22 Jason Dilworth (b. 1981) and Margaret Urban (b. 1977) are both assistant professors at the State University of New York at Fredonia. 23 Iceland’s national design week DesignMarch was founded in 2009. A full feature on Icelandic design appeared in Disegno No.4.
READING LIST The Shadow of Civilization, Robert Pogue Harrison. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History, Sigfried Gideon. W.W. Norton & Company, 1969. Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Victor Papanek. Pantheon Books, 1971.
> Jason Dilworth and Margaret Urban22 that investigates how design might address problems facing the world’s forests. The first expedition took place in July-August 2013 in the forests of Utah, with Byström, Dilworth and Urban leading design students from Sweden’s Nässjö Academy and the State University of New York at Fredonia in meetings with forestry officials and the communities that have grown up around Utah’s forests.
The problems examined by the platform were diverse. Wood is Utah’s primary natural resource, but between 1997 and 2009, the US Forestry Department reported that 1.96 million acres of its forests had been destroyed by beetles, leaving wood that is stained blue from a fungal infection introduced by the insects. The widespread death of aspen trees, a little understood phenomenon, has further damaged the state’s resources, while fears over economic monocultures in its forest towns – communities typically dominated by big energy companies – are prevalent. Designers and Forests’ initial outcomes will be presented at Reykjavik’s DesignMarch23 event this spring, but its results are secondary to the expedition itself. Designers and Forests, Dilworth and Urban argue, is principally focused on creating a template for how design projects might operate, not on providing didactic solutions to set problems.
“What I’m interested in as a designer is the messy picture and forests are a good example of that; these problems aren’t things that can be solved quickly,” says Dilworth. “I’m optimistic that design can improve life, but we need to be realistic and start addressing larger problems that don’t have easy solutions. It’s alright to feel overwhelmed, but it’s important to keep contact with the people that those problems affect. Designers may see problems and come in and say that they have a solution for it. But unless you involve the people directly affected, it’s not a good solution.” The forest, Urban says, is a natural starting point for expanding on this ideology. “A big problem in design is that people want to see issues in black and white. But the issues around forests are so many shades of grey,” she says. Faced with such complexity, the design process begins to shift towards Byström’s conception of community design. Rather than relying on the vision of individual geniuses to present singular solutions, collaboration and consultation become the best hopes for progress. The process is likely to be slow, however. “What came in with the modernist era was a view that there was right and wrong in design – but that just doesn’t work when applied to the majority of situations,” says Urban. “In general, designers are having to adapt to the idea that there are consequences to every solution. Whatever you do, you are likely to solve some problems, but in doing so create others.”
Designers’ engagement with the forest is not a coherent “ism” – all that is consistent across the range of aforementioned projects is a common motivation. These designers are not engaging with the forest out of a sense of nostalgia or whimsy; they do so because they believe it offers hope of real progress.
Oli Stratford is the deputy editor of Disegno.
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A vase from Peter Marigold’s Wooden Forms series. The vessel’s mould is made from wax impressions of a single piece of wood, which are then cast in plaster or metal. PHOTO Peter Marigold
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THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
Boudicca’s Liquid Games The experimental fashion studio’s latest work is a multimedia installation as challenging and singular as its abstract couture. WORDS Felix Chabluk Smith PHOTOS Ben Ingham and Boudicca
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Boudicca’s spring/summer 2007 Couture 01 collection was shown at the Romanian Embassy in Paris. Boudicca was the first independent British label to become a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. PHOTO Ben Ingham
BOUDICCA’S LIQUID GAMES
The Stanley Picker Gallery is part of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture at Kingston University, Greater London. 1
don’t want to be liked by a hundred people, I want to be loved by one,” says Zowie Broach. It is a contrary stance in a culture where success is increasingly measured by Twitter followers, Instagram comments, Tumblr reblogs and Facebook likes. “I mean, how many people have even gone there?”
“There” is a tiny, leaf-shaped island in the middle of the Hogsmill River, Kingston upon Thames, where the Stanley Picker Gallery1 stands like the cabin of an ark. Sliced in two by the sharp prow of the island, the water is the colour of caffè latte and swollen after a winter of heavy rain. The island is lush and green on a saturated day in mid-February, but despite the daffodils sprouting through the grass there is a smell of rot.
“The island is a bizarre place,” agrees Brian Kirkby. Together, Broach and Kirkby are Boudicca, a London-based design studio whose 17-year body of work encompasses film, photography, sculpture, collage, perfumery and choreography. Yet while Boudicca is most renowned for its work in fashion, it is characteristic that the studio’s latest output, The Liquid Game, contains absolutely no clothing whatsoever. Just as characteristic is Broach’s apparent satisfaction that hardly anyone will see it. “What’s nice about it is that it is quite couture, which means less people will come and visit, but maybe they are good people. Instead of having a party you can have dinner. For us, that’s more appealing. You can’t have a conversation at a massive party.”
The gallery is small, but Boudicca has made it much smaller. A billowing corridor of cloth consumes the majority of the space, leading to a tall, narrow chamber. The floor ripples with a bluish light around which are eight thin panels of blurred imagery. Above to the left and right – and consuming the entire main wall – are dreamlike films of stuttering, contorting forms, of imagery set on and smeared by black shadows and projections. There is an indistinct sound of water, but given the geography one isn’t sure if that comes from without or within. The result of a year’s residency, it is no retrospective at a major museum – and initially it is modest to the point of being underwhelming.
“Last year we made a decision to try to be more experimental and less engaged in the catwalk calendar, which was killing our company and killing our own enthusiasm,” says Kirkby about their application for this out-of-the-way residency in the suburbs of Kingston. “The work isn’t part of the grand PR scheme of fashion,” agrees Broach. “It was about beginning something that had more freedom to it. We would press flowers, make things out of clay, all sorts of odd things. It was about trying to let go.” The outcome of the residency feels somehow right, a fusion of Broach and Kirkby’s magpie-like collecting and linking of fragments, their abstracted thought processes, and their preoccupation >
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Mirror 18, 2014; a detail from Boudicca’s The Liquid Game at the Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston upon Thames.
BOUDICCA’S LIQUID GAMES
“The work isn’t part of the grand PR scheme of fashion. It was about beginning something that had more freedom to it.”
Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96) used the Hogsmill River as the setting for his painting of Ophelia, who drowned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) coined the term ‘chronophotography’, a technique that captures moving objects across several frames of print.
Founded in 1856, London’s National Portrait Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world.
French artist Yves Klein (1928-62) registered his International Klein Blue, a deep ultramarine shade, in 1960, creating multiple works using the colour.
6 Italian designer Valentino (b. 1932) became known from the late 1950s onwards for his signature red dresses.
British designer Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) founded his label in 1992 and became known for flamboyant and controversial collections.
British/Turkish Cypriot designer Hussein Chalayan (b. 1970) creates clothes that integrate technology, science and architecture.
Founded in 1983, the British Fashion Council in a non-profit, Londonbased organisation that promotes British fashion around the world.
> with concepts of identity and time. Travelling between London and the venue gave them a familiarity with the island’s geography, but also an outsider’s viewpoint. It was in these waters that Millais drowned his Ophelia2 in 1851-52 and indeed there is a languorous, sinking feeling to The Liquid Game. The installation can be seen as a concentration of the identity of a place, distilled through Boudicca’s ongoing fascination with experimental imaging techniques as antiquated as Étienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotography,3 or as modern as laser mapping and 3D computer modelling. Most of the imagery in the show was produced through amalgamations of these techniques. The still images give the impression of movement, or scans of figures digitally manipulated like twisting cloth, reinterpreted and magnified over and over again in what Kirkby refers to as “cyclonic feedback loops”. The physical space Boudicca has created in the gallery was gathered together from fragments of serendipity. Kirkby happened upon panel paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries at the National Portrait Gallery,4 while Broach found photocopies of the same works in an old sketchbook. Further inspiration came from a documentary on Ancient Egypt. The pair became enchanted with the interior architecture of tombs, of long, high passages opening into empty chambers, the only clues to the long-gone incumbents being the hieroglyphics on the wall.
But before entering the tomb-like main space at the gallery, the visitor encounters a close-up slideshow of found objects. Shown dispassionately against a chill white background, a chip of stone, two milky petals or a cluster of withered acorns are presented as if under a microscope, although the occasional crumb of mud or grit seems to suggest forensic samples recently gathered, still damp. The exhibition notes claim that these represent fragments of imaginary bodies – the petals are eyelids, the acorns breasts. There is a counter in the corner of the screen rapidly progressing from 0 to 2,428, and the film begins with a smeared SIM-card microchip and ends with a shard of flint. One gets the sense of a post-apocalyptic prophecy, of a rejection of modernity and an embrace of the Stone Age as the centuries progress. At around the 540 mark a cracked lump of waxy pigment appears. Brighter than Yves Klein’s blue5 but not quite cobalt, this is Boudicca’s blue.
Boudicca was founded in 1997, and by the early 2000s it seemed as if their blue might become as iconic as Valentino’s red.6 With clothes less indulgently theatrical than those of Alexander McQueen7 and darker than those of Hussein Chalayan,8 Boudicca’s output was as sharply cut and cerebral as either. Broach and Kirkby’s shows became some of the most eagerly anticipated of London Fashion Week, albeit with a reputation for difficult collections presented in dark and dingy venues. Still, the label was invited by the British Fashion Council9 to show its autumn/ winter 2003 collection on the official Fashion Week schedule. It remains Boudicca’s most successful collection by far. Called We Sell Disguises, it earned a spontaneous standing ovation. Sarah Mower’s10 review was gushing; the audience was in raptures. “We’d wondered what we would do if we tried a ‘proper’ fashion show,” says Kirkby. “So we had it all – the high heels, the lace, the make-up, big hair…”
“…With rock music on the soundtrack, and I think it ended with a cheesy piece of classical,” continues Broach. The title made Boudicca’s point emphatically clear. What do fashion designers do but sell disguises, costumes for fake identities?
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Yet it would seem that fashion journalists don’t get irony. “The next season someone came up to us and said: ‘Why didn’t you do what you did last time? That was great!’” Kirkby throws his hands up in amused exasperation. Perhaps partly in response to this lack of understanding at home, Broach and Kirkby moved their show to New York in 2005. However, two seasons later they were invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture11 to be part of the couture schedule in Paris, the first British designers to receive this honour.
Fashion at its most technically and artistically intricate, couture seemed a natural fit for Boudicca, although even it had its stifling limitations. It is the worst-kept secret in fashion that without duty-free perfumes and licensed sunglasses, Chanel, Dior and every other fashion house would not be able to afford to produce their couture collections. “But we went into couture to sell clothes! How naive was that?” laughs Kirkby. The expensive fabrics that are a prerequisite to couture – combined with a self-perceived inability to achieve the desired construction and finish, and a creeping dissatisfaction with the circus of runway shows – drove the pair to turn to paper and card to create the garments shown in their 2009 Essays couture collection. Essays’ gravitydefying forms seemed to reference extravagant High Victorian Gothic and mannered Jacobean costume, filtered through the soaring pathways of particle physics – particularly the skeletal, almost wire-frame structures that had the same loops, spirals and curlicues seen in images taken in particle colliders. Instead of a catwalk show, Boudicca produced a haunting amalgam of digital transitions and still photography, brought to life as if in a flick book. This radical break from the norm, while alienating, paved the way for the studio’s future work.
10 London-based journalist and fashion critic Sarah Mower is a contributing editor to American Vogue and currently ambassador for emerging talent at the British Fashion Council. 11 The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, (est. 1868) is the Paris-based trade union of high fashion, and is part of the Fédération Française de la Couture, which governs France’s fashion industry.
The Cupola Room, designed in 1722, is the principal state room at the royal residence of Kensington Palace in London.
In 2010 the pair exhibited Dresses the Colour of Time in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace.12 Similar to their paper couture, the collection featured cogs, crinoline hoops like clock springs, and golden ribbons of saw blades suspended from chandeliers to form dress-like silhouettes. Kirkby christened these sculptures “mechanical sketches” and he sees The Liquid Game as akin to sketching. “Our way of working now is a direct response to the idea of a collection every six months. We want this to be an increment on a journey. You have a trajectory but instead of having a stop point, you leave it open-ended and it takes away the shackles of it having to be finished,” he says. “It’s a bizarre mentality to have in design, which is always about A to B, but the space between the zero and the one is something we’re both interested in. If you have a binary situation, what is the 0.5? We see it as a quantum mentality; things don’t have to be so fixed anymore.”
Kirkby isn’t just at ease with this lack of coherency or resolution, he welcomes it. “When you’re younger it is terrifying to admit ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’, but when you’re older it is actually really liberating,” he says. “The confusion is the most exciting part. The old-fashioned way of looking at design was to solve problems and when you didn’t know what you were doing it was a failure. But actually it is all those conflicting weights, angles and ideas that are really fascinating. We can say now that the confusion between us – between male and female and all these counteracting forces – actually is our language. That is not seen as a design mentality, but there is a more emotive and poetic side of design that overrides that. When someone sees your work and asks what it is about, for me that is more intriguing.”
Hearing Kirkby speak about conflicting ideas, feedback loops, identity and counteracting forces, one realises what a perfect manifestation of such abstract concepts Boudicca’s garment design >
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Mirror 2, 4, 8, 9, 15, 17, 18 and 30 from The Liquid Game, 2014. The images are assembled using an amalgamation of techniques such as chronophotography, laser mapping and 3D computer modelling.
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“The space between the zero and the one is something that we’re both interested in. If you have a binary situation, what is the 0.5?”
Opposite page: Privacy: experiments with a body scanning unit at London College of Fashion, 2010. This page: A paper-and-card work from Boudicca’s 2009 Essays couture collection.
BOUDICCA’S LIQUID GAMES
“Through all the projects we do… we think that if you’re going to do something, you need to go deep.”
Many images projected in The Liquid Game were generated by imaging and rendering programs based on scans of figures. The digital images were then fed back into the same programmes.
Boudicca (d. AD 60 or 61) was queen of Britain’s Iceni tribe. Following her husband Prasutagus’ death, she led a Celtic revolt against Roman rule before her defeat at the Battle of Watling Street.
15 British fashion journalist Hamish Bowles (b. 1963) is Vogue’s international editor-at-large.
At the 27th G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, 200,000 antiglobalisation protestors gathered, leading to violent police clashes.
17 Both Zowie Broach and Brian Kirkby tutor at London’s Royal College of Art, a postgraduate university specialising in art and design.
> actually is. The clothes are strikingly angular but always flattering, the body never ignored or fought against. Waists are frequently high and tight, but with a sense of comforting constriction rather than restriction. These are swaddling clothes rather than straitjackets.
The conflict between masculine and feminine is an overarching theme within Boudicca’s work, with signatures of binary sexuality displaced in a constant exploration of the space between. While menswear is traditionally cut and constructed to emphasise the classical ideal of broad shoulders and a narrow waist, women have worn male tailoring for almost as long as men have. Boudicca’s tailoring is considered and its effect is fierce, reigniting questions of gender through its exacting, razor-sharp cut. As an opposing force, the 19th-century ruffle – a recurrent motif in Boudicca’s work – is not simple feminine decoration. In its isolation, fragmentation and displacement in the collections, it becomes a semiotic shorthand for a certain feminine identity.
Aside from late-Victorian frills, wider historical costume is another mine of inspiration for Boudicca. The pair frequently take this costume from portraiture, and celebrate its capacity to capture both the identity of an individual and an era. Costume for Boudicca represents specific points in time, but still serves as part of a wider continuum. The studio picks up early 17thcentury splendour or strong-shouldered 1930s glamour, long spun out of the cycle of fashion, and feeds them back into the system. In much the same way, Boudicca’s experimental imagemaking is reprocessed by the same code that birthed it, producing the glitched, sluggish projections seen in The Liquid Game.13 Similarly, the gauzy, ethereal space at the Stanley Picker Gallery is the latest expression of a semi-permanence that the studio has returned to repeatedly in its work. This signature can be traced through Boudicca’s recurring use of layered sheer fabrics, infinitely adjustable tie-belts, and its dress that temporarily changes colour when its covering of double-sided paillettes is stroked. Then there is Wode.
Released in 2008 and named after the pigment that Boudicca’s namesake warrior queen14 wore into battle, Wode is a unique fragrance, a rarity in its field. It resembles a can of spray paint, complete with plastic cap and a rattling ball bearing, and applies in a cloud of vivid blue dye, saturating skin and clothes, spluttering and dripping like car enamel. The dye fades in seconds, but its application becomes an irrational act of faith, a bracing, strangely heroic gesture. The scent left behind has of a curiously melancholic tone. Rich saffron and creamy tonka bean have been somehow deadened but not flattened, while tuberose brings to mind a sad whiteness, of fleshy and turgid magnolia petals, damp and easy to bruise. That melancholia can be a difficult sell is freely acknowledged by Broach. “There have been dark moments in the life of Boudicca,” she says. “In the past, that melancholia is something that people have had an issue with, especially when it was more about the fashion.”
Melancholia aside, it is Boudicca’s conceptual rigour and insistent attempts to make audiences engage with their work on a higher intellectual level that seem a greater problem. Sarah Mower described Boudicca’s spring/summer 2003 collection as “torture-by-conceptualism”, while Hamish Bowles15 argued that cryptic references to the Genoa G8 protests16 in its spring/summer 2002 show “cannot have the same resonance for those who weren’t there”. Yet over a decade later, Broach is unrepentant about demanding so much. “We want to reach right inside someone and touch them. Through all the projects we do, from the most commercial, to couture, to teaching,17 we think that if you’re going to do something, you need to go deep. With our work we’ve only just scratched the surface. It wants to be something that disturbs someone. We put so much into it, it’s only natural to want this.” >
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Outside, shown as part of the Glasstress exhibition at the Venice Biennale, 1 June – 26 November 2013.
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“Art and fashion are just words and words are so limiting. If you’re not one or another, you’re somewhere in between, and you can’t monetise.”
Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons (b. 1968) launched his menswear line in 1995 and is the creative director at Christian Dior.
American artist Sterling Ruby (b. 1972) lives and works in Los Angeles.
Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí (1904-89) collaborated with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) on works such as her Lobster Dress (1937).
READING LIST Fashioning the Object: Bless, Bouddica, Sandra Backlund, Zoe Ryan. Yale University Press, 2012. The Fundamentals of Fashion Design, Richard Sorger and Jenny Udale. AVA, 2006. Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity, and Deathliness, Caroline Evans. Yale University Press, 2003.
> This defiantly conceptual stance, allied to the studio’s intellectual and scientific explorations of abstract notions, and its hugely diverse output, means the spectre of the “fashion versus art” argument looms large. When fashion designers speak of their work as having a deeper meaning than, say, Wim Wenders’ 1984 film Paris, Texas, they have traditionally been seen as pretentious. On the other hand, when an artist lends their work for use on the runway, there is often a sense of selling out. Raf Simons18 has long used the work of artists in his menswear, culminating in his autumn/winter 2014 collection co-created with Sterling Ruby.19 These kinds of collaborations are nothing new however: Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli worked together20 in the 1930s.
Yet fashion design as a craft seems closer to art than most. It is singularly connected to intimate ideas of the self and of projected personalities, of memories, culture, conflict and allegiances; it is bizarrely detached from the problem-solving nuts-and-bolts world of product design. For Broach, it was Boudicca’s emergence at a unique time in British fashion that shaped the studio’s identity and which enabled it to work in the way it now does, yet this genesis was not without its costs.
“When we began as designers in the mid-1990s we thought fashion was art. It was really pure,” says Broach. “But no one would talk like that anymore. Fashion courses are different today but when we studied, it was all the odds and sods. There was no market, we didn’t even have a student fashion week. It was just an interesting group of people who were trying to form an expression of identity. Some ended up as great commercial fashion designers, some as writers, some as artists. It can go so many ways. We began by doing weird collections that were shown in galleries. You are what your beginnings are, what is around you and what you demand. Art and fashion are just words and words are so limiting. If you’re not one or another, you’re somewhere in between. But if you’re in between, you can’t monetise.” Kirkby’s definition of what they do is simple but vital. “When anyone asks: ‘Are you fashion or are you art?’, I say, ‘We just make things.’” Just as Picasso’s diffuse output was united by its depiction of new ways of seeing as informed by the most ancient cultures or the most modern technology, so too does Boudicca’s work use varied media to consistently investigate and question ideas of identity and time. It is clear that garment design can speak these languages eloquently, despite the fashion industry currently making it unpalatable to do so.
“Fashion is the first thing you’re exposed to as a young person that really has an impact on you, how you think, what you read, what music you listen to,” insists Kirkby. “To me, identity was a wonderful escape route – you were constructing something around you, that’s why fashion was so important to me.”
To hear Kirkby speak of fashion in the past tense belies the room full of sewing machines, irons, cutting tables and mannequins to be found in Boudicca’s East End studio. Broach and Kirkby still produce fascinating collections and still sell beautiful clothes, but they do so on their own terms. Asked if they would ever return to on-schedule shows, one senses a real longing in their immediate and unequivocal “yes”. They just need to work out how. Things have been far from straightforward for Boudicca, but Broach would have it no other way. “I’m happy. The books I wouldn’t have read, the conversations I wouldn’t have had if we’d had a clearer run…”
Felix Chabluk Smith is a graduate of the Royal College of Art’s Fashion Menswear MA. His work can be seen on pp. 28-29 of this issue of Disegno.
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An image from Boudicca’s solo show, Isolated moments from a cycle, hosted at Tel Aviv’s Beit Ha’ir museum in 2012.
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THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
Studio Job’s set, The Wall, for Viktor & Rolf’s spring/ summer 2014 show. PHOTO Bureau Betak
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Conspicuous Construction Catwalk shows for major fashion houses are increasingly like Hollywood film sets, created by architecture and design studios with an eye on the all-important online afterlife, where brand identity is cemented. WORDS Caroline Evans
F 1 British fashion designer John Galliano (b. 1960) headed Dior from 1996 to 2011. 2
See p. 152.
See p. 152.
Dior was founded in 1946 by Christian Dior. It is headed by Raf Simons (b. 1968).
5 Givenchy was founded in 1952 by Hubert de Givenchy. Riccardo Tisci (b. 1974) is the creative director.
Chanel was founded by Coco Chanel in 1909. Karl Lagerfeld (b. 1933) is at the helm.
7 Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854 by the eponymous luggage-maker. The creative director is Nicolas Ghesquière.
Prada was founded in 1913 by Mario and Martino Prada. Mario’s granddaughter Miuccia Prada is the head.
Studio Job is based in Antwerp. It was founded by Job Smeets (b. 1970) in 1998, who was joined by Nynke Tynagel (b. 1977) in 2000.
ashion shows of the 1990s were characterised by spectacle and performance. British designers such as John Galliano,1 Alexander McQueen2 and Hussein Chalayan3 overreached to produce shock effects that got them backers, buyers and press. It was these Londoners’ capacity to create spectacle that led French couture houses Dior4 and Givenchy5 to recruit Galliano and McQueen to their Paris catwalks as principal designers in the mid to late 90s. Nowadays, however, young independent designers rarely stage such bravura shows, instead leaving the field open to the big brands. It has increasingly been large, luxury fashion firms such as Chanel,6 Louis Vuitton7 and Prada8 whose shows have featured heavily constructed sets and consummate mises-en-scène.
In the spring/summer 2014 catwalk schedule they reached an apogee. What was once a fly-bynight format had morphed into monumental architecture. So vast and substantial were their sets that it was hard to believe these behemoths were created for a live performance lasting no more than 15 to 20 minutes. For all their brevity, however, these shows have a much longer, and more accessible, afterlife. Fashion shows are now filmed as well as photographed, then posted online. Designers and show producers alike are well aware of their potential longevity as moving image. “The view from the ‘photographers army’ is very important, but of course you have to take the public into consideration, as well as the stills and videos,” says Nynke Tynagel, who together with Job Smeets makes up Studio Job,9 responsible for the scenography for many of Viktor & Rolf’s10 catwalk shows since 2001. Watching the shows in their online format, one can’t help noticing that some of them look more like giant Hollywood film sets than architecture or interior design. For his swansong at Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs11 featured a mash-up of previous show decor, rearranged on an epic scale into something resembling a Baz Luhrmann12 film set – in funereal shades of black. Emphasising the film-fashion interface, the follow-up ad campaign, shot by Steven Meisel,13 featured a number of Jacobs’ muses from film and fashion, each clutching a different version of the Louis Vuitton Noé handbag. They included US director Sofia Coppola, veteran French model and actor Catherine Deneuve, and 2013 model of the year Edie Campbell, who had opened the show in a vast black peacock-feather headdress and Vuitton-logoed transparent body stocking. She led the way along a labyrinthine route that took models in and out of a functioning lift, up and down two moving escalators, along a mezzanine gallery punctuated by hotel-room doors, onto a fairground carousel and around an ornate fountain resembling a piece of 19th-century civic sculpture. The Luhrmann riff continued at Dior, where show >
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This page and next page: Dior spring/summer 2014 RTW show was produced by Bureau Betak with fake and real flowers by Eric Chauvin. It was set in a pop–up structure in the garden of Musée Rodin. PHOTO Adrien Dirand
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For the Chanel spring/ summer 2014 RTW show creative director Karl Lagerfeld decided to show the collection in an imaginary art gallery at the Grand Palais in Paris. PHOTO Oliver Saillant
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Viktor & Rolf is an Amsterdam-based fashion house established in 1993 by Viktor Horsting (b. 1969) and Rolf Snoeren (b. 1969).
11 American fashion designer Marc Jacobs (b. 1963) heads his own label Marc Jacobs.
What was once a fly-by-night format had morphed into monumental architecture.
Mark Anthony ‘Baz’ Luhrmann (b. 1962) is an Australian film director, producer and screenwriter.
Steven Meisel (b. 1954) is an American fashion photographer known for his work for American and Italian Vogue.
14 Bureau Betak is a fashion, beauty and art agency founded by Alexandre de Betak in 1990.
Musée Rodin is a museum in Paris dedicated to the work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Luhrmann’s film is an adaptation of the book.
Daniel Buren (b. 1938) is a French conceptual artist known for his striped installations.
Richard Prince (b. 1949) is an American photographer and painter.
Paul McCarthy (b. 1945) is a multimedia artist based in Los Angeles.
20 Saint Laurent Paris was founded in 1961 by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé as Yves Saint Laurent. Hedi Slimane is creative director.
Guy de Cointet (1934-83) was a French artist who worked from the US.
22 Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross formed Liars in 2000. 23 German fashion designer, artist and photographer Karl Lagerfeld (b. 1933) heads Chanel (since 1983), Fendi (1985) and his own label (1974).
Palais-Royal is a palace built between 1633 and 1639.
25 El Mac (b. 1980), né Miles MacGregor, is a mixed-media artist based in Los Angeles. 26 Manuel “Mesa” Delgado is a Spanish artist and muralist. 27 Painter and sculptor Gabriel Specter is based in Brooklyn. 28 Stinkfish is a Mexican artist based in Bogotá, Colombia. 29 Jeanne Detallante is a Paris-based illustrator.
> producer Bureau Betak14 created an artificial pleasure garden in a tent in the garden of the Musée Rodin.15 It combined cascades of real and artificial flowers in a towering space not dissimilar to the party set piece in The Great Gatsby,16 a film directed by Luhrmann that came out a few months before the Dior show in October 2013.
In previous shows, Jacobs had adroitly incorporated the work of artists such as Daniel Buren,17 Richard Prince18 and Paul McCarthy,19 and he is not unusual in working with contemporary artists. For spring/summer 2014 Saint Laurent20 staged an intriguing show with a mechanised lighting sculpture, and issued a press release referencing the artist Guy de Cointet21 and LA band Liars.22 At Chanel, by contrast, Karl Lagerfeld23 created a pastiche of an enormous white cube gallery space in Paris’ Palais Royale,24 with 75 over-scaled parodies of artworks that incorporated Chanel motifs, from gigantic double-C sculptures to large ladders with handbag chain rungs. Very different to Chanel’s caricature of art, at Prada the set was painted by real artists (two illustrators and four muralists) who usually work in international urban spaces. Commissioned to work on the themes of femininity and power, El Mac,25 Mesa,26 Gabriel Specter,27 Stinkfish,28 Jeanne Detallante29 and Pierre Mornet30 painted directly onto the walls of the reconstructed show space of Milan’s Via Fogazzaro. The audience sat on a sunken central island, looking up and out on a perimeter street punctuated by large blocks and jutting walls covered in enormous close-ups of women’s faces in strong colours. “The idea was to somehow recreate a cityscape on a very small scale that was reacting to the content of the clothes, to the point where some were actually shown in the graphics that we developed as background,” says Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli,31 an associate at AMO, the studio that designed the show. “The idea was to replicate this feeling of a huge construction, looming towards the audience just as you find it when walking through a city.”
AMO, which is part of Rem Koolhaas’32 architectural office OMA, is the think tank that deals with the company’s non-architectural projects. The studio has worked with Prada since 2000 on a range of projects, from lookbooks to exhibition spaces, and the hybridisation of fashion and architecture in these projects is now part of both companies’ DNA. AMO starts work on the shows eight to ten the company sees the final collection. “We start the process at the same time as they start work on the collection, but what we exchange are really conceptual references,” says Laparelli. “What we decide is not really what kind of pattern and colour Prada will use, or how to create the reference between the set and the fashion. What we discuss at the beginning is really the identity they want to give to the show, but we rarely see anything of the collection until the very end.” Generally, AMO tries to disrupt the linearity of the catwalk by reconfiguring the route through the space and altering the audience’s viewpoint. For Prada’s spring/summer 2012 men’s show, for example, AMO merged catwalk and audience by creating a grid structure of 600 blue foam seating cubes through which the models threaded their way. It is clear from the way Laparelli talks about all Prada’s fashion shows that the transformation of the real architectural space into a fantasy one is key to AMO’s approach. For the spring/summer 2014 Miu Miu33 show in the Palais d’Iéna34 in Paris, AMO created an unfolding sequence of spaces, each reclad in an eclectic mixture of vinyl, wood, plastic, carpet, foam overlap and fantasy wallpaper. They wanted to playfully undermine the axiality of the space. “The intention is always to understand how to really change the monumental set-up of the existing architecture for a very strong architectural intervention, or to even change it in a way, to change the sense or the feeling of the space,” says Laparelli. “So the last show was a sort of very joyful occupation, or a joyful squatting.”
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More and more, AMO designs with the show’s digital afterlife in mind. It has to take into account camera angles and screen effects, but the sets themselves remain monumental. Even the simplest take a week to install. The Chanel show described above took eight days to set up and three to take down. Chanel and Prada sets are always archived after the show, and one can only imagine the immensity of the spaces required to store them. Laparelli says, “Prada store everything, every show is a piece in the life of Prada and the majority of materials are kept intact. They are like art pieces.” At Chanel, absolutely everything goes into permanent storage at the Conservatory35 in Pantin, as part of the brand’s heritage, or “patrimoine”, as the company describes it.
The vast scale of these show sets is a far cry from the very first fashion shows that took place in genteel couture salons and aspirational stores in the early 20th century. But although the first designers to stage fashion shows may not have built such extravagant sets, they too understood the value of showmanship. London label Lucile36 came up with the idea of a theatrical spectacle in around 1900. Lucile installed a small, raised stage hung with gauzy curtains in its Hanover Square premises, and served tea to the customers as if at a private party, while the mannequins paraded. In Paris, Paul Poiret37 filmed a fashion show in his couture house garden, and in 1911 he toured Europe with his mannequins, juxtaposing filmed and live fashion shows in all the major capitals. In 1914, Jeanne Paquin38 and her French mannequins toured the USA with a dismountable theatre and her own electricians, putting on shows in the big American cities. Meanwhile, American department stores staged their own “French” fashion shows to paying audiences of thousands. By 1915, Broadway had begun to incorporate the fashion show into popular theatre, and in 1917 Lucile and its mannequins toured in vaudeville. These were road shows, however. Back in the couture houses, the ethos of the fashion show remained relatively unchanged until the 1960s, when ready-to-wear shows took on elements of pop. The next major step change was in the 1980s, when some designers began to use producers and to rack up large production costs. Thierry Mugler’s39 1980s extravaganzas are a precedent for today’s shows, in which conspicuous expenditure is paramount. No designer or show producer, however, will admit to exactly how much a show costs. Both AMO and Studio Job expressly declined to answer that question when interviewed for this article.
Even without precise figures, it’s not hard to see why the companies spend so much on these ephemeral performances. The biannual runway shows are not about sales but building a brand identity, and that includes the brand identity of luxury goods, with their appeal to global markets. “For me it was just pure theatre,” says Marc Jacobs on his shows for Louis Vuitton. “We were never really thinking, ‘Perhaps we were wrong about that,’ or about what was commercial or what >
Pierre Mornet (b. 1972) is a Paris-based illustrator.
Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli (b. 1980) is an Italian architect who joined architecture think tank AMO in 2007.
32 Rem Koolhaas (b. 1944) is a Dutch architect, urbanist, theorist, and OMA co-founder. 33 Miu Miu is a clothing brand and Prada subsidiary, named after founder Miuccia Prada and established in 1993.
The Palais d’Iéna was built by French architect Auguste Perret in 1937 in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.
35 The Chanel Conservatory is the archive of fashion house Chanel, based outside Paris. 36 Lucile was headed by leading fashion designer Lucy Christiana, Lady Duff-Gordon (1863-1935). 37 Paul Poiret (1879-1944) was a French fashion designer known for liberating women from wearing corsets. 38 Jeanne Paquin (1869-1936) was a French designer who founded her house in 1894.
Thierry Mugler (b. 1948) is a French fashion designer who founded his brand in 1973.
It is no accident that the designers whose shows have become more opulent in recent years are no longer among the most experimental.
40 The Hermès Kelly was designed in the 1930s. It became a fashion icon when Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco, was photographed wearing it in Cannes in 1956. 41 Manolo Blahnik (b. 1942) is a Spanish shoe designer. He founded his brand in 1972.
See The New Medici on pp. 52–54 of this issue.
READING LIST Spectacle: An Optimist’s Handbook, David Rockwell with Bruce Mau. Phaidon, 2006. The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900-1929, Caroline Evans. Yale University Press, 2013. Vintage Fashion & Couture: From Poiret to McQueen, Kerry Taylor. Mitchell Beazley, 2013.
> was going to sell or what people would want to wear.” It is no accident that the designers whose shows have recently become more opulent are no longer among the most experimental, but are the world’s biggest luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada. The scale and grandeur of their sets echo the size of their market share. And as one grows, so does the other. The price of luxury fashion goods has gone up in recent years by 50 to 60 per cent, more than twice the rate of general inflation. An Hermès Kelly bag40 that cost $4,800 in 2000 now costs $7,600. Manolo Blahnik41 shoes now cost 56 per cent more than 10 years ago, as Lauren Sherman outlined in an article in the online magazine Business of Fashion. This price inflation is mirrored in the recent development of the fashion show. The huge cost and high production values of the shows has to be set against their status and value in the international luxury-goods market. The shows function as a manifesto for the company, and the brands are not slow to augment this by tapping the cultural capital of the adjacent worlds of art and film to build their profiles. Many fashion houses have foundations: alongside the Fondazioni Prada and Trussardi, there are the Pinault and Louis Vuitton foundations.42 All create international exhibitions and function very much as art foundations used to. It makes sense for companies because, despite the recession, the international art market’s buoyancy has matched the luxury goods sector’s.
All these factors combine to increase the prestige and visibility of the brand, in which the fashion show becomes a showcase for what amounts to a military-fashion-industrial complex: the nexus between money, art and fashion. It is as if the fashion shows are a built metaphor, or a spatial representation, of the underlying networks of taste, value and commodity that are at the heart of the contemporary desire for luxury goods.
Caroline Evans is professor of fashion history and theory at the University of the Arts London. She is author of The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900-1929.
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This page and previous page: The set for Prada’s In the Heart of the Multitude women’s spring/summer 2014 show was designed by AMO and featured work by artists Miles Gregor, Mesa, Gabriel Specter, Stinkfish and illustrators Jeanne Detallante and Pierre Mornet. PHOTOS Attilio Maranzano
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THE CONSTRUCTION OF A COLLECTION AND A COLLECTION OF CONSTRUCTIONS
Reality Isn’t Working As design practice Dunne & Raby launches its book Speculative Everything, the studio’s founders reflect on the current state, and future, of speculative design. WORDS Will Wiles ILLUSTRATIONS Hayley Warnham
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Illustration inspired by Revital Cohen’s Respiratory Dog project, 2008.
REALITY ISN’T WORKING
1 The Albert Memorial is an 1875 statue of Prince Albert in Kensington Gardens, London.
Enzo Mari (b. 1932) is an Italian furniture designer.
Tony Cragg (b. 1949) is a British sculptor.
The University of Applied Arts in Vienna was established in 1867.
Daisy Ginsberg (b. 1982) is a British designer.
have a lovely letter from the previous registrar,” says Tony Dunne. “‘Dear Tony… It has been brought to my attention that your department is in possession of illegal uranium and unregulated bio-experiments. Please reassure me that this isn’t true.’ I went to check with the studio and it was true. Every year –” “Every year!” Fiona Raby cuts in, “we have some issue.” “It’s always fun looking back and talking about them,” Dunne says. “Afterwards,” Raby adds.
They laugh, a little nervously. We are sitting in their office at the Royal College of Art (RCA) on Kensington Gore, and the gilded Gothic rocket of the Albert Memorial1 peeks over Dunne’s shoulder. Everything looks… fairly normal. Nothing is glowing or twitching in a jar. But what’s that on the Enzo Mari-designed2 shelves behind them? Genetics for Dummies. The Film Noir Reader. Foucault’s Madness and Civilization. A pack of playing cards used by the FBI to compare different biohazards and ex-NATO radiation dosimeters. Mutated garden tools by the sculptor Tony Cragg.3 A remote control for your dog. “It’s a device from about 10 years ago,” Dunne explains. “It picks up your dog’s barks and translates them, in this case into Japanese.”
This cabinet of curiosities is exactly what you would expect to find in Dunne’s office. Dunne (b. 1964), a professor at the RCA, heads the college’s Design Interactions (DI) programme; while his wife Raby (b. 1963), a professor of industrial design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna,4 is a reader in the course. Together they are design duo Dunne & Raby, and are widely regarded as the founders of critical design, a recently codified discipline that uses speculative design proposals to variously critique, challenge, satirise, elucidate or highlight social phenomena. Still dominated by Dunne’s DI programme, it is an area of design that is growing in both influence and scope. Design Interactions began in 1990 as “computer-related design”, a title that was obsolete by the time it was dropped in 2005. But the present, somewhat sedative, name of the programme perhaps acknowledges how difficult it is to summarise this hallucinogenic endeavour. It sits at the wildest edge of Britain’s design avant-garde, the nerve centre of a design that is liberated from industrial and commercial parameters and set free to dream.
“It was a totally different way of thinking about design research,” says Daisy Ginsberg,5 a biotech artist and designer who graduated from DI in 2009. “It was much more about how design affects >
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Inspired by Dunne & Raby’s Foragers project, 2009, which was shown at the Design Saint-Étienne Biennale in 2010.
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Ai Hasegawa (b. 1979) is a Japanese designer.
7 John Lewis is a high-end British department store.
Interzone by William S. Burroughs (1914-97), 1990, is a collection of short stories inspired by the International Zone in Tangiers, Morocco.
Wouldn’t It Be Nice… Wishful Thinking in Art and Design was at Somerset House, London, in 2008.
10 Michael Burton (b. 1977) is a multidisciplinary artist. 11 David Cronenberg (b. 1943) is a Canadian director and screenwriter.
Oron Catts (b. 1967) is a Finnish artist based in Perth, Australia.
Ionat Zurr (b. 1970) is a British artist based in Perth, Australia.
James King (b. 1982) is a speculative designer based in London.
15 Dressing the Meat of Tomorrow, 2006,
Revital Cohen (b. 1981) is an Israeli-born, London-based designer.
17 Tuur Van Balen (b. 1981) is a Belgian designer.
Jerwood Makers Open recognises emerging artists and offers creative and financial support.
Nelly Ben Hayoun (b. 1986) is a French experience designer based in London.
Sputniko! is Japanese designer and artist Hiromi Ozaki (b. 1985).
Founded in 1985, the Lab is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
22 Based in Hyogo, Japan, Kobe Design University was established in 1989. 23 Founded in 1969, Nikkei Business is a weekly business magazine and website based in Tokyo.
Bruce Sterling (b. 1954) is an American science fiction author.
> people and how it can be a shaping force.” The propositions that emerge from speculative design are very often warped combinations of the impractical, the undesirable and the unwise. For instance, the project that prompted Dunne’s reflections on his tangles with the RCA’s guardians of health and safety was Ai Hasegawa’s6 controversial I Wanna Deliver a Shark, which imagined raising endangered sea creatures in willing women’s wombs. Dolls containing the DNA of past lovers, organised by penis size; powering your home with your child’s excrement; a video peripheral that lets you watch porn without guilt by draining it of all enjoyment or arousal – biological and social transgression in DI is par for the course, with all projects fabricated with a delicious cleanness that would not be out of place in John Lewis.7 The branch of John Lewis in William Burroughs’ Interzone,8 anyway.
At its best – and it’s at its best at the RCA – speculative design is much more than mere intellectual exercise. It goes for the gut and the emotions, as much as it does the mind. The first time I encountered this kind of project, it made me angry; the second time, it made me queasy. It was Dunne & Raby’s contribution to a 2007 exhibition called Wouldn’t It Be Nice9 that riled me. Their Statistical Clock, for instance, counted not hours, but certain kinds of deaths; similarly their Risk Watch whispered the present level of political instability into the user’s ear. Trapped in a rather utilitarian view of design, and on deadline, I couldn’t get a handle on the why of these objects. They seemed uncomfortable, disturbing artefacts, quite at odds with the show’s theme of wishful thinking. It took some deep reflection to place them in the mindset of post-September 11 insecurity, the paradoxical urge to be continuously reassured about our safety and at the same time aware of everything dangerous that’s happening in the world. The anger came from the anxiety the projects had caused in me. And it worked – those are the only two works I remember from that exhibition. The second project was by DI graduate Michael Burton,10 a series of possible modifications to the human body that would allow it to pick up more micro-organisms from the environment to boost its immune system. Feet sprouting fungal growths, fingers with multiple dirt-catching nails – it was nightmare fuel, pure David Cronenberg11 body horror. It made me sick, then it made me think.
Burton’s work came at a time when British speculative designers were expanding their interest in the direction of biotechnology, a trail blazed by bio-artists Oron Catts12 and Ionat Zurr,13 who had created the lab-grown Victimless Leather Jacket in 2004. This interest led to some of the most provocative and memorable imagery 21st-century British design has yet produced – James King’s14 colourfully unfoodlike food in 2006’s Dressing the Meat of Tomorrow15 (which explored how tissue-grown meat should look, smell and taste to imitate farmed meat; scanning meat to create stencils into which the tissue-culture could be placed) and Revital Cohen’s16 celebrated Respiratory Dog, a proposal to turn greyhounds into living ventilators for human patients.
Now, Design Interactions is again broadening the scope of its enquiries to take in the nation state, ideology and citizenship, while Dunne & Raby are pursuing links to think tanks and possibly even government. This year sees the publication of the duo’s Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming (MIT Press) – part speculative-design manifesto, part greatest hits, part effort to weave connections between their protean field and sympathetic areas of industrial design, art, film, literature and elsewhere. Speculative Everything comes at a time of growing interest in critical design. Dunne & Raby recently filled London’s 140-seat Hochhauser Auditorium with a paying crowd for a launch, and last year they were profiled on BBC Two’s The Culture Show.
Meanwhile, a decade of DI graduates are now achieving mainstream success. Cohen and Van Balen – a collaboration between Revital Cohen and fellow DI graduate Tuur van Balen17 – is among this year’s Jerwood Makers Open.18 Late last year, scientist Nelly Ben Hayoun19 was appointed “head of experiences” at file-sharing service WeTransfer, while Daisy Ginsberg’s book, Synthetic Aesthetics, was published in March. As well as being something of a cultural phenomenon in Japan, artist Sputniko!20 is now assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab21 and guest professor at Kobe Design University;22 in 2013, Vogue Japan named her one of its women of the year and this year Nikkei Business23 included her in its list of the 100 most influential people in Japan. In the US, thanks in large part to the popularising efforts of writer Bruce Sterling,24 there is broad enthusiasm for “design fiction” in tech circles, and the work of DI alumni has found enthusiastic audiences. Has speculative design come of age? “It does seem to be in the air at the moment,” says Dunne. “There are organisations interested in it, people doing PhDs on it, I’ve seen magazine articles, debate, discussion… We see it as a broadening of the scope of design to make room for the fictional, speculative and imaginative – it just pushes it a bit further.” “I think in the other disciplines, in architecture, film and literature, it has always been there,” Raby adds. “Designers maintain this very practical view of their work: ‘This is what we do, we don’t do anything else.’ I’m from an architectural background, so we’re always speculating, that’s what architects do.”
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“Speculative design is much more than mere intellectual exercise. It goes for the gut and the emotions, as much as it does the mind.”
There’s something else in the air too, which is a lot more troubling. China is mass-producing cloned sheep; Egyptian protesters are told that they are breaking the law by location-triggered text message; and Facebook has raised its number of user gender options from two to more than fifty. There is a DI feel to all of these developments and the programme has a track record of uncomfortable prescience. “The students do joke about it – you read something in the newspaper and say, ‘That could be one of our projects,’” Dunne says. “But obviously if it’s already in the newspapers it’s a bit late for Design Interactions. What they’re trying to do is spot trends and shifts and research directions that maybe in a few years time will surface in the mainstream and try to get discussion going now.”
25 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global series of conferences begun in 1984. 26 J.G. Ballard (1930-2009) was an English New Wave science-fiction writer.
But DI has never been some TED-like25 evangelical operation making big claims and big boasts. Despite the often radical, often dark, and sometimes upsetting nature of their work, Dunne & Raby share a kindly, unassuming demeanour – two modern-minded Church of England vicars, perhaps. Their manner is often cautious, particularly in their almost nervous desire to deny that their work has a practical, functional role. Speculative design is, Dunne says, “a purely cultural activity about thinking and enrichment of our imaginary lives”. “I like the term ‘lightness of touch’, where something is quite delicate and then it’s gone,” Raby adds. “It’s not saying something is going to save the world and everything is going to be fine, setting expectations beyond what it can do, it’s just shifting your mind into thinking [about] something very different that you wouldn’t otherwise have permission to do.”
Indeed, during their Hochhauser talk Raby compared speculative design to shopping. Shopping is all about looking at objects and imagining how your life might change with the addition of that object – projecting yourself into the future, dreaming, speculating. In the mall these dreams are limited by the objects on display, the things that are available to buy. Dunne & Raby’s work by contrast removes that limitation, liberating objects from consumer reality. “We think it’s a bit perverse, especially in education, to be focusing on this very limited idea of what reality is, and designing for it,” Dunne says. The studio’s work takes place in a world where so-called “reality” has become frankly unreal, or even surreal. Fiction has permeated every aspect of life, a phenomenon noted by author J.G. Ballard26 in 1974: “We are living inside an enormous >
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Image drawing on Ilona Gaynor’s Under Black Carpets a version of which was shown at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale in 2013.
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The studio’s work takes place in a world where so-called reality’ has become frankly unreal, or even surreal.
> novel, written by the external world, by the worlds of advertising, mass-merchandising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, and so on and so forth.” Accelerating technological change is part of this, generating baroque and illegible systems, and in 21st-century Britain the process has been further intensified by the out-of-control financial sector, and the intoxicated and inscrutable mythology it spins around itself, a system that has given politics, economics, society – indeed, the whole public sphere – an utterly phantasmagoric quality. “So why can’t design work with this stuff and extend it and supplant it and so on?” Dunne asks.
“I loved that headline in Metro the other day about people stealing things from supermarkets because of the digital self-checkout systems,” Raby adds. “It was extraordinary, people do it depending on how they feel. There’s this unreality even in how we interface with a supermarket, which I found quite extraordinary.” Nevertheless, the shoddy edifice of modern neoliberal unreality is presented within society as monumental, immutable fact, the unshakeable product of universal law, rather than the vulnerable and volatile confection it truly is. “That’s one of the things we’re interested in – this monolithic ‘reality’, ‘there are no alternatives, we just have to deal with it’,” Dunne says. “Speculative culture in general unpacks this and shows other possibilities are available, they just might not be easily attainable. We’re interested in seeing what design can bring to this general culture of alternative-making, and the specific things it can do that film and literature can’t.”
Though DI work is consistently transgressive and sinister, there are strands of utopian yearning within it, even if you have to squint to see them. Dunne & Raby’s Speculative Everything book sharpens this focus on the “social dreaming” side to the discipline – a longing for alternatives, both for the individual and society. Traditional design has very rarely gone in for utopian thinking, despite an obvious and growing demand for it, and perhaps this is what is fuelling the growth of speculative design, along with the increasing outside interest in it. “Among students, certainly the ones we’re working with here, there is a real hunger for something else, something different, something more,” Dunne says. “The idea of simply going back to what once was [before the 2008 crash] is anathema to them.” “They look at the future, what’s proposed for them,” Raby adds, “in education, employment, housing, health, an ageing population. It’s a bit daunting for the younger generation. From where they’re standing they’re asking, ‘Did that work out, is that reality a good reality?’” “Reality isn’t working,” Dunne says.
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Now, gripped by this urgent thirst for private and public utopias, the programme is applying itself to looking at political and financial systems, themes particularly prevalent in the work of DI graduate Ilona Gaynor,27 whose Under Black Carpets project used the scenario of bank heists in downtown Los Angeles to examine the political and legal implications of how objects are presented in forum. Such a thematic shift is part of a broader trend within speculative design – Dunne & Raby point to Sternberg Press’ Solution series,28 a collection of essays reimagining different nation states, and AMO’s29 Eneropa30 – Europe’s boundaries recast along energy lines, produced by the publishing and philosophising wing of Rem Koolhaas’ OMA – as further recent examples of geopolitical dreaming in design. Meanwhile, Dunne & Raby’s own United Micro Kingdoms, a small exhibition at the Design Museum31 last year, imagined a future Britain split into four “super-shires”, each of which had pursued its own technological and social direction. The Bio-Liberals pursued civil rights and synthetic biology, tooting around in fart-powered mobile calluses; the Digitarians traded liberty for consumer electronics, forging a ruthlessly marketised, restless paradise of constant movement. “It’s always been there – we’ve always talked about citizenship, we’ve always talked about economics,” Dunne says. “But we’ve never really grappled with it.” Joint ventures with think tanks are being explored and the pair allude to approaches from branches of government, although they spell out that they are not seeking a policy-making role. At whatever scale, these explorations remain thoroughly rooted in design, a discipline that has always had more to do with politics and finance than people might imagine. “Ideology, which sounds like a very old-fashioned concept, is a very interesting and powerful core of technological development,” Dunne says. “So often in technology it’s assumed that everything is neutral and the ideology that does inform technological development is not up for discussion. So we wanted to set up projects that would highlight that and expose it more. And that took us into thinking more about political systems and how you organise relations between people and society. And that started to open our eyes to world-building and geopolitics.”
What saves these exercises in speculation from drifting into pure handwaving is their rootedness in design and fabrication – they always return to a design proposition. Even mock-up and props help make the underyling concepts more concrete: “Making the unreal real thing that people put into the real environment in order to have real thoughts,” as Raby puts it. This emphasis on making is what puts Dunne & Raby at the forefront of speculative design and perhaps provides a platform for their students’ success. It’s in contrast to some of the “design fictions” emerging from the US, which never go beyond computer visualisation and so remain underpowered – Branko Lukic’s32 work, collated in his 2011 book Nonobject (MIT Press), is full of witty and provocative stances on design, but never gets beyond glossy, sterile renderings. By contrast, the act of making feeds back into the ideas and lets objects take on their own voice. “Sometimes we have debates about putting the switch on something,” Dunne says. “If you put the switch on, it becomes real, but if you leave it off it’s just a model. I love all those little possibilities, and the ways an object communicates – for instance, if you put radiused corners on something it tends to look more real and if you strip them off it looks more abstract; it would be very difficult to mass-manufacture something so sharp.”
27 Designer, artist and filmmaker Ilona Gaynor (b. 1986) established her London-based studio, the Department of No, in 2012. 28 Sternberg Press’ Solution series has been edited by German writer and artist Ingo Niermann since 2008. 29 AMO: see Conspicuous Construction in this issue of Disegno.
Eneropa is a European Climate Foundation design for a European power network that taps into the energy capabilities of the regions, claiming to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
31 London’s Design Museum, founded in 1989, shows international architecture, fashion, graphic and industrial design. 32 Born in Serbia, Branko Lukic is a designer and lecturer. He is also the founder of Nonobject Inc, a strategic design and innovation firm.
Japanese designer Michiko Nitta (b. 1978) met Burton on the DI programme at the RCA. They have collaborated on projects since 2009.
34 designandviolence. moma.org/republic-ofsalivation-michael-burtonand-michiko-nitta
There is a polish and charm to the design work produced by Dunne & Raby and the DI students and graduates, even if it is nonetheless hard to reconcile the studio’s utopian rhetoric with the darkness of much of its work: its recurring emphasis on scarcity, unfreedom, fear, uncertainty and the apocalypse. Dunne & Raby’s Foragers project (2009) proposed prostheses for a postcollapse society of scavengers. United Micro Kingdoms stubbornly squatted between utopia and dystopia to make the point that different technological and social directions necessitate tradeoffs – you can’t have it all. Are they optimistic or pessimistic?
“We’re incredible optimists,” Raby says. “We want the science to work, we want the technology to work. But there’s this other side where we think, ‘Oh no, humans are these difficult characters who mess everything up.’ If you have an idealised way something will work, you can guarantee that something will come in and mess it up.”
“The combination of technology, politics, economics and ecology that we have at the moment in the western world, it’s going somewhere bad,” Dunne continues. “We’re quite pessimistic about that, so a lot of our work amplifies that or parodies it. When I look around, I think we’re heading to a terrible conclusion. But when I think of the human mind and imagination I think surely something good can come out of it. And maybe design as well can be a catalyst for some of this, even if we don’t know the answers, it can act as a lubricant.” But with its growing profile, speculative design has begun to draw criticism, not least concerning its dystopian edge. The Republic of Salivation, a project by Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta,33 imagined a future of food scarcity and prompted a passionate debate when it was featured on the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) Design and Violence website34 last year. Critics led by US >
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“Projects that clearly reflect the fear of losing first-world privileges in a bleak dystopic future abound.”
John Thackara (b. 1951) is founder and director of the Doors of Perception, an events company that organises European and Indian festivals for grassroots innovators and designers to imagine sustainable futures.
36 Luiza Prado (b. 1985) is a designer, researcher and artist based in Berlin.
London-based designer and artist Tobias Revell (b. 1986) graduated from DI in 2012.
READING LIST Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. MIT Press, 2014. Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. MIT Press, 2014. Nonobject, Branko Lukic. MIT Press, 2010.
> designer John Thackara35 argued that what was being held up as a frightening vision of things to come was already a daily reality for much of the world’s population, and that the project ignored the factors that led to such scarcity in the first place. Brazilian designer Luiza Prado36 was prompted to write a more general attack on speculative design, berating its “blindly privileged environment” and its apparent lack of interest in race, class and gender. “Projects that clearly reflect the fear of losing first-world privileges – gastronomical, civil or cultural – in a bleak, dystopic future abound,” Prado wrote, “while practitioners seem to be blissfully unaware (or unwilling to acknowledge, in some cases) of other realities… speculative design can only earn its ‘critical’ name once it leaves its own comfort zone and starts looking beyond privilege, for real.”
Prado’s critique is unfair in some respects – there are a lot more non-white, -male, -heterosexual people in the field than she suggests. In other respects it’s extremely important and a reflection of the fact that as speculative design’s influence grows, its responsibilities also grow. “It is true that most speculative design happens in the west and often reflects first-world issues, but I think it’s because conventional design (and some of its shortcomings) is pretty well understood in the west, so it’s only natural for some people to want to explore new possibilities for design and other ways it can contribute to society, even if that society is part of the first world, for now,” Dunne says. “But there is no reason why this approach can’t develop in a wider context. It’s early days yet. We’d love to see it spread to other parts of the world and mutate into new forms of practice appropriate for local issues, cultures and contexts. But it needs to emerge locally, bottom up.” They are not trying to create a form of universal speculative design that works anywhere for anyone. “We need to allow for individuality and local variation in method, content, style, subject, etc. Something we see very little of in design today due to globalisation,” says Dunne. “Not being mass-produced, speculative design has more potential to reflect local issues and cultures. Also, there’s a limit to what design can do. Sometimes we can achieve more as citizens than designers… We need to recognise its limits.”
Yet Tobias Revell,37 another DI graduate, goes beyond Dunne’s careful pragmatism. Writing in response to the debate on the MoMA page, Revell presented the passions aroused by Burton and Nitta’s project as a historical opportunity for speculative design to emerge as a progressive force. “It feels, from the inside, like critical design is edging closer and closer to something new and radical, particularly looking at the work of current students and recent graduates,” Revell wrote. Speculative design’s increasingly influential young practitioners are “highly politically literate, frustrated and energetic”, Revell continued. Together, they could be “the closest we have to a movement with the radical ambition to change the world without jumping on the back of markets. It’s young, full of naivety and has a lot of learning to do – but it feels like a powder keg.”
Will Wiles is an architecture and design journalist and author of two novels: Care of Wooden Floors (2012) and The Way Inn (June 2014).
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Illustration inspired by Ai Hasegawa’s I Wanna Deliver a Shark, 2010-12.
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The International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects 9â€”12 May 2014 Saatchi Gallery, London collect2014.org.uk
Crafts Council Registered Charity Number: 280956
Claire Curneen, Portent, 2013 Photo by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd Represented at COLLECT by Ruthin Craft Centre
Charles James ball gowns, 1948. PHOTO Cecil Beaton
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Alaïa on Charles James “The first time I ever heard about Charles James was in 1981,” says fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa. It was on a trip to New York where Alaïa staged a fashion show at the department store Bergdorf Goodman. At the store Alaïa met Arthur Englander, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Elizabeth Ann Coleman, a curator at the Museum of Brooklyn. “They complemented me by comparing my work to that of Charles James. But I was a bit hurt because I didn’t know James’ work,” says Alaïa. “I thought that they were comparing me to a contemporary designer, so I grimaced.” >
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> Three years earlier the American couturier Charles James had died in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, aged 72. By that time he was a largely forgotten figure, although in his heyday in the 1940s and 50s James had been one of the most celebrated couturiers of the 20th century. Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel were patrons, while Christian Dior credited James’ work as an inspiration for his celebrated New Look collection. Cristóbal Balenciaga summarised James’ reputation well; he was, Balenciaga said, “not only the greatest American couturier, but the world’s best and only dressmaker who has raised haute couture from an applied art form to a pure art form.” James’ gowns were highly structured and engineered, relying on an underlying infrastructure of bodices, pads and petticoats to create extraordinary wasp-waisted silhouettes that were immortalised in photography by his childhood friend Cecil Beaton. But James’ quest for perfection proved his downfall; his devotion to craft meant he lost track of commercial viability. He frequently refused to follow fashion schedules and was notorious for asking clients to return garments in order to let him continue working on them. James’ companies went bankrupt more than once and his reputation drifted. While the houses of Dior and Balenciaga lived on and prospered, Charles James exists only in the annals of history. Yet now his work is to be honoured with an exhibition at the Met’s Costume Institute in New York, opening in May. It is an important step in a world seemingly only just rediscovering James. Yet it is not the first time that the designer has been posthumously honoured. In 1982 his work was 194 Disegno. ALAÏA ON CHARLES JAMES
shown at the Brooklyn Museum and it was during the preparations for this show that Alaïa met Coleman and Englander. After their meeting at Bergdorf Goodman, Coleman invited Alaïa to the museum to see James’ garments first hand. “I got a shock,” says Alaïa of his first encounter with James’ work. Shortly afterwards, Englander, who was working on James’ archives, took Alaïa to meet James’ assistant who was repairing clothes for the exhibition at the Chelsea Hotel. “The room was full of magazines from the time when James was active and I happened upon this photo of a famous down jacket in white satin, worn by Pat Cleveland,” says Alaïa. “I asked if I could make a copy of the photo and he gave it to me. When I returned to Paris I spoke a lot about Charles James especially to the writer Prosper Assouline, who eventually wrote an article on his work.” But Alaïa also started looking for garments by James and eventually found a dress coming up for auction in New York. “I called Gene Pressman, the [then] CEO of Barneys and told him: ‘It’s my birthday soon.’ So my first James garment was a gift.” This gift was a red velvet and faille dress, which Alaïa still stores in the box it arrived in. He rarely looks at it. “It’s enough that I know I have it,” he says, but his acquisition of the dress inspired a larger collection. Alaïa now owns some dozen Charles
But nowadays everything that used to be inside a dress doesn’t exist anymore – the corset, the hip pads – instead we can create a similar result with more developed materials. But his work is still really important to study for students of fashion. His constructions are incredible and the architecture of them makes them more like objects than clothes.” Although James’ work and style is rooted in the past, it still has the power to influence. Alaïa has developed his couture independently of James, yet has nonetheless done so in a manner pioneered by James. Like his predecessor, Alaïa often rejects seasonal shows in favour of presenting when he feels he’s ready and his garments are subject to a continuous evolution, rather than starting afresh each season. In March 2014, Alaïa staged a fashion show in his Paris studio. It fell outside of the official Paris Fashion Week schedule and was presented to only a select few clients and buyers. One of the pieces on display was a skirt made from a concertina-like triangulated fabric. Light to the touch, its structure creates volume and bounce without the need for added layers. It’s a piece that proves Alaïa’s point – what James achieved with understructure can now be realised with innovative fabrics. While James’ garments restricted
“Every single fashion house has a style and the personal signature of Charles James was inspired by the lines of architecture.” James garments, which are hard to come by. James’ working methods meant that production was small and his work is highly sought-after. “Every fashion house has a style and the personal signature of Charles James was inspired by architecture,” says Alaïa. But this structural focus is partly responsible for James slipping out of fashion. In many ways, his garments were constructions for the body, rather than clothing. His “Butterfly” ball gown from 1955 weighs 8kg, with as many as 23m of material used in its construction. While much contemporary fashion is marked by a lightness of touch and sensitivity towards the body, James’ work was elaborate and cocooning, forcibly shaping and reconfiguring the appearance of its wearer’s frame. “He was making pieces directly on the person and in a way you could say that he was sculpting his garments around the person,” says Alaïa. “I am fascinated by his work, as it is like that of an architect.
the human form, couturiers like Alaïa use developments in material construction to free it. It seems an altogether more delicate approach and one more in line with the human body. While James encased the body, Alaïa loosely grips it. With this in mind, Alaïa’s collection of Charles James pieces, all neatly boxed up in his personal archive of historical garments, are perhaps better off under lids. His treatment of the human form belongs to another era. Yet despite this, the Met exhibition will rightly recognise James’ achievements, emphasising his mastery of construction. It is a point Alaïa knows well: “When I open the boxes and look at his pieces, it still feels a little like receiving a gift, every time.”
Johannna Agerman Ross is the founder and editor-in-chief of Disegno. Charles James: Beyond Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 8 May – 10 August 2014.
This page: Charles James with model, 1948. PHOTO Cecil Beaton Opposite page: Austine Hearst wearing Clover Leaf Gown, ca. 1953. PHOTOS courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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PHOTO Ola Bergengren
Luca Nichetto for Mjölk Espresso is a controlled process: it is a blend of beans, a degree of roast and a grinding measurement. It is also the machine that pressurises steam through tightly tamped fine grounds. A proper shot of espresso delivers quick, consistent and strong flavour. Compare that to the relative anarchy of the pour-over method. A decent cup requires quite intimate intervention at each stage – grinding beans by hand; pouring water off the boil over a loosely heaped hill of coarse coffee; waiting for the water to permeate and trickle below. The pour-over leaves many opportunities for random errors, but this risk is balanced by the pleasure of a successful cup – unique in its aroma and flavour.
In line with recent trends like the slow-food movement and craft everything, the pour-over’s appeal is the ritual process of making. Playing into this trend is ceramic pour-over coffee set Sucabaruca by Italian designer Luca Nichetto for Canadian brand Mjölk. It is based around the conical shape integral to the pour-over process – a functional aspect that informs the set from the filter-holder on down to the playful inverse cones that characterise the hand-engraved pot and cups, all of which rest on a four-legged tray constructed of raw Canadian maple.
Colin Christie is the art director of Disegno and a trained barista.
LUCA NICHETTO FOR MJÖLK
Selected Reading Charlotte Perriand is enjoying a renaissance. The modernist architect and designer (1903-99) re-entered the spotlight last year when her unrealised beach house La Maison au Bord de l’Eau was built by Louis Vuitton in Miami. She is the subject of a book to be released in April, is the muse for Vuitton’s spring/summer 2014 collection, Icônes, and Cassina recently previewed her wooden prototypes in Paris. In a career that spanned eight decades and took her from France to Japan to Vietnam, Perriand was one of few women to succeed in the male-dominated early modernist period. She was a vital force in shaping 20th-century design, with her early career remarkable for collaborations with leading figures such as Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger and Jean Prouvé. While she became less visible in the latter half of her life, Perriand’s importance in design history was recognised by two retrospective exhibitions before she died – in 1985 at the Musée des Arts-Décoratifs, Paris, and in 1998 at the Design Museum, London. Perriand studied at Paris’ École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, but in her five years there, she struggled with the school’s Beaux-Arts ideals, instead drawing inspiration from the tubular-steel construction of bicycles. This influence translated into her machine-age aesthetic of steel, glass and aluminium; a palette she drew upon when gutting the living room of her Paris apartment and reimagining it as a bar. Perriand avidly read books by Le Corbusier, who she hoped to work with after graduating. Yet at their first meeting in 1927, he dismissed her with: “We don’t embroider cushions here.” It was a position he retracted when he saw Perriand’s modernist rooftop Bar sous le Toît at the Salon d’Automne art exhibition in Paris later that year. She was quickly invited to join his studio. Working from Rue de Sèvres 35, she created tubular-steel furniture 198 Disegno. SELECTED READING
according to the principles laid out in Corbusier’s 1925 book L’Art décoratif d’aujourd’hui. Her most iconic pieces were made at this time: chairs for conversation (B301 sling back chair), relaxing (LC2 Grand Confort) and sleeping (B306 chaise longue recliner). Materiality and experimentation were crucial to Perriand’s work, and she aimed to create functional and affordable furniture. She sought out brands that could manufacture her tubular-steel designs, asking Peugeot to adapt the material used in its bicycles for furniture. When Peugeot refused, she persuaded German firm Thonet to produce the series. Her work was not restricted to steel and glass. In the mid-1930s she experimented with wood, a material considered old-fashioned in the machine age. She travelled to Japan in 1940 as an industrialdesign advisor to the Ministry for Trade and Industry. When Japan entered the second world war in 1941, Perriand tried to return to France but was stranded in Vietnam due to the US naval blockade. She used her exile as an opportunity for further material experimentation, adapting bamboo and traditional Vietnamese woodworking techniques to create furniture and partition screens. While her interest in functionality and versatility was characteristic of modernism, Perriand’s creation of warm interiors and sensitivity to materials set her apart from her contemporaries. It is this depth to her work that partly explains the renewed interest in her. As Perriand said, “design is about responding to the gestures of the human being. Then there is a side even beyond this, which has to do with a sort of harmony with oneself, with one’s environment; this kind of awareness affects everything.” Charlotte Perriand by Elisabeth Vedrenne. Assouline, 2005. £16 Though Perriand is often associated with Le Corbusier, this book looks at her in her own right, portraying her as a free-spirited individual whose energy and love of materiality and craft were translated into her furniture and integrated spaces. Charlotte Perriand: A Life of Creation by Charlotte Perriand. The Monacelli Press, 2000. £10 Perriand’s autobiography recounts details of her collaborations, and her travels and their impact on her work. The black-and-white photography is taken from her own archive.
Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living by Mary Mcleod and Esther da Costa Meyer. Abrams, 2003. £40 The first English book about Perriand includes sketches, drawings, imagery and essays, and examines how her functional aesthetics and principles of modernist design related to the turbulent cultural, political, social and economic conditions of the mid-20th century. Charlotte Perriand: Complete Works. Volume 1: 1903-1940 by Jacques Barsac. Scheidegger and Spiess, 2014. €120 The first of three volumes about Perriand’s life and work, this book is scheduled for release in April, with subsequent volumes published in autumn 2014 and 2015 respectively. This volume focuses on her early years: education, interest in pre-fab residential architecture, and years spent working with Le Corbusier. Charlotte Perriand, Livre de Bord 1928-1933 edited by Arthur Rüegg. Birkhäuser, 2004. £32.95 This is a facsimile of the 140-page sketchbook that Perriand kept between 1927 and 1933, with an essay by Arthur Rüegg. Charlotte Perriand: Photography: A Wide-Angle Eye by Jacques Barsac. 5 Continents, 2010. £45 The recent discovery of several hundred photographic negatives in Perriand’s archives revealed the scope of her photography work. For Perriand, photography was a machine for thinking, as well as an instrument of political engagement. Her photographs offer previously unseen glimpses into her creative process and development. Collection Icônes Louis Vuitton Spring Summer 2014. This catalogue of Louis Vuitton’s new collection inspired by Perriand picks up on themes such as travel, functionality and timelessness. It comprises garments that can be combined in different ways. This flexibility ties to Perriand’s own wardrobe, clothes that served as “interchangeable modules”. Charlotte Perriand by Marie-Laure Jousset. Centre Pompidou, 2005. Out of print The exhibition catalogue for the Centre Pompidou’s Perriand retrospective in Paris is organised chronologically, beginning with her glacial steel and glass furniture and culminating in her 1993 Tea House for contemplation and meditation.
Manijeh Verghese is the salon co-ordinator of Disegno and an architect.
The selected reading list on Charlotte Perriand was photographed at the AA Bookshop, 33 Bedford Square, London, where several of the books will be available for sale after the launch of Disegno No.6 PHOTO Chris Tang
Wrapping Architecture Clutter abounds in the studio of SwedishChilean designer Anton Alvarez. The studio is on the second floor of an artist’s complex in a Stockholm industrial park, adjacent to Årstaberg train station. It’s a small space with little room for such mess, but somehow Alvarez has contrived to fill it with a tangle of yarn spools, pigment spatter, and imported PVA glue. >
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> “Swedish PVA is just too shiny, which is annoying,” says Alvarez, gesturing to the bottles of British UniBond that line his shelves. “So I import in bulk.” The clutter serves a purpose, feeding the hulk in the studio’s centre – Alvarez’s Thread Wrapping Machine. It’s a bizarre device – a spinning plywood Stargate – but one that facilitates a sophisticated production method. Alvarez built the first version of the machine in 2012, while studying at London’s Royal College of Art, as the chief means of production of thread wrapping – a type of construction that shuns the use of screws, nails and joints in favour of binding materials together with tight loops of glue-soaked yarn. While the technique is straightforward, the machine is more complex. Pots of glue and reels of thread are affixed to its interior circumference, and the whole unit rotates thanks to an external motor. When the device spins, the motion drives the threads through the glue pots, soaking them in PVA, before pulling them up to hang crisscrossed in the centre of the machine. As material is fed through the spinning knot, the yarn snaps around it, tying it into complex forms. Alvarez has already used the machine to produce abstract designs and functional furniture, but this year he is pushing the method further. In an exhibition opening in May at Stockholm’s Gustavsbergs Konsthall, an arts venue in the city’s suburbs, Alvarez will show thread-wrapped architecture. It is a difficult commission and one that will require radical alterations to the machine. Alvarez will need to widen its ring to allow larger elements to pass through, and find a way to suspend it from the ceiling in order to work on the higher elements of the structure. It is nonetheless an opportunity that excites Alvarez. “Architecture is something that has been with me for a long time and I’ve just been waiting for a good opportunity to try it,” says Alvarez. “Then the room at the Konsthall was offered, which is about 15m by 7.5m, with 5.5m-high ceilings. It seemed like a good opportunity.” Thread-wrapped architecture will bring technical challenges (“I’m confident it will be possible. It just depends on how thick I make
the pieces”), but it is a sign of Alvarez’s commitment to the technique. He is no dilettante, having focused all his efforts in the past two years on thread wrapping, rather than seeking the relative security of industry and established manufacturers. “I’m very much a craftsperson,” he says. “Sometimes I see very nice projects that are about creating a process, but the designers just don’t pursue them. They come up with their next project too quickly and leave the process before they’ve fully resolved it. That’s why I say I have the approach of a craftsperson – I want to take time to really see what I can do. Sometimes colleagues or friends ask when I’m going to do a real project, but a real design project for me is one that’s trying to understand what design is. What making and manufacturing are.” The move to architecture is an effort to understand the limits of thread wrapping. Alvarez has honed his system dramatically, his early sets of heavily wrapped stools and benches giving way to more rarified forms and an increasingly economic use of thread. “The thread was a joint that grew to become the
“A real design project for me is one that’s trying to understand what design is.” upholstery,” admits Alvarez. “I was so proud of the joint that I was covering everything.” He still uses the machine to create works that are coated in thick cobwebs of thread, but he has diversified to more spartan pieces. His latest productions, exhibited in a solo show at Gallery Libby Sellers
Previous page and this page: Thread wrapping in process at the studio PHOTOS Märta Thisner
in London, display the crisp colour divisions seen in the work of Romanian artist André Cadere, but with tapering, branching structures that seem more elegant than anything Alvarez has produced before. They shift attention away from the thread and onto the bric-a-brac wooden structures that lie beneath. The methodology of thread wrapping is becoming more refined. But if thread-wrapped architecture will continue this technical advancement of the method, its future creation is equally motivated by Alvarez’s desire to return thread wrapping to its roots. Much of the power of his original pieces derived from their ramshackle spontaneity – the sheer unexpectedness of structural items held together with fragile thread arrangements. As Alvarez has gained more confidence with the process his creations have become more sophisticated. Turning to architecture will throw him back into the unknown. “I think I’m starting to get too precise and too controlling of the machine and maybe I’m not being so honest to the technique,” says Alvarez. “But with the scale of architecture I won’t be able to be so precise. Architecture will give me space to become a beginner again and that’s important for me in terms of holding my interest. I like to push myself into positions where I don’t know where I am. I like to have uncertain ground. I try not to be too neat.”
Oli Stratford is deputy editor of Disegno. Anton Alvarez’s thread-wrapped architecture will be displayed at Stockholm’s Gustavsbergs Konsthall, 24 May – 14 September 2014.
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Drawings for different versions of the Thread Wrapping Machine.
“I’M NOT INTERESTED IN CREATING A PROVOCATION. ALL THE OBJECTS I PROPOSE TO SIT ON OR LIVE WITH ARE QUITE SERIOUS TO ME. I MEAN IT.” KONSTANTIN GRCIC
2 Disegno. TITLETITLETITLE
PHOTO Pien Spijkers
Chimney Pots by Wieki Somers The primary characteristic of Studio Wieki Somers is an interest in the fantastical – working together since 2003, founders Somers and Dylan van den Berg have made baths into boats and coat racks into carousels. The chimneys that the Rotterdam studio created for a Tudor-inspired housing development in nearby Hoofddorp are a case in point, referencing a rich history. Long before their associations with industry and Victorian squalor, chimney stacks were extravagant and ornate; status symbols that showcased wealth. The popularisation of chimneys in Tudor architecture saw brickwork criss-cross into elaborate columns topping out in rook-like ramparts. Studio Wieki Somers’ chimneys celebrate such ostentation. The red-brick towers
are made from rings of polyester concrete that connect into patterned columns. The chimneys had to be systematic enough to suit large-scale manufacture, and inspiration in this respect came from the peat stacks farmers historically built around nearby Haarlemmermeer lake – columns of peat bricks arranged into simple yet extraordinary geometries. From peat bogs to Tudor ornament, these are references typical of the studio. The Hoofddorp chimneys are simply its latest exercise in finding glamour in the unglamorous.
Oli Stratford is the deputy editor of Disegno. Wieki Somers’ chimney pots are currently under construction.
CHIMNEY POTS BY WIEKI SOMERS
PHOTO Rita Platts
Eley Kishimoto Wallpaper The success of a wallpaper lies in its appearance; wallpaper serves no function, so all that can succeed is its look. Is it beautiful? Is it something you could bear to be around day in, day out? Bearing a wallpaper is important. In no other area of life – clothes, products, textiles – is pattern quite so inescapable. Wallpaper cocoons a room and in doing so, dictates its atmosphere. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1899 short story The Yellow Wallpaper, a woman is confined to an attic nursery by her patriarchal husband, gradually losing her sanity to both her situation and the lurid wallpaper that coats the nursery walls. “The wallpaper,” Gilman wrote, “sticketh closer than a brother.” A new set of 20 hand-printed wallpaper designs currently under development by fashion 206 Disegno. ELEY KISHIMOTO WALLPAPER
brand Eley Kishimoto is therefore intriguing. For 22 years the London-based fashion house, a collaboration between Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto, has been defined by the bold prints that decorate its work. Yet wallpaper is print in its most reduced form. There is nothing for it to hide behind – no cut of the clothes and no weave of the textiles. By moving into wallpaper, Eley Kishimoto is pushing its prints to the fore in a manner more explicit than ever before. “It’s the quickest way to be able to live with patterns and the most accepted format to live with pattern,” says Eley. “It’s a road well-trodden, but our aesthetics are very particular compared to what is on the market now.”
Oli Stratford is deputy editor of Disegno.
No.6 s/s 2014
ADULT p. 42–3 adult-mag.com
CAMPER p. 19 camper.com
AZZEDINE ALAÏA p. 192–195 alaia.fr ALESSI p. 13 alessi.com
CAESARSTONE p. 45 caesarstone.com
CHANEL p. 52, 153, 166, 170–4 chanel.com
FRONT LONDON p. 10 wearefront.com
ARPER p. 18, 100, 109–10 arper.com
CHARLES JAMES p. 192–195
B&B ITALIA p. 2–3 bebitalia.com
ANTONIO BERARDI p. 116, 120, 123 antonioberardi.com
SEBASTIAN BERGNE p. 84, 90, 94 sebastianbergne.com LINA BO BARDI p. 98–111
CLASSICON p. 68, 76 classicon.com
COHEN AND VAN BALEN p. 178–9, 182 cohenvanbalen.com COMMITTEE p. 141 gallop.co.uk
SEBASTIAN COX p. 136–7 sebastiancox.co.uk
CRAFTS COUNCIL p. 190 craftscouncil.org.uk D
BOCCI p. 4–5 bocci.ca
DESIGNERS & FORESTS p. 140–2 designersandforests.us
RONAN AND ERWAN BOUROULLEC p. 22–4, 26–7, 84, 88, 90–91 bouroullec.com
DORNBRACHT p. 55 dornbracht.com
BOUDICCA p. 148–161 platform13.com
BÖWER p. 67 boewer.com
BULTHAUP p. 41 bulthaup.com
BUREAU BETAK p. 167–169, 172 bureaubetak.com
MICHAEL BURTON p. 182, 187–8 michael-burton.co.uk DANIEL BYSTRÖM p. 141–2 bystromdesign.se
FLOS p. 73, 77 flos.com
FORMAFANTASMA p. 128–9, 131, 141 formafantasma.com
FELIX CHABLUK SMITH p. 28–29 felixchabluksmith.com
ARTEMIDE p. 17 artemide.com
CÉLINE p. 31 celine.com
ANTON ALVAREZ p. 136, 200–3 antonalvarez.com AMO p. 172–3, 175 oma.eu
E15 p. 85 e15.com
DIOR p. 33–4, 52, 153, 166–9, 172 dior.com
DUNNE & RABY p. 178–189 dunneandraby.co.uk E
ELEY KISHIMOTO p. 206 eleykishimoto.com ELMO LEATHER p. 25 elmoleather.com EMECO p. 37 emeco.net
ERDEM p. 116, 120–1 erdem.com
FRITZ HANSEN p. 86–7 fritzhansen.com
GALLERY LIBBY SELLERS p. 200–2 libbysellers.com
MARTINO GAMPER p. 38–40 martinogamper.com ILONA GAYNOR p. 184–5, 187 ilonagaynor.co.uk
DAISY GINSBERG p. 180, 182 daisyginsberg.com
GRAHAM & BROWN p. 196 grahambrown.com
KONSTANTIN GRCIC p. 40, 64–79 konstantin-grcic.com
GUSTAVSBERGS KONSTHALL p. 202–3 gustavsbergskonsthall.se H
AI HASEGAWA p. 182, 189 aihasegawa.info
HAWORTH TOMPKINS p. 32–5 haworthtompkins.com HAY p. 93 hay.dk I
INDUSTRIAL FACILITY p. 84, 90 industrialfacility.co.uk
INSTITUTO LINA BO E P. M. BARDI p. 98, 110 institutobardi.com.br INTERIEUR inside back cover interieur.be
IZÉ p. 100, 102, 109 ize.info
N LUCA NICHETTO p. 197 lucanichetto.com
JONGERIUSLAB p. 84, 89–91, 94 jongeriuslab.com
NORMANN COPENHAGEN p. 95 normann-copenhagen.com
KARIMOKU NEW STANDARD p. 94–5 karimoku-newstandard.jp
ODISEO p. 42–3
KINNARPS p. 51 kinnarps.com L
LINDBERG p. 50 lindberg.com
LIGNE ROSET p. 8–9 ligne-roset.com
JULIA LOHMANN p. 46–9 julialohmann.co.uk
LOUIS VUITTON p. 52–4, 166, 173–4, 198 louisvuitton.com M
MAGIS p. 66, 70, 77–9 magisdesign.com MAHARAM p. 14, 71 maharam.com
PETER MARIGOLD p. 128, 130, 140–1, 143 petermarigold.com
PETER MARINO p. 52, 54 petermarinoarchitect.com
MATTIAZZI p. 56, 72, 90 mattiazzi.eu
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART p. 28–9, 194 metmuseum.org MISCHER’TRAXLER p. 140–1 mischertraxler.com MJÖLK p. 197 mjolk.ca
MOORMANN p. 69 moormann.de
MOUSTACHE p. 82–3, 86–7 moustache.fr MUJI p. 67 muji.com
PIPPA MURRAY p. 128, 130, 136, 142 pippamurraydesign.com 208 Disegno. INDEX
ONE NORDIC p. 85, 92 onenordic.com P
NATHALIE DU PASQUIER p. 59–63, 80–1, 96–7, 112–3, 124–5, 162–3, 176–7 nathaliedupasquier.com CHARLOTTE PERRIAND p. 198–9 PLANK p. 79 plank.it
PRADA p. 52, 166, 172–5 prada.com
PRINGLE OF SCOTLAND p. 1, inside front cover pringlescotland.com
PROTOPAPER p. 36 protopaperlab.com R
TOBIAS REVELL p. 188 tobiasrevell.com
SIMONE ROCHA p. 114–6, 119 simonerocha.com RYAN p. 58 martinryan.co.uk
SAINT LAURENT p. 116–7, 172, back cover ysl.com
SCHOLTEN & BAIJINGS p. 86, 91, 93–5 scholtenbaijings.com SCHÖNBUCH p. 86–7 schoenbuch.com INGA SEMPÉ p. 85, 94 ingasempe.fr
SERAFINO ZANI p. 71 serafinozani.it
SERPENTINE GALLERY p. 38–40 serpentinegalleries.org
STANLEY PICKER GALLERY p. 150–1, 158 stanleypickergallery.org
STRING p. 6–7 string.se
STUDIO JOB p. 164–6, 172–3 studiojob.be
STUDIO SWINE p. 128, 130, 141 studioswine.com
STUDIO WIEKI SOMERS p. 205 wiekisomers.com SWAROVSKI p. 24, 26 swarovski.com
TALC p. 42–3 talcmagazine.com THONET p. 67 thonet.de V
V&A p. 32–5, 46–9, 61, 72, 120 vam.ac.uk VALENTINO p. 120 valentino.com
GIAMBATTISTA VALLI p. 116, 118 giambattistavalli.com
PALACE OF VERSAILLES p. 22–4, 26–7 chateauversailles.fr
VIKTOR & ROLF p. 164–6, 172 viktor-rolf.com VITRA p. 84, 89–91 vitra.com
VITRA DESIGN MUSEUM p. 65, 72–5, 77–78 design-museum.de W
WÄSTBERG p. 85 wastberg.com
VIVIENNE WESTWOOD p. 44 viviennewestwood.co.uk WOGG p. 82–3 wogg.ch
WRONG FOR HAY p. 60, 84–5, 90 wrongforhay.com 123
10 CORSO COMO p. 20 10corsocomo.com 3.1 PHILLIP LIM p. 116, 122 31philliplim.com
‘‘ INTERIEUR 2014 brings a research-driven programme that reframes the role of design in contemporary living and rethinks the design industry’s strategies for the age of network culture.’’ — Joseph Grima
Curator of the cultural programme
Paris* *via Lille
THE MUST-SEE DESIGN EVENT THIS AUTUMN WITHIN 2 HOURS OF 4 EUROPEAN CAPITALS.
17—26 october kortrijk—belgium WWW.INTERIEUR.BE
An evening with Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec’s Lustre Gabriel • Felix Chabluk Smith's induction to the Met’s Costume Institute • Céline's sphe...