From hand-made to mass production, textiles have the power to tell stories and increasingly furniture designers are finding opportunities to cross over into the fashion world. Penny Craswell explores new concepts and material qualities in textiles and fashion at Milan this year.
In the flagship showroom of Swedish textile company Kinnasand at Corso Monforte, a series of kite-like shields fly overhead, an installation created by Studio Weiki Somers from Rotterdam. The installation is the material manifestation of a new research initiative called Kinnasand LAB in which design director Isa Glink collaborates with external designers to interpret existing textiles and innovate new products for the brand. The resulting product – Shield – consists of semi-transparent layers of embroidered fabric with wooden panels, like large ice-cream sticks, that can bring rigidity and weight to the fabric or be removed to increase flexibility and transparency. For Weiki Somers the experience of working with Kinnasand made her reflect on the qualities of textiles: “The qualities of a material can strengthen the connection between a person and an object. Especially textiles can stimulate our senses and more than other materials they can evoke memories and emotions, and make you feel at home,” she says.
There is something entrancing about textiles – this segment of the design industry is simultaneously an essential part of furniture manufacturing but also part of an older, craft-based practice, with traditions in making textiles stretching back as far as humans have existed. The fact that textiles can evoke memories and tell stories is the focus of another outstanding textile designer, this time an emerging designer from Japan called Yuri Himuro, who showed at Salone Satellite this year. Where Himuro’s work differs is in its transformable power; her Snip Snap series is designed to be cut with scissors, so users can change the fabric’s design according to their wishes. For example, the Satoyama print features a green landscape with houses, people and animals. By cutting the green threads from some sections, blue is revealed beneath, sometimes with fish embroidered in the “water” below – or the green threads can be cut and remain as tufts of “grass”. For Himuro, the project comes out of her research on how people interact with textiles. “I searched for a structure that brings out fun relationships with textiles and created various samples, focusing on actions such as cutting, folding, hanging and folding,” she explains. Himuro’s other works are similarly playful and narrative-based, with her motion textiles created with a vertical texture that allows one image to form when viewed from the left and another when viewed from the right. So, for example, one way the snow is falling on the houses and the other way there is snow on the roof of each house. “In Japan, there was a culture that incorporated playfulness into creative expressions such as Asobi-e [a type of gimmicky picture], popular during the Edo period,” says Himuro. “I think this may have had a subconscious influence on my work, especially since I have done research on that subject.”
Melbourne designer Tammy Kanat also describes her experimental hand-woven tapestries as stories. Showing in Europe for the first time as part of the exhibition Delicacies: Object Relations in Piazza San Babila, Kanat uses unexpected weaving techniques and diverse materials, juxtaposing raw harsh jute with luxurious high-end wools and silk. “Each weaving is a short woven story,” she explains. “The observer can create their own tale in the abstract designs.”
Inspiration from the natural world was big this year with botanical installations and designs seen throughout the fair. And the world of textiles was no exception. In Ventura Lambrate Dutch textile designer Roos Soetekouw also found inspiration from the natural world. The Malabar Collection is an ode to the Malabar Tree Nymph, an endangered black-and-white butterfly found in India, and features a combination of hand-drawn shapes and graphic patterns. At Spazio Rossana Orlandi, another Dutch artist Alegría van der Zande displayed Fossils at Thomas Eyck’s exhibition in a work that’s not strictly textiles but is closely connected to the natural world. This series of hand-made works is made by pressing flowers, plants, vegetables, twigs and seeds into sections of leather. The results of the process, affected by how hard the flora is pressed into the leather, the pressure temperature, the thickness of leather and humidity of the flora, create wonderfully detailed and subtle botanical impressions. The imprint that these botanical artifacts left on rectangles of stone-coloured leather were some of the most beautiful objects found at this year’s fair. Also inspired by nature, but not strictly textiles, US brand Calico Wallpaper presented a new collection by London designer Faye Toogood in the form of a landscape painting, pasted, mural-like, upon the wall. Three designs, Woodlands, Fields and Moors in the Imagined Landscape series, are naïve in their approach, creating pastoral scenes from the English landscape of Toogood’s childhood.
The big brands displayed textiles with a botanical and floral textile theme as well. Missoni’s collections this year were inspired by a range of natural phenomena, with Nordic Fantasy perhaps one of the most striking. This series features flowers, berries, leaves and dandelions combined with birch grey and lichen grey, which Missoni describes as “reminiscent of distant travels among the tundra”. Other Missoni collections Springtime, Silver Springtime, Rose Garden, Geranium and Copper Geranium continue the floral and natural theme. At Moroso, Dutch designer Edward van Vliet, who started as a textile designer, showed the Ikebana sofa whose upholstery featured photographic images of plants and butterflies floating on a raw neutral background. The fabric is a blend of linen and viscose, which absorbs colour in different ways, giving the digital prints an added depth and definition. “Nature is the greatest designer in the world and the most expansive source of inspiration at the same time,” says Van Vliet. “And despite the artificial surroundings of our modern lives, we still yearn for it; we seek it out in our weekends and on holidays and watch it on TV. We need nature as much as we are nature. It reinvigorates us, calms our minds and instils happiness.”
It is not surprising given the location of Milan Design Week that fashion has had, and continues to have, an important impact on an event that is primarily devoted to furniture. Individual designers have long drawn on fashion’s colours, forms and fabrics to create the most cutting-edge designs – and some even end up designing for fashion labels, such as Japanese studio Nendo, which released Objectextile, a collaboration with German fashion label Jil Sander this year. The collection features a series of five designs in Nendo’s signature white created by taking a photo of a 3D-object and then applying this two-dimensional pattern to a three-dimensional object. A capsule collection in a white dot pattern is also available for purchase in the form of a purse, T-shirt, sneakers and a bag. And Jil Sander is not alone – increasingly, fashion labels are choosing to have a presence at the fair (including COS, see pp. 24–25), and several now release their own line of furniture and/or lighting at the fair each year. Italian denim brand Diesel has released ranges of furniture (with Moroso), lighting (with Foscarini), kitchens (with Scavolini), wood flooring (with Berti), technical ceramics (with Iris) and, this year, a new range of accessories with Seletti. Often Diesel’s fashion DNA – rebellious, sexy denim – can be seen in the products they release, such as the Deco Futura armchair, which features a similarly botanical inspiration as the Ikebana by Moroso above, but here the pattern is a desert scene with prickly plants, rocks and succulents, bringing a harder, fashion edge to the botanical theme. Louis Vuitton and Hermès both regularly show at the Milan fair.
Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades collection is now in its fifth year and draws from its heritage as a trunk-maker to create finely detailed, crafted furniture and lighting pieces that are limited edition and sell for tens of thousands of pounds. While the price tag is prohibitive, the works play on the beauty of the leatherwork and other hand-crafted elements of the brand to create items that are ultimately a luxury-hunter’s fantasy. Hermès has been showing at Milan Design Week for even longer, since 2011, with new collections usually released in alternating years. This year marked the first time the brand has shown two years in a row, releasing ten new pieces dubbed ‘Lien d’Hermès’ including a coat hanger, log basket and wine rack, as well as Aes, a cast bronze coffee table by London design duo Barber Osgerby. The solidity of the resulting object, its rarity and price tag all point to a piece that is at the design art end of the furniture spectrum, with fashion labels playing on their history of luxury to produce something that’s out of reach for furniture brands focused on more functional pieces. Having designed for both Louis Vuitton (Bell Lamp) and Hermès, British designers Barber Osgerby see these works as items for collectors. “Hermès produces the works as part of a collection, in small quantities and to order. This allows for more complex, hand-crafted processes and the use of rarer materials,” Jay Osgerby explains. “Devoted collectors are aware that their investments will appreciate in value over time. It’s the same process as investing in a painting or sculpture. Working with them is akin to creating couture homewares or a work of art. We approach this sort of project in the same way as we design an edition piece for a gallery.”
Of the many rugs on show this year, one of the most striking was to be found in the playful geometries of the Visioni rug designed by Patricia Urquiola for cc-tapis whose block colours, black outlines and perspective lines are reminiscent of De Stijl or Constructivism. Also notable was the Blend range by Raw Colours for Nanimarquina, a slim rug with each of three designs featuring a spectrum of subtle varied colours drawn from five different yarns within the same tonal family to create a natural look.
This article was originally published in The Milan Report 2017, a publication by Penny Craswell, Giovanna Dunmall and Marcus Piper, and available for purchase here.