Raf Simons for Kvadrat in conversation with Hettie Judah Raf Simons discusses the development of his first textile collection with Kvadrat, the difference between furniture and fashion and his many design inspirations, ranging from Hans Wegner to Jean Royère. HJ: at the point when you discovered Kvadrat you were at Jil Sander. How did you find out about these textiles? RS: While at Jill Sander, for the fall 2011 collection, I was looking for a fabric that gave the possibility of doing garments that almost stood upright; the women’s collection of that season was linked to mid-century modernism when fabrics were much heavier and rougher because that was still in the period after the Second World War. I was thinking of going back to the original feel of all those fabrics, and that brought me to Kvadrat, to an environment completely away from fashion. HJ: How did the idea of a textile collaboration with Kvadrat come about? RS: We used their fabrics in our collection and they just came and asked me through their graphic designer Peter Saville. They came to Antwerp. I decided immediately to do a collection for them. At that time I had not ever imagined they would contact me to collaborate —the moment they did, I immediately thought, yes I would love to do something with them.
HJ: You mentioned the graphic designer Peter Saville, who is a creative consultant to Kvadrat, I believe that you two had a prior connection? RS: My own brand is very much rooted in music, being very obsessed with music. I grew up in an environment completely the opposite from culture and cities. The only thing I had in the village was a record store, so my first access to culture was very related to music and very related to the work of Peter Saville because he was working with bands I was very interested in, New Order, Joy Division, for example. Around the year 2000, I did a collection which was a tribute to the work and the world of Peter Saville. It was like a collaboration - he didn’t do work with me but he gave me access to his archive. HJ: What was his role in this collaboration with Kvadrat? RS: He was not involved in the development of the fabric, more in the art direction afterwards. The collection is something created purely by Kvadrat developers and designers in communication with me and my Antwerp design team. HJ: How did you approach the collaboration, what was your experience working with Kvadrat? RS: I’ve never worked with Danish company before, but I was very aware and a big fan of Danish design such as Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjaerholm and all these people. I think that same combination of strength, quality and modesty was definitely something I found right away when starting to work with the Kvadrat team and Anders. In the early stage of our collaboration my intention was not to create a shock effect, or to go away from Kvadrat. For me, it was very much about entering that world, showing how much I love and respect it, but at the same time giving it a kind of twist.
HJ: Do you think much about textiles in the context of furniture? RS: I look around a lot—it is something deeply ingrained in me because I trained as an industrial furniture designer so I follow design very intensely. When I look at the furniture produced by the major manufacturers, I see amazingly beautiful fabrics, but often I think they are very traditional in their coloration or in their juxtapositions of colour, or even too experimental, something not to last. Often with very modern designs they throw in a lot of synthetic fabrics to make it glamorous, but to me it starts to look very object-like. It’s something I don’t like very much in relation to interiors. One thing that should never be forgotten is fabric in relation to interiors should relate to ones body. I could not sit on a piece of furniture and feel comfortable at home in high-tech, shiny, glam-impact fabric, it just doesn’t feel right. It’s something Danish design never had. Danish design always had warmth to it, that human aspect. HJ: What’s the difference between developing textiles in fashion and developing textiles for furniture? RS: The aspect of durability, the fact that they have to last, is the crucial difference between fabrics used in fashion and fabrics used in furniture. Not that we obviously want to craft fabrics in fashion that are not going to last, but especially these days with fashion being so fast it is not a problem if they don’t survive time, but that is not the case with furniture. The crucial difference to working with a company that is developing fabrics for the fashion industry or for the furniture industry is that of time—the whole Kvadrat process is extremely, beautifully slow. The whole process in fashion is extremely ugly and fast, a huge difference. HJ: You mentioned Hans Wegner—what historical inspirations from the design world did you have in working on this collection? RS: I have a lifetime passion for a period of design creation, whether it’s fashion, architecture or furniture grounded in the mid century. It has evolved over all the years that I have been active as a designer, now in fashion, but in the early days in relation to furniture and as a collector of design, furniture, things that surround you in your domestic environment. I always liked the idea of the mid century period when people were dreaming about the future but there was still a strong obsession with durability. Most things that were designed by ground breaking designers at a time when vision was crucial, the search for a better world. Designers where crafts people, they knew the material inside and out, hence piece from that period have survived time in such a beautiful way. It made me think a lot about working with Kvadrat, because of the design that we were talking about which was very powerful in that period. It has this beautiful balance between modernist approach and the romance of that period. Certain people are quite inspiring to me such as the French architect - designer Jean Royère. I’m extremely obsessed with his work because he was the only male design figure at his time who was also daring to be very feminine, feminine in the choice of colours and form language. Then you would have somebody like Hans Wegner, a true crafts person rooted in the idea of quality and modesty, but always relevant and beautiful. You would have people like Charlotte Perriand and Prouvé who were fusing the idea of industrialised processes with the idea of domestic and avant-garde design and very socially aware: doing a lot of things relating to public environment, schools and institutional buildings. These people where true pioneers their creations set standards, it had lasting quality.
HJ: Please speak about designing the textile collection for Kvadrat? RS: We started with strong inspiration and a lot of imagery that was around people I like and mentioned and then we also brought in a lot of fabrics from fashion—fabrics that are completely unusable in the context of furniture because of how they are woven—bouclés and tweeds and all these kinds of materials. I was very fascinated by how the colouring process or weaving process in fashion textiles does not have the same limitations, and then seeing how we could transport that into the furniture environment by completely readapting the yarns and the qualities and the weaving process in order to make it durable. I got quite obsessed with all the qualities that had an origin more in the kind of bouclé or tweed environment. We started to re-colour them or bring unusual colours together; like when the pink is mixed with the black and other. Because of the density that is needed for furniture in order to make it survive in the long run it becomes even more interesting I think. What is fascinating is that some of the colourations on the tweeds almost have a painterly impact. HJ: were you inspired by specific garments from your fashion collections? RS: No. The only thing that related back to the Jil Sander collections was the colouration of the unique colours and recolourations in this collection. Ee were very strict about a particular blue or a particular orange. It’s something that I also introduced very hard at Jil Sander because it was a brand that was originally defined by greys, marine and beige tones, and over the years I introduced a lot of colour into the brand including a lot of primary pigmented colour. During my time at Jil Sander and still at Dior, when it comes to colour, I like the idea of turning around the way your eye looks at things. When you walk in nature the main impact that you often perceive is green or brown tones. For the last six or seven years I’ve been obsessed with looking further and deeper, whether it’s with plants and flowers or when I go on holiday and I go diving and you look underwater. I’m interested in the intensity of a colour present only in a very small amount. For example in the middle of a flower there is maybe a very specific strongly pigmented orange or pigmented blue or red. When I look at a bouquet of white orchids it’s not like I’m looking at white orchids, my eye will be attracted deeper to see a specific pigment inside of the orchid. It’s like focusing on what the eye does not expect to see. With the two tones in this collection, you see them from a distance and think that it looks quite interesting, but them if you get up close you would notice a weird pink with that black and white, or a strongly pigmented electric blue.
When you use colour it has to last in the context of furniture—when I need to make a decision on upholstering a sofa I can take a very long time to make that decision. I’m very different when I want to buy a pair of pants or a shirt, here, I just go for it, and if you’re not so convinced about it a couple of months later it’s not such a big thing. But purely from a practical point of view, the idea of upholstering a three-seater sofa and two months later you’re not sure about it any more, to do it again is such a cost and hassle. HJ: is fashion and the interior a good combination, if fashion moves so fast? RS: there are crucial differences for sure but you also don’t walk around through the street with your sofa on your back! HJ: this collaboration has taken a while to work on—you described it as a slow process? RS: it’s incredible—I think it’s two years now. HJ: In this time you’ve had so much happening in your own life that it’s unbelievable that you’ve had the energy or time to continue with this collaboration. RS: Never in my life have I done only one thing—I get bored if I do only one thing. I have always been doing several things at the same time— I was doing my own brand as well as art curating and teaching at the university in Vienna for 5 years— always combining different things. I sound so spoilt when I say that, but it refreshes the brain so much when you’re always going from one environment to the other. I don’t like to look at fashion only from a fashion perspective, and I like the idea that when I’m now doing something with Kvadrat, I don’t only approach it from a furniture perspective. HJ: is collaboration very important to your practice in general? RS: Yes, because I admire a lot of other creative people. My drive is partly the drive of other people’s creation. I was always interested in how things could come together with other people—an artist, another designer, furniture, education when you come into mix with a younger generation. I’m obsessed with the idea of inter-generation communication; it’s something that I think is the ultimate activator of evolution. I don’t believe so much in the idea of looking in one direction. HJ: Are you going to continue working with Kvadrat? Is there going to be another collection? RS: Yes, of course, it’s going to be an evolution—this is the start of things! About Hettie Judah Hettie Judah is a British author who has written extensively about fashion, art and design in various international publications. She is contributing editor on artReview, works regularly in association with Momu, the fashion museum in Antwerp and is a familiar face on Showstudio discussion panels. She has authored and edited numerous books, including interwoven: Kvadrat textile and design.