by Tan Qian Rou
Raf Simons is a designer. And while his label is primarily attached to fashion—first under his eponymous line, then at Jil Sander and Christian Dior—Simons’ design considerations are not bound by his chosen occupation, nor his training. His educational background in industrial and furniture design have instilled Simons with a nuanced understanding of textiles, a consideration apparent in the silhouettes and materiality of the couture he sends down the runway. Inversely, it seems that Simons’ past decade in fashion has only enriched his approaches in industrial design. This much was clear with the launch of his first collaboration with Danish textile maker Kvadrat in 2014. His initial textiles showed traces of an unprecedented collusion within Simons’ design process of fashion and furniture. While certainly beautiful, they were also experimental, a way for Simons to reconcile two fairly different creative disciplines. Now, two years later and on his third capsule collection for Kvadrat, Simons’ approach seeks to corroborate the intersection of his philosophies on fashion and furniture.
There is certainly commonality between industrial design and fashion. From fundamental materialities of textile and silhouette to aesthetic seasonality, both industries must navigate the demands and criticisms of market and audience alike. Simons’ concern is with high turnover rates and subsequent frivolity they might force. To this end, his desire in both his endeavours in fashion and for Kvadrat are to pursue a timelessness that is applicable across milieus and defies trend. In each other, Kvadrat and Simons have found partners to meet this goal. Kvadrat’s name as a premium textile manufacturer is largely due to their understanding of production and an uncompromising quality. Simons’ part in this is apparent—unparalleled creativity, a willingness to learn from other disciplines and cleverness in design. These qualities which have made him his name in couture, he now applies to this fabric line.
Kvadrat furniture. Image courtesy Kvadrat/Raf Simons.
Simons’ flair for colour is undeniable; this year’s collection for Kvadrat features three uses of stripe in a plethora of shades and fragmentations. Through his colourways and proportions, Simons pays homage to music, pop art and modernist design, to name a few. Neutral tones enhance a fresh palette including cobalt blue and powder pink, referencing his previous colour schemes from prior collections. All these textiles are dyed and weaved in a small factory in Innvik, Norway. This choice was due in part to the factory’s ability to achieve the right tones to match up to Simons’ expectations. Constant correspondence of fabric samples have seen up to 600 iterations before the finialisation of a single colour. The looming process and the rhythms in which Simons has composed his fabric add a depth of texture which is intricate, yet subtle. As upholstery, the three fabrics—musically named Reflex, Pulsar and Fuse—perform wonderfully across a range of situations and scales. From the pop of colour on a pillow to the intimate feel of it under your hand, it is clear that Simons pays the same intense attention to these textiles as he would his clothing line.
He can afford the luxury of attention; Kvadrat understands deeply the importance of collaboration with external designers, seeing these as opportunities to develop their textiles through inviting alternative approaches and aesthetics. They gave Simons a year and creative freedom to develop just three fabrics. A counterintuitive move, in the world of fast furniture and faster fashion, but Kvadrat values the importance of creativity and depth. And the result has been well received, by premier furniture makers, and pleasantly, by fashion. Simons himself has used textile from past collections in his clothing, although this is unexpected considering Simons’ formal introduction to Kvadrat was through his sourcing of material for Jil Sander’s F/W 2011 collection. This capsule collection is not simply fabric; it is material and materiality, ready to inspire creative use in furniture, clothing, and hopefully, beyond.