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Let the Textiles do the Talking

Lidewij Edelkoort's exhibition and talk on textiles during Milan Design Week aimed to promote, well, textiles.

By No author / 28-04-2011

It was the first show I saw at this year’s Salone, and at the end of the crazy and overwhelming Italian design week it remained, in my humble opinion, one of the most memorable and beautiful.

Talking Textiles, curated by Lidewij Edelkoort, celebrated the use of textiles in design, from handcrafted and hand-dyed rugs to distinctly high-tech and synthetic abstract pieces, from older projects to brand new ones making their world debut. The exhibition – partly shown in central Milan’s elegant Spazio Gianfranco Ferré and partly in a smaller space in the buzzy Ventura Lambrate district (the students and graduates showed in Lambrate while the professionals showed in via Pontaccio) – aimed to show how the world needs textiles more than ever before. It was Edelkoort’s very personal, ode to textiles and her campaign to save them from extinction. Through creativity, technology and skill.

“In these almost impossible to live in times,” says Edelkoort with feeling, “we need to be cuddled.” As a trend forecaster she believes that in the near future we will see the overwhelming revival of textiles in our interiors, and that we will literally crave their tactility, sense of narration and colour.  "The only problem, she points out, is that we are closing our mills at a rate of knots, and universities are fast replacing looms with computers. The result? We are slowly forgetting how fabrics are made and where they come from. The appeal of textiles is universal and timeless," says Edelkoort, "making them also very sustainable." She points to Anni Albers’ metallic raffia textile that adorns a chair by Anthony Kleinepier at the show. Albers made it as her graduation project (it was intended as an insulation fabric) and it is only being produced now in 2011 by textiles manufacturer Maharam.  “It may date from 1929,” says Edelkoort, “but it still looks pretty revolutionary. This makes me happy.” She smiles.

The show’s coherence and sophistication belied the fact that Edelkoort and show organizer Philip Fimmano were offered the space in Milan only four weeks before the Salone started. Roughly the show was divided into four main themes: craft pieces made by hand, or partly made by hand, that use drawing, pattern-making or sketching; the revival of constructivism with the use of blocks of colour; purely natural textiles which use vegetable dyes and natural fibres; and narrative pieces which tell a story.

In the natural section the rugs and poufs by Christien Meindertsma stood out for their sheer, raw beauty (their colours mimic that of the sheeps’ wool), as did the dramatic wall-hanging (commissioned for the show) by Claudy Jongstra made out of silk and wool from her own flock of Drenthe Heath sheep (fittingly, an increasingly rare breed). Another piece making its debut at the show was Animal Skin #1, a mohair animal rug by Maarten Baas (his first textile piece). This half crocodile half bear was at once childish and refined, ungainly and sophisticated; its soft, furry upper body countered by a pretty patterned under-belly.

A name to watch according to Fimmano, is Borre Akkersdijk, whose contributions to the show made innovative use of a mattress-making machine. His colourful and geometric range of stuffed clothing was shown here before the cutting process and after. Some of the most meaningful pieces in Talking Textiles were the most simple. The woollen rugs by BCXSY were made with the help of Bedouin tribes in Palestine (who were given paper patterns to follow); the circular rugs by FormaFantasma depicted migratory birds embroidered by hand. Out of the technologically-driven projects, I liked Ulf Moritz’s very contemporary Fold textile for Sahco (its small plastic tiles shimmered in the light) and Margrethe Odgaard’s digitally-made Fold-Unfold tablecloth that inspires for the way its creases become an intrinsic part of the pattern. Over at Ventura Lambrate the standout pieces for me were Ella Robinson’s planks of driftwood adorned with brightly coloured thread and Lenneke Lengenhuijsen’s frankly staggering wooden interior textiles (that can even be washed at 60°C).

Edelkoort hopes to take Talking Textiles around the world (Moscow, Poland and Tuscany have already been mentioned), turning it into a nomadic quest to promote and honour textiles, adding pieces along the way and celebrating local fabrics and textiles too. It’s a great idea but so far there is not enough funding, though Edelkoort hopes that will change. Later I tell her she should set up a campaigning website with petitions to save textile mills, and she smiles and says that this is her way of being an activist, “by persuasion”. Then she says she’s studying the spiritual in everyday life at the moment and that “textiles can bring you a moment of bliss, a moment of reflection, they can bring you joy”.

If this sounds like Edelkoort is promoting craft over industry, mills over digital technology, or is on some anti-technological mission to bring the world back to pre-digital times, this couldn’t be further from the truth. “Industry needs craft,” she says. “It’s not more interesting to dedicate yourself to one or the other. A crafted carpet on an industrial floor is more interesting than a crafted carpet on a handcrafted floor. The dialogue between the two is where the interest lies.”

Click on the images to enlarge

Main image: Alejandro Bona
Other images: 1. Ella Robinson 2. Exhibition overview 3. Anthony Kleinepier 4. Lenneke Langenhuijsen 5. Exhibition overview 6. Maarten Baas 7. Magrethe Odgaard

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