Kvadrat: A Design Family

Port travels to the new Copenhagen showroom of renowned textile designer Kvadrat, to learn more about the brand’s philosophy and conceptions of space

Kvadrat – the Danish textile company founded in 1968, beloved of architects and interior designers – prides itself on a focus on quality and heritage, just not at the expense of innovation. This unique mix of classic design and originality is evident in the brand’s new showroom in Pakhus 48, an old warehouse in the former freeport area of the Copenhagen docks, outfitted by the Bouroullec brothers, the renowned French design duo.

Having studied industrial design and modern art, Ronan and Erwan have been working together as product and interior designers since 1999. When we speak at the opening of the new showroom, Erwan tells me how they’ve fostered a relaxed and organic relationship. “We are brothers, we’ve been in the same place, and we’ve been drinking or eating the same things, so our relation to shapes and material are pretty similar. Yet, with our way of working, sometimes one of us can be much more inside something, while the other one can be in more of the surroundings.”

The Bouroullecs are long-time collaborators with Kvadrat. Since their first project with the brand, designing a display space in Stockholm 11 years ago, they have fostered a continuing partnership. The pair were asked to design Kvadrat’s original showroom in Copenhagen, as well as a number of products now sold by the brand – Clouds, a system of flexible panels, and Ready Made Curtain, a set of pegs that turns any fabric into a curtain, were originally bespoke products for Kvadrat’s offices.

The closeness of the relationship between the brand and the brothers is such that neither Erwan, nor Kvadrat CEO Anders Byriel, can remember when they first brought up the idea of the new showroom. “Anders never exactly asked, because we saw each other all the time,” says Erwan. Together, they seem to understand each other’s needs and interests and talk simply of how natural it was that they would work with each other.

During the time that the Bouroullecs have been collaborating with the brand, Kvadrat has grown from a handful of office staff to nearly 30: they outgrew their old offices and display rooms, and simply needed more space. This was the challenge for the Bouroullecs, how to set everyone at ease and return the focus to the materials at hand. Erwan tells me the first step was to set up the backdrop for the space by turning to the natural light, which floods in from two walls of south-facing glass, overlooking the expanse of the harbour and the low-lying city beyond.

Inside, the space is carefully divided up by panels of fluted glass and low lying brick walls, the physical weight and textural surface of which ground the space. Erwan points out the slight imperfections in the bricks and glass: for him, it highlights the hands that have gone into its production. The slight irregularity, as an example of resistance to industrial processes, is pleasing, even if it doesn’t please the German engineers that made them. These divide the open office space, which is filled with furniture upholstered in Kvadrat’s minimal Basel and Hallingdal 65 fabrics, and includes smaller, more intimate areas for cutting lengths of cloth. This brings a sense of humanity to what Erwan worried could have been a very empty, cold space.

Byriel and the Bouroullecs talk highly of the new typologies of bespoke products they’ve designed for Kvadrat, many of which have now entered into large scale production, for Kvadrat and for others. Here, they designed a modular and movable rail system to hang display fabrics from the ceiling. These finely machined aluminium links can be set to different heights and moved throughout the showroom to open up or close off areas. Strong enough to hold metres and metres of raw textiles with no cutting and stitching, the system presents the fabrics ready to be touched and inspected.

It’s hard not to see it as a gallery – over its history, Kvadrat has worked with artists and designers including Peter Saville, Olafur Eliasson, and Miriam Bäckström. But Byriel and Erwan are keen to emphasise the working aspect of the space. Byriel notes that a third of the entire showroom is dedicated to working space for architects and specifiers. “We have lots of people coming here every day, maybe you come with drawings, maybe you come with clients, you stand or sit and work. It’s a little bit more of a space where you interact and you touch the goods… You’re not allowed do that in art galleries.”

From the way Erwan talks, it is clear that the Bouroullecs work isn’t simply a case of installing parts to please a client. Rather, he espouses a philosophy of materiality and honesty: “It’s important to make sure that you embed inside objects a kind of a self-learning process, so that people can find out what it is… Materials have to express what they are, where they come from, they have to express if they’re fragile or if they’re strong, they have to express if they’re here forever or not, in order that people properly behave with things that are given to them, especially when they are customers.”

It seems that many people share this philosophy. Kvadrat textiles are seen all over the world, in hotels, offices, aeroplanes and recently, a concept car by BMW. Kvadrat have also worked with David Chipperfield architects to upholster the entire headquarters of Amorepacific cosmetics in Seoul, opening later this year. Likewise, Byriel has high words for the Bouroullecs work too. “In 100 years there will be four or five people who defined our times, and I really think the Bouroullecs will be one of them. Like Eames defined the mid-century, I feel they’re defining our time.”

Homage to a Classic: Adidas x Hender Scheme

PORT sits down with Adidas Originals and the iconic Japanese leather atelier, Hender Scheme, to discuss their latest collaboration

The adidas x Hender Scheme Micropacer

Fashion has long tried to redefine the concept of ‘luxury’, and to figure out what it means to consumers in 2017: just because something is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s luxurious. Over the years the focus has moved on to the design process and, even more so, the craftsmanship needed to manufacture a product. How long did it take to make it, and how long will it last? Arguably, luxury is a combination of all aforementioned factors, and a high price tag the inevitable outcome from that.

Adidas, the German sportswear giant, is not a stranger to expensive fashion. Over the years it’s worked with various designers – everyone from Yohji Yamamoto and Raf Simons to Rick Owens and Alexander Wang – on short and long-term projects. At the same time, the bulk of its trainers and apparel are affordable and accessible, the definition of democratic fashion, as opposed to luxury. As such its latest collaborative partner, Japanese leather experts Hender Scheme, perfectly illustrates Adidas’ ability to scale ‘luxury’ in order to offer different types of products to different customers, without losing its DNA and brand personality.

The adidas x Hender Scheme Superstar

Founded by Ryo Kashiwazaki in 2010, Hender Scheme makes a wide array of leather goods, though is best known for its ‘Homage’ footwear line. In it, Kashiwazaki recreates various iconic trainers, from the likes of Adidas, Vans and Nike, using his signature ‘nude’ leather. The rawness of the material makes the craftsmanship that goes into the handmade trainers evident for the wearer as well as distant observers. Because of this, Hender Scheme might seem like an obvious collaboration match for the cherry picked brands, but in today’s design climate, with corporate trademarks and the red tape of intellectual property, it could also have lead to an expensive lawsuit.

It’s this that makes the Adidas x Hender Scheme project even more relevant. Based on a mutual respect, it is the ultimate collaboration in that it combines three mainstream Adidas silhouettes with Ryo’s intricate and limited interpretations. The styles – the NMD, Superstar and Micropacer – have all been stripped of its technology and remoulded in Ryo’s fine leather. They are no longer digital sportswear icons, but wearable and analogue pieces of art. PORT sat down with Kashiwazaki and Erman Aykurt, Senior Design Director for Adidas Originals Statement, to discuss the design process, the role of psychology in footwear and how Kashiwazaki retains ownership of his trainers.

The adidas x Hender Scheme Micropacer

Ryo Kashiwakazi, you studied psychology before going into footwear. Have you ever had any use of this experience in your current job, in an abstract or concrete way?

When you manufacture something, you always involve a group of people who actually make the product. I can apply my knowledge of psychology when communicating with them. The process of shoemaking involves a lot of divided labour, or divided roles. To make a shoe like this you probably have about fifty people involved one way or another, from the leather supplier to someone stitching them together, so it’s always important to create a shared goal among all of them, and to make everyone feel valued and involved. So, yes, psychology comes in handy!

You started out as a cobbler. Do you think that formal shoes are the foundation of footwear? Is that why you wanted to start at that end of the industry as opposed working with trainers straight away?

From my experience of repairing shoes I gained a lot of knowledge about how shoes are worn, and what happens to the shoes once they’ve been worn for a while. That helped me build my shoes and trainers, trying to foresee what will happen to them once they’ve been used for a while.

The adidas x Hender Scheme NMD

More than shoes you also produce other products, but what runs through the company is the use of leather and colour. What qualities does leather have that makes it so great for you?

For me, the thickness and tension are very important. For example, leather can be shaped into softness. If you don’t shape it, you can keep it hard. And the reason I use this natural colour is that you can see aging very clearly.

There’s a sense of purity to this colour, which makes it a great starting point, no?

Usually we dye from this colour, so this is starting point. It’s very delicate and sensitive; it can easily get stained as it’s basically untreated.

Another thing that strikes me is that you’ve borrowed existing silhouettes, and you’re using a colour that lends itself to the wearer putting his own stamp on it. So how do you retain ownership? Are you even interested in that?

Not sure it explains the ownership question, but the point of re-creating existing styles is to show off the work of the craftsmen, to introduce the work they do. So I suppose the product making is more important than the ownership.

You’ve reworked quite a few different brands. Is this the first time one of them has actually come to you and said, ‘let’s do something together’?

Yes, and because I was ultimately doing this out of respect for Adidas, it made me very happy that they respected me in the same way.

On that note, over to you Erman…  What was the initial Adidas reaction when you saw these products?

I can only say that, within the Originals department, we were really honoured. From a company perspective, there’s always two different ways how to look and deal with someone paying homage. But as we’re a global organisation with an office in Tokyo, there was already a personal relationship in place with Ryo-san. And it was very clear to us from the beginning that Ryo was working out of respect for our brand. And the mantra for everything we do in Consortium is based on mutual respect, so we wanted to meet him halfway and start a dialogue based on that.

The adidas x Hender Scheme NMD

What was it that impressed you? Was it the craftwork, or the craftsmanship?

Obviously the craftsmanship is something we admire and that we look up to. Even people who have been with the company longer than I have wouldn’t be able to do that even themselves. I know out of experience that what Ryo-san is doing is impressive. When Ryo-san came to Herzo , we gathered lots of people from across different Adidas branches and everyone was putting their latest innovations on the table, and he was known to everyone.

How did you end up with these three styles?

All of these shoes have been technological advancements of their own time. The NMD consists of Primeknit and our boost technology, the Superstar Shell Toe was high-tech at the time and, obviously, the Micropacer stands like nothing else for this sort of future-retro expression of the past.

From left: the adidas x Hender Scheme NMD, Micropacer and Superstar

Would you say that this is the ultimate in trainer luxury?

Well, what defines trainer luxury? It’s about combining a globally known silhouette with any form of limitation. In this case you have three of the most iconic sneaker silhouettes in the world, and you have, through the manual labour, one of the most authentic but at the same the most extreme limitation when it comes to creating quantities. It’s not limiting for the sake of limiting; it’s limiting because it’s not actually possible to create more!