From domestic craft to industrial design

Trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort’s exhibition ‘Gathering’ at the Design Museum in Holon is a metaphor for ‘mending the fabric of our lives.’

‘Gathering’ exhibition, lower gallery. (photo credit: ITAY BENIT)
‘Gathering’ exhibition, lower gallery.
(photo credit: ITAY BENIT)
Lidewij Edelkoort is an internationally acclaimed fashion and lifestyle forecaster. Born in the Netherlands in 1950, Edelkoort studied fashion and design at the School of Fine Arts in Arnhem where, after graduation, she went to work at De Bijenkorf, the leading local department store.
Edelkoort soon discovered she had a talent for sensing upcoming trends and an almost uncanny ability to predict what consumers would want to buy several seasons ahead of time.
Among her satisfied clients have been Coca-Cola, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and Douwe Egberts.
In 2003, Time magazine named her one of the world’s 25 most influential people in fashion; the Netherlands awarded her the Grand Seigneur prize one year later. A lifetime achievement award from Aid to Artisans followed in 2005, and in March 2007 Edelkoort was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by France’s Culture Ministry.
Edelkoort says her work is highly intuitive, and involves “sending her mind to the big zeitgeist mass which is outside us, to pick up fragments of already existing phenomena. I basically trained my intuition like you would train a muscle. And when things I foresaw always happened, at around age 22, I gave this intuition a big place in my life.
“I thank it when it’s right. I promote it. It’s something that is working within me like a second entity. It works day and night, and I don’t have to do anything.”
Asked about her percentage of successful forecasts, Edelkoort quickly replies, “Ninety-five percent.”
A little over three years ago, Edelkoort organized a highly successful exhibition at the Design Museum in Holon, titled “Post-Fossil: Excavating 21st-Century Creation,” which reflected her forecast of a worldwide desire to live life more slowly, a heightened insistence on comfort and individual well-being, and an end to globalism as people turn to local tastes, styles and resources. Now Edelkoort returns to the museum with “Gathering: From Domestic Craft to Contemporary Process,” of which she is co-curator with Philip Fimmano.
As she says in her introduction to the exhibition, “We live in an unstitched society that is suffering from the aftershocks of a severe economic crisis.
This prolonged period of hardship has made humans overly protective of their assets and openly egocentric in their ferocious defense, resulting in a world that is governed by greed and has lost basic manners and human respect. This is, therefore, a time for gathering, for bringing people together again in order to restore society.
Mending the fabric of our lives.
“The word ‘gathering’ has a special and positive meaning associated with a truly human context, and refers to all the activities that bring about progress through process… Whether it refers to gathering friends or gathering a garment, the correlation between material transformation and social congregation is fascinating. Indeed, it may well be that gathering will shape our culture for the decades to come – creating flexible forms through restraining processes.
“Gathering is a way to be together, to sit at a table, to discuss, to dialogue, to somehow express that we are not alone on this planet, that we really need to support each other. And therefore design is showing the same thing: that we need to build structure into material and thus create more freedom.”
WHAT KIND of “gathering” does Edelkoort have in mind, relating to the realm of textiles and design? The exhibition focuses on the domestic crafts of draping, pleating, folding, smocking, ribboning, quilting, needlework, wrapping, felting, layering and baking.
“All this design is inspired by the work of our grandmothers and mothers,” Edelkoort says, and a lot of that work is indeed much older.
Draping, we are told, was probably the earliest form of textile use, simply enveloping the body in a length of cloth. Pleating, evident in sculptural representations of Egyptian pharaohs, evolves from the ancient idea of gathering up a volume of cloth and reining it in to create a more structured form.
Folding can be said to have reached its most refined expression in the ancient Japanese art of origami.
Smocking, the gathering of cloth to secure it while endowing it with the ability to stretch, was an indispensable domestic craft before the invention of elastic. It was used in everything from workers’ smocks to farm dresses to baby clothes. Quilting, the craft of stitching to make padding from different pieces of fabric, dates at least as far back as ancient Egypt, and spread across medieval Europe as quilted garments were worn under the armor of knights and crusaders.
Also traceable to antiquity, felting became popular as people in cooler climates discovered that wool could be boiled and compressed into a compact mass and tailored for coats, made into blankets and rugs, and folded into sculptural forms like chairs. Similarly, layering – a product perhaps of need and poverty – was used to gather cottons and linens into a more dense material to combat the cold winds of winter. And the skills of baking, as old as civilization itself, have been applied to the creation of household objects of clay and glass.
“But now, industry is capable of using these inspirations and making them into contemporary things,” Edelkoort says. “Industry today is capable of using a much warmer idiom, a warmer tone.”
Today’s machines, she argues, have blurred the distinction between “industrial” and “handmade.” Armed with 3D printing technology, laser cutters and all manner of smart computer technology, these new machines are able to mimic and even enhance traditional domestic arts and crafts.
“In the future, we will see the hybrid of hand and machine. We will no longer know exactly where the hand ends and the machine begins. This hybridization will influence our society in all other domains as well. Not only will hand and machine become one, but also man and woman will become one.
In fact, all the things we consider black and white will become gray. And that is what this exhibition is trying to say.”
Interestingly, the curators have chosen to express this almost exclusively with chairs and lamps. Why? “They are both sculptural objects, quite monolithic in their appearance. They are small things, but big enough to make the ideas of this exhibition very clear. I also wanted to create a focal point for the different designers to work from,” Edelkoort says.
Thus, more than 70 designers and design studios from all over the world have contributed chairs, stools, benches, sofas and a myriad of lamps to the exhibition, with their work grouped into various forms of “gatherings” and arrayed around the upper gallery of the Design Museum. We therefore see chairs made from material that has been folded, baked, wrapped, pleated, felted and so on, as well as some very cleverly created lamps.
GALIT GAON, the museum’s chief curator, believes the exhibition “reinstitutes the economic, environmental and social responsibilities of artisans and designers.”
A good example of this happy result can be seen in the work of young Israeli designers Katharina Brand and Tzuri Gottlieb, whose Studio Vayehi has contributed a frankly beautiful ribboned lamp made from the unlikely medium of maple wood veneer.
“We found large stocks of leftovers from the wood industry,” Brand explains.
“We extracted these strips, long and thin, and started playing with them, trying to create something from a material so that it would not just be thrown away. It’s from a material that is beautiful the way it is.”
Gottlieb adds, “We started with a plastic bottle that was holding the veneer, and slowly, slowly, step by step with a lot of patience, we made the lamp.”
But “Gathering” is not only about lamps and chairs. In the museum’s lower gallery, featured as a sort of companion exhibition, is “132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE,” displaying computer-generated couture by the legendary Japanese fashion designer.
A caption board at the entrance to the gallery explains the show’s name.
“The number one refers to a single piece of cloth, and the number three evokes its 3D shape. The number two designates the initially flat, 2D material, and the number five, separated by a single space, refers to the time between folding the forms and putting on the clothes; that poetic moment when the wearer brings the garment to life.The dot stands for mission accomplished.”
The name, we are further informed, is meant to symbolize an innovative process rather than finished products.
The exhibition itself is the result of a collaboration between Miyake and computer scientist Jun Mitani, whose programs have brought the ancient technique of origami into 3D florescence.
The process involves converting mathematical algorithms into sculptural origami models, before cutting flat cloth patterns to fashion wearable 3D garments.
Miyake prefers to display his creations in art galleries instead of on fashion show runways, saying, “I’ve been thinking about the challenges we’ll have to deal with in the 21st century. Most of us feel some kind of uncertainty, with the population increasing and resources decreasing. It’s important to make clothes for longterm use now, not just one season. We can’t keep throwing things away. We have to face these issues.
“Many people repeat the past. I’m not interested; I prefer evolution.”
“Gathering” and “132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE” are showing until October 25 at the Design Museum Holon, 8 Pinhas Eilon Street, Holon. Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.. For further information: 073-215-1515 or