When Kvadrat invited 22 designers to create one-off pieces using its felt-like Divina textile, the results ranged from workwear to daybeds
Thirty years ago, Danish watercolourist and graphic artist Finn Sködt developed Kvadrat's Divina fabric, a felt-like, directionless textile with an expansive colour palette befitting its creator's background, which now totals more than 100 shades.
Last month, the Danish brand chose this vibrant cloth as the inspiration for its Milan Design Week exhibition at Arcade, tasking 22 designers to create one-off pieces using the fabric. The result was a broad church, ranging from shelving, armchairs, utilitarian workwear, daybeds and a calendar to more conceptual pieces, including Anton Alvarez's interlocking striped arches – part of his continuous Thread Wrapping Machine Project – that towered into Arcade's loft-like volume.
Divina Calendar by Graphic Thought Facility
Kvadrat is just like an ingredient," explains the company's vice president of branding Njusja de Gier, one of the exhibition curators.
"We don't have a lot of final products so the show is a way to come into contact with new designers and open up people's minds to what you can do with textiles aside from upholstery."
The project follows Kvadrat's Hallingdal 65 exhibition, which was held in Milan in 2012 and similarly offered emerging designers an open brief and unlimited supply of fabric. Aware that repeating the idea could be considered risk-averse, this year Kvadrat's team of five curators (de Gier, Richard Hsu, Hans Maier-Aichen, Yves Marbrier and Constance Rubini) selected upcoming or mid-career talents that they knew would push the concept further.
"We looked for designers with the guts to take risks and who explore the unconventional," says Maier-Aichen. Divina is a good fit for this task; not only is it colourful but its robustness means that it can be used for structure as well as decoration.
Garlands by Studio Minale-Maeda
Indeed many of the designers chose to play to its strength. Easily the most out-of-the-box project, Max Lamb's oversized workwear presented the breathable, non-fraying, water- and fire-repellent
Similarly Klemens Schillinger's Divina Hangers are intended to hold heavy items despite only being constructed from a loop of
"The plastic wallets were really hard to open so I pulled them forcefully and realised that the fabric itself is incredibly strong." Belgian duo Muller Van Severen and French designer Philippe Nigro used Divina to build rather than upholster, both creating daybeds from rolled and stacked sheets of fabric.
Thread Wrapping Architecture by Anton Alvarez
Layering was also integral to Richard Hutten's Layers Cloud Chair, which achieved its multi-coloured bulbous form by arranging 545 unique segments held together by pins. "It really was a combination of craft and industry because individual drawings were used to CNC-cut each layer," says Hutten. "Working out how to connect them together was a real mind-fuck."
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the exhibition was the large number of similarities between pieces, despite the fact that each had been created in isolation. As well as the layered structures and numerous daybeds,
Silvia Knüppel's Bagpacker and François Dumas' Knapsack both used beanbag-like forms to make up bigger structures, and Martino Gamper and Bethan Laura Wood both opted for geometric appliqué for their similarly shaped cuboid mattresses. An open brief can provoke radical thinking but, unchaperoned, it can also provide insight into the collective unconscious.