In Wool We Trust


17 June 2014

For years, ECAL in Lausanne seemed the most practical of the big design schools. It had a reputation for producing serious industrial designers and the workshops and projects it ran reflected this. They were intimately hooked to industry, pressing their students to think carefully about the minutiae of product design and practicalities.

Now however, under the directorship of Alexis Georgacopoulos, the school seems to have discovered whimsy. Earlier this year it put on a [playfully irreverent exhibition of comic designs at Milan]. Now, at Design Miami/ Basel, its MA Product Design students have created a show of installations themed around wool. Overseen by French designers Camille Blin and Ronan Bouroullec, the resultant works are a clean break from ECAL's sometimes straight laced past.

"I don't think I’m ECAL’s most industrial teacher and maybe that's why they thought I was a good person for this," says Blin, himself a graduate of the school and a designer known for playful, offbeat product design, rather than traditional industrial thinking. The workshop was sponsored by the Woolmark Company, a textile fibre brand, and Swiss skiwear company Mover. Blin and Bouroullec's challenge was to steer the students towards outcomes that might suit their sponsors.

"It’s advertising for the companies of course, and we didn’t know exactly what to expect from this collaboration," says Blin. "So we focused on the idea of just making beautiful installations that everyone would be happy with. I like doing things that are product related, but I’m OK doing things that are less functional too. I think that’s a good move for ECAL in general."

Designing installations for companies is an increasingly visible area of design and an important source of income for many studios. Next to the ECAL booth at Design Miami/ The Audi TT Pavillion, an installation designed for the car brand by Konstantin Grcic. Bouroullec himself created a similar installation for BMW in Milan two years ago. It is an area of the industry that more and more it makes sense to educate students in.

"Konstantin's project is really the same as ours, because he’s been hired by that company not to make a product, but to make advertising for the brand," says Blin. "I think it’s the same context. You don’t have the problem of a traditional function, but the function could be seen as the publicity that the brand will get in the end. The only goal is to make something beautiful."

The resultant projects veer from woollen candy floss to simulated snow storms; twisting threads and wafting strands. All engage with their basic material and all are beautiful. Below, Blin talks us through each of the installations on display.

Metamorphosis by Seraina Lareida

Woolmark gave us a lot of wool samples and that’s how Seraina's carpet came about. It’s really beautiful and one of my favourite pieces. She had a sample of this super raw, smelly wool, shorn directly from the sheep. We then had another sample that was a bit more refined and another completely finished fabric. Seraina just put those three different states of the material next to each other and we found that that itself told a story. But it was a crazy production. Seraina attached all the pieces together – the rougher states put on top of the finished fabric – and she really worked like painter to achieve the gradient, which was quite tricky to achieve. It was a lot of work.

Föhn by Dominic Schlögel

Dominic's project was super funny. He was really struggling and couldn’t find anything interesting to do with the material. He was working on ideas of lightness from the beginning, but at a certain moment he was thinking of making the whole floor a ventilator with fabric flying on top. It seemed like something completely insane to produce. But what I really like about the finished piece is that it's such a small intervention. He thought it would be marvellous to just make a small thread fly, because he'd been playing around with a wool and a simple Muji fan. Of all the projects it’s the most minimal in terms of technology and construction, but at the same time it speaks a lot about the material.

Comet by Vincent Dechelette

Vincent’s project is a thread attached to a lot of little mechanisms, which whir it around like the weaving process. It’s coloured in parts and it runs super fast. He took a lot of time to find a good mechanism to make it work properly and visually. We wanted something that was interesting to look at for more than five minutes, so there are two layers of threads, which means that they can cross each other. We wanted to make it interesting without making it too complex, so this solution of two threads – running at two levels, through two engines with different speeds – made it more surprising. But it was complex to engineer. These are all installations, but there's a focus on how they're working, how they're functioning and assembled. We see them all as product case studies.

Woolcandy by Carolien Niebling

This happened really easily. It's funny, because Carolien is a student who has always worked around food and food design in her studies. So she was looking at cotton candy making videos on Youtube and the strands reminded her of the wool. She took the exact same machine you use for cotton candy and filled it with wool. With an exhibition it’s always nice to have a giveaway, so we thought it would be nice to see people walking around Basel carrying wool cotton candy. I like the way she solved the problem and it presents a very funny image. It's like you just took a wooden stick, put it into a sheep and took the wool out on it.

Fubuki by Takafumi Nemoto (with sound by Yasuharu Okochi)

This is the craziest project. Takafumi is a Japanese student and who is really interested in technology. His installation reminds me a lot of a Michel Gondry movie, with lots of little tricks intended to create an effect. The idea was to produce a projected image of a skier in a snowstorm. So Takafumi put wool strands in water and made that spin, which created a snowstorm effect. Then you have a little skier that moves around the water and the whole installation of the skier moving through the storm is projected onto the wall. To create the spinning we used a centrifuge, which is used in medicine to separate the components of blood. We used that exact same principle, just with water and wool.

Threaded by Charlotte Baverel

A lot of the students were interested in the processes behind wool, so started watching a lot of Youtube videos about working with the material. Charlotte's installation is just the process of making threads industrially, although she's made it five times bigger than it usually is. So it's spun on the bottom and then at the top, winding and unwinding as it spins. Wool thread is just super, super small fibres that are spun together, and those threads are then spun with other threads. It creates something like a big tree, with a lot of levels of threading. It’s a beautiful movement. Charlotte just magnified it by making it 6m high.