One of the reasons why freelancers do not work too well in big organisations is because they are self-motivators. Having bosses standing over them worrying about bottom lines is about as inspiring as being hit in the face with a sock full of wet sand. The question is, how do designers work in industry and still remain creative.
New York-based Art Freaks’ artist and photograph Olaf Breuning’s dishes and salad bowls “Hallau” are visibly joyful, effervescent, literally spurting with primary colours. Claudia Caviezel, award winning textile designer, puts together sober lines and playful tints of fresh and warm colours in her couches “Riom” and decorative cushions “Morissen”. The throw pillows and cushions are definitely a reminder of the psychedelic Sixties and Seventies, but, Caviezel says, “I simply wanted to evoke happiness and colours with my work”.
Looking at the new design collection of Atelier Pfister 2011 gives a feel of “bring it on”. It resembles a mosaic of furniture and interior design in bright and contrasting colours. The lines are pure and elegant; the forms evocative. There is power in the graphics conveyed in sideboards, couches, geometric rugs, folded and draped cabinets and smart coat stands. Whether made of wooden planks, leather or fabrics, the chairs are contemporary. The massive wood tables marry functionality and durability.
It’s all a part of the strategy by Pfister CEO Meinrad Fleischmann to rejuvenate the brand, which had become somewhat staid over the years. The kindling idea came when he met Alfredo Häberli at the latter’s retrospective “SurroundThings” in 2008 at the Museum of Design Zurich. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Häberli was 13 when his family resettled in Switzerland in 1977. Today, the young boy has grown into an inquisitive and energetic designer who continues to make great strides in the world of design. His architecture and interior design, as well as his furniture and product design works solicit respect and admiration. His works are featured in publications and museums exhibits, and his product lines are found in important furniture shops here and abroad. He continues to work for some of the leading companies of the international design industry, of which to name a few: Alias, BD Barcelona, Camper, Georg Jensen, Schiffini and Vitra.
“Twenty years ago, I was always happy when I got some financial help for my projects,” the Zurich-based designer reveals. His voice is calm and belies the powerful energy and emotions expressed in his works. Häberli is known to combine innovation, joy and energy in his design. “I had this desire to help young and promising designers and studios to find a platform for their work,” Häberli continues. And that is something he has done, letting young Swiss designers have the kind of freedom they need to work.
Internationally known fashion artist and illustrator François Berthoud created a series of “black and white” plates and ceramic jars called “La côte aux fées” designed with fishnets stockings. The result is provocative: vases encased in voluptuous and elegant forms.
Annette Douglas, one of Switzerland’s leading textile and fabrics talents combines fine design and technical expertise in her fabric works. She is known for her acoustic textiles and for her curtains that absorb noise. For the Atelier, she remained within her bailiwick, producing a series of delicate and warm fabrics for curtains. And then, for a romantic evening in the 21st century, light up Nicolas le Moigne’s candlesticks lacquered either in black or white powder paint.
The gravy train
“Atelier Pfister’s project of gathering and working with different designers and workshops created a big studio which provided a unique chance for a designer like me to work with, learn and be inspired,” says Moritz Schmid. “It’s not only for the new Swiss design furniture label but as well for my future projects,” he says. Schmid reinvented a series of round tables called “Forst” with a neatly executed triangular support and unusual wooden chairs, the “Eriz,” with interchangeable coloured supports. For his Eriz chair of the Atelier Pfister collection, Schmid received the Swiss Design Federal Award 2010, an annual prize given by the Swiss government to the most innovative young Swiss designers.
Schmid’s enthusiasm with the project is obvious, but the dependency of designers on the financial emoluments of a large company do raise certain questions about the dangers of commercialisation. Can creativity really be free from the wishes, no matter how subtle, of the piper’s paymaster? For Jitzer Kramer, director of Brand-ID Switzerland, “it’s a win-win case”. Or is it more a question of there being no longer any sub-cultures to conquer, as there is not virgin territory on the planet.
Today, Häberli, speaks with satisfaction of the collection composed of more than a hundred unique objects. The works stir emotions and raise questions, which is one of the purposes of design. Switzerland is home to many excellent and innovative designers. “The challenge,” says Alfredo Häberli, an internationally established and highly respected Swiss designer, “is how to help these young talents establish their own names or studios”.
Out of the closet
When it comes to tradition, craftsmanship, forms and patterns, graphics, colours, textures and noble materials, nothing comprises more richness and diversity as carpets. Today however, there is more to acquiring one of these treasures and just being satisfied with exquisite and beautiful carpet design. Although prized for their beauty and quality craftsmanship, carpets may hide a dark side behind especially if the appalling image surges of weavers, mostly women and children, living in dire poverty and inhuman working conditions.
The global demand for carpets has increased with globalisation in the 1990s. During the same period, the plight of exploited child carpet weavers associated with the Nepali-Tibetan carpet production spawned a great deal of protest from organisations involved in child protection or labour protection. Author and social-cultural anthropologist Tom O’Neill conducted extensive fieldwork in Nepal since 1993 and published Child Labour in the Tibeto-Nepalese Carpet Industry in 2009, in which he vividly describes the haunting conditions of children abused in the carpet weaving industry and how, even after measures were taken by the government and human and labour rights NGOs to correct the practice, abuse seems to be continuing.
O’Neill writes that the carpet industry in Nepal has been sullied by the “abusive child labour” label attached to it especially during the boom of the industry in the early 1990s. Children and labour rights organisations have managed to include different fair-trade labelling methods and start programmes that institute strict rules to fight against child abuse. Among those organisations is Label STEP, which was founded in 1995 to cover the carpet importing industry of Switzerland. It was taken over by the Max Havelaar Foundation and has established strict conditions for the carpet suppliers to guarantee that workers live with better working conditions. To give its guidelines some teeth, the organisation conducts regular monitoring of the production sites of suppliers and licensees to make sure that sustainable production methods are being implemented.
When Label STEP was launched by the development organisation Berne Declaration, along with other NGOs such as Bread for All and Caritas Switzerland, Pfister was among the first enterprises on board. Reto Aschwanden, commercial director of Label STEP, admits that “tight collaboration with big carpet companies such as Pfister is essential in keeping the survival of the carpet industry”. Indeed, Nepal’s carpet weaving is in decline in part due to the stigma brought about by the publicising of the abused and exploited children in the carpet industry for the financial gain of the few. Actually, a fair working environment with commensurate pay in Nepal’s most important cottage industry is crucial to alleviate poverty and in turn dismantle one of the major causes of child exploitation.
Future less tense
The results, at any rate, speak for themselves. The money generated from the carpet industry in Nepal has supported projects like building schools, establishing day-care centres, adult education and vocational training, as well as environmental protection. Today, Nepal is a hub of modern carpet design and a laboratory of design innovation for young designers like Jan Kath who works closely with Label STEP. Designer and stylist Lela Scherrer of Atelier Pfister also elaborated her carpet “Altreau” in a tight collaboration with the labelling NGO. Even on the consumer end things have improved. Niels Blaettler, responsible for Pfister’s carpet sector, has seen a positive outcome from Pfister’s collaboration with STEP. “Our clients are more and more interested with the story behind our products,” says Blaettler. “And because Label STEP membership means that all handmade carpets must follow fair-trade rules, our customers recognise and reward the credibility of our commitment.”
Pfister houses the largest number of carpet outlets in Switzerland, and the widest collection of different kinds from the finest wool to the most exquisite silk carpets from principal carpet producing countries like Afghanistan, India, Iran, Kirghizstan, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey – all of which the Label STEP operates. Clients who may not find their joy on Persian rugs or Hereke silk may ask Pfister’s custom-made service to create their dream carpets for them. For more information: www.pfister.ch – www.atelierpfister.ch
Article by Jane Demaurex