LUXURYCULTURE.COM - FROM RAGS TO RICHES

LUXURY NOW / SLOW LUXURY / FROM RAGS TO RICHES

A new breed of creators are busy breathing life into junk, detritus and other cast-offs.

The city is a bountiful source of recyclable riches, not only for impoverished artists, but established designers too, as they trawl the streets in search of abandoned loot.
Last year London's Rabih Hage showroom and Scraps gallery in Paris rummaged through the debris deftly reworked into uniquely beautiful treasures, uncovering some of the most exquisite in environmentally conscious design. One such find was artist Karen Ryan, who brought conscious design to the forefront with a uniquely thought provoking collection of tables and chairs, masterfully assembled from long forsaken, dismembered furniture.

Bringing renewed life to found objects is hardly new. In 1957 Italian innovators the Castiglioni brothers (including the legendary Achille Castiglioni) exhibited early precursors to this current trend with stools made from tractor and bicycle seats ingeniously married to mismatched bases.

In the early 1990s Renny Ramakers, co-founder of the seminal Dutch design collective Droog, showed furniture by aspiring Dutch designers created from discarded industrial materials. Back then she barely covered the costs incurred by the show, today the same pieces, including Tejo Remy's highly acclaimed "You Can't Lay Down Your Memories" chest of drawers, can fetch sums of up to $25,000 in galleries worldwide.

Another unearthed treasure of Droog's progressive show was Piet Hein Eek, one of Holland's exhilarating new breed of designers. A modern day torchbearer of recycled design, he scrutinizes the contemporary ideal of luxury in a reversal of commonplace manufacturing processes. While many 'high end' manufacturers take expensive materials to the Far East - taking advantage of a low cost workforce - the Dutchman imbues 'worthless' materials with time honored craftsmanship. "We're living in a time of globalization and mass production. Working with reclaimed materials is exactly the opposite and fulfills a natural need." He states. A sentiment shared by Australian artist Kylie Ruszczynski, "Many designers have become mainstream via mass production and availability to the masses, which is good for those pieces, but the desire for recycled objects is the randomness and the uniqueness the materials create. To have something that no one else has that is sculptural and useable, with a history, is very appealing. Then there is the social conscience that perhaps influences not only the maker but the buyer too."

The one intrinsic element that each piece shares is, of course, the social message. For example, take Ryan Frank's Inkuku chair, shown recently at the Milan Furniture Fair. Shopping bags are ingeniously intertwined to create comfortable seating in bold, cheery colors, in response to the growing waste problem in his native South Africa. "The litter problem present in many African cities is how this craft technique originated. Making a chair using plastic shopping bags highlights the throw away culture present in many European cities and also embraces the idea of shops, providing re-usable or recyclable bags for their customers." He says.

These, along with the new faces at the recent Haute Green exhibition, held in New York, offer visitors a startling, fresh alternative to eco design's traditionally unglamorous image, firmly disproving the old adage "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear."

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