In 2019, the acclaimed industrial designer Konstantin Grcic released Collection 03, a range of minimalist garments for young German fashion brand Aeance. It was a commission that sat outside of Grcic’s usual practice, but he nevertheless took it in his stride. “Making a jacket is an act of construction,” he wrote, “not unlike building a chair.”
This movement between typologies is increasingly common across design, with recent years having seen a growing tendency for fashion to interact with other fields. Today more than ever, fashion influences – and is in turn influenced by – the practice of other disciplines. From Raf Simons’s textile design for Danish fabric brand Kvadrat; Virgil Abloh’s remixes of Jean Prouvé furniture for Vitra; and Alessandro Michele’s homeware designs for Gucci through to Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades project (which pairs the maison’s savoirfaire with product design from studios such as Barber & Osgerby, Patricia Urquiola and Nendo) the connections between fashion and design are drawing ever closer.
This tendency has long been familiar at Bolon, a company that has made no secret of the impact that fashion has had upon its design work. Since assuming the leadership of their family-owned business in 2003, sisters Annica and Marie Eklund have drawn inspiration from fashion’s creativity and approach to design. The company launched an ongoing collaborative collection with the Italian fashion brand Missoni in 2012, as well as working with leading maisons such as Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani. To explore the links between fashion and Bolon, in autumn 2019 Annica and Marie travelled to New York to meet with Francesca Granata, associate professor of fashion studies at the city’s prestigious Parsons School of Design.
Francesca Granata: How did Bolon’s interest in and collaborations with fashion houses like Missoni come about?
Annica Eklund: We have always been interested in fashion and design, even before we began working with Bolon. That interest was the whole idea behind our decision to convert Bolon from a very traditional company into an international design brand. Growing up, we were fascinated by fashion and interior design, so we wanted to attract people to Bolon who we were ourselves attracted to in our personal lives, like Missoni. Slowly, we converted Bolon into a high-end design brand.
Francesca: What role did fashion play in that?
Annica: In the beginning, we had some interesting collaborations with design businesses such as Cappellini and the Campana Brothers, but it actually started with Giorgio Armani – we knew he was using Bolon in his offices or shops, and privately too. When we discovered that, we thought, wow! If we can attract someone like Armani, then we can attract anybody. Our mindset is that we want to work with people who are the best and most interesting in their fields, and who can interpret our product in a very interesting way. So when we heard that the fashion brand Missoni was using Bolon in one of its hotels, we knew we needed to set up a meeting and see if we could do something together. When we met them, we quickly discovered that we have so much in common – like Missoni, Bolon is a third generation family company run by strong women concerned with quality and keeping production in our own country. We launched our first collection together in 2012 and, in 2019, we’re updating the collection for the second time.
Marie Eklund: We’ve only ever invited two brands to put their name on a Bolon collection: Missoni and the world-famous architect Jean Nouvel. His collection is more architectural, whereas the Missoni collection has a much greater emphasis on pattern, colour and energy. The same year that we started to work with Missoni, we made quite a big investment in our factory in Sweden and bought Jacquard looms, which allow us to weave patterns. That was really new for us and it’s why working with a fashion brand like Missoni is so interesting – they’re all about pattern and colour.
Francesca: You’re not a fashion company per se, but you work with fashion designers. There are many in the fashion industry, however, who complain that the increased speed of production we’re currently seeing really hinders creativity. Do you feel that has been the case for you?
Annica: We’ve managed to avoid it because, as a manufacturer, you own the process yourself, so you can determine your own speed, innovation and sustainability. That’s the power of having your own factory. But we always say that we’re a design company that produces flooring. Design is the main thing for our brand.
Francesca: What made you develop the different areas of your company? You’ve founded the Villa La Madonna hotel in Piedmont, launched a string of guesthouses in Sweden, published books and– of course – We Love magazine. What drives that engagement with different fields?
Annica: Just being a flooring company is not for us. As owners, we have a dream to lead a joyful life with Bolon and everybody who works with us. We want to inject our day-to-day business with interesting things that make people understand the value of the brand. The books and the magazine give a special feeling that we sometimes can’t communicate through our products alone and our guesthouses are something else that give another angle to our entrepreneurship. It’s who we are. We want to welcome people to connect with our brand.
Marie: It doesn’t really matter if it’s a hotel, or if it’s Bolon, or if it’s a book. Next, it may be a restaurant or gallery – or whatever. We just have it in us.
Francesca: You don’t want to fall into the super-accelerated speed of fashion, but it seems that you’re driven by constantly changing and updating what you do. How do you make sure that your
process remains sustainable?
Annica: Our grandfather used to produce rag rugs, while our parents created camping carpets. Marie and I were the third generation, and our contribution was to add fashion and branding to the company, and lead it into the design era. Fashion, in particular, is interesting for us. It’s quite speedy and flexible, whereas the design business is more long-lasting and stable. So inviting fashion into the equation lets you be more open-minded. We have a heritage that we’re proud of and want to develop, but we’ve also invested €18m in our factory to help innovate and improve our sustainability. So, today, we have a recycling plant in our factory, which means we recycle and use all our waste materials in new products.
Marie: We are proud of what we do when it comes to sustainability, because we’re really on the top tier. Bolon was actually initiated by sustainable thinking when we were founded in Stockholm in 1949 – our grandfather took waste material from the clothes industry and used it to weave rugs. Today, we have a modern factory and 130 employees, but it was really when we added the design mindset into Bolon that we rose to the high-end position we’re in now. As a business, we create possibilities to invest in innovative machines and innovative people, so it’s really a circle. Business and design need each other.