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28 June 2017 19:41 (South Africa)
Opinionista Dominique Herman

The emphatic infinity of Li Edelkoort's emptiness

  • Dominique Herman
    dominique-herman(2).jpg
    Dominique Herman

    Dominique edits books and writes for local publications. She grew up in Cape Town and left the country to study journalism at New York University. After nine years in the US, UK and Spain, she returned to SA in late 2004 and started a few months later as a senior writer at the Cape Times. She has written part of a travel guide on southern England that was published in the US in 2001 within the Frommer's guides franchise; was one of the writers on the Platter's wine guide 2009 edition; and a compilation of photographs and interviews with high-profile South Africans she put together, entitled Perfect Weekend, was published locally the same year.

Men in beards, pleats with trainers, patisserie, bibs and greenish (not green). These are some of trend forecaster Li Edelkoort's favourite things. Whatever.

Every year the celebrated Dutch trend forecaster holds a talk at the Cape Town International Convention Centre to capitalise on the design-loving masses in town – and in the building – for the annual Design Indaba conference and expo. I’ve heard about Edelkoort for years. She has an adoring fan base that hangs on her every word and devours her prolific offering of books – Fetishism in Fashion being the latest.

In 2007 I covered part of the Design Indaba conference for the Cape Times and this year worked for the Design Indaba on its editorial team. I’m a big supporter of the event. It brings world-class designers to Cape Town – people whose minds work differently. I’m not overstating my experience when I say that getting up close and personal with these people, having the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with them, is a life-changing event.

Those who go to the conference each year uniformly report the buzzing electric feeling it elicits. How, when they leave there, in the words of a friend who is a creative director for two local magazines, they want to “go home and make stuff”. For everybody who participates – be it as a speaker at the conference, a delegate to the conference, an expo exhibitor, an expo visitor or a staffer in the organisation, it’s a dynamic, alive five days that wakes the city from its sometime sleep mode and catapults it into a frenzy of new ideas, concepts and revelations.

And, for some, it’s an unrivalled economic opportunity in a country where design pursuits are so often singular activities. In a room with 500 locals showcasing their wares and hundreds of international buyers and media, the interactions have resulted in transactions of millions of rands and global exposure – in sales to the public, orders from international and local stores, and invitations to exhibiting designers to participate in international fairs, seminars and exhibitions.

It’s also a time for moments of idiosyncrasy, hilarity and wonder. It’s a time of renowned composer/bandleader Graham Reynolds reaching into a baby grand and strumming the strings while Pentagram art director DJ Stout talks about cowboy poetry. It’s standing up and belting out a song with another international design hero, Stefan Sagmeister, because he has found in his happiness research that singing in groups makes us happy.

A UCT GSB report done last year estimated that the Design Indaba has generated R1.3bn to the gross domestic product over the past five years. And the beauty of the whole endeavour, to those who scoff at what they perceive to be the trivial pursuit of making pretty objets, is that it’s actually about design leading to creative solutions for the world’s problems – and awakening people to their own wacky, innovative potential.

Herman on Li Edelkoort

Sure, there are product designers present who produce quirky bowls, but the thread running through most of the speakers’ talks was about how design needs to be functional and effective in solving global issues. As Danish architect and product designer Nille Juul-Sørensen said, “There are enough chairs. Design like you give a damn.”

In launching its new MBA for music and the creative arts at the expo on Sunday, Henley Business School Africa dean, Jon Foster-Pedley, said creativity was seen as the most valued trait in business today. Creativity is not only about the design industries, he added. Creativity is a tool that needs to be applied in every instance of life, in every sector, in every situation. As Nigerian architect-turned-brand-consultant Ije Nwokorie said: “In Africa you have to be creative to survive.” And as British designer/entrepreneur Tom Hulme said, we’re all potential “knocker-uppers”. In other words, everybody has the capacity to design.

So it was after a massively stimulating three days of lectures, films, music, great conversation and chance meetings that I endured three hours of what was to my mind complete and utter drivel. My understanding of trend prediction is that you predict trends. You don’t reel off every conceivable description of all that can be. A lot of people can do that.

According to Edelkoort, summer 2015 clothes will be about “gathering textile and what it means for society”. Apparently draping, the oldest way of dressing, will make its triumphant return, indicating “we want to give back nobility to society”. There will be layering, faceting (“faceting is fascinating because it’s everywhere”), frills (“I am super thrilled to tell you that there is frilled”), tarnishing, stitching, wrapping, crafting, hand-weaving, flowering, embroidery, decaying, painting, disguising, ribboning, veiling and pleating.

“People want to be in a cloak of culture,” she told us next. Cue picture of a model in a cloak. “People will wear frills and that will indicate happiness and thrill in society.” Cue pictures of more models in frilly frocks.

Apparently tinted white will become “important in general”; “needlework is the key word of the season”; “green will become very important, not in the sense of ‘I have a green coat’ but ‘I have a greenish coat’.”

“There’s a bit of futurism in the air, maybe because we will go in space soon.”

“There are lots of circles for some reason.”

Pastry chefs might be pleased to hear that “patisserie is the biggest trend hitting the planet right now.” The fetishism of infantilism in sex also got a mention: “It’s undeniable that we are in a fetishist moment.” There’ll be bibs built into shirts and lots of aprons – there’ll be an “apron moment”. Corsets are cool. Shirts are becoming important and those in t-shirt countries might find this difficult but must get used to this – after all, “young people know”.

Pleating is going to be a huge trend (although possibly not as huge as patisserie). “It’s already on its way, and all of it worn with running shoes.” Ripped and torn, washed and worn. Colours will be bright but they will also be tinted, burned, befouled. The cocoon shape is the shape of the future.

I looked about in stupefaction that nobody seemed to be finding this rhetoric as inane as I did, and to boot had paid R600 (499 for students) to listen to it for almost three hours. Two friends of mine – smart and stylish former colleagues at the fashion school where I did a one-year lecturing stint – people whose taste and judgment I regard highly, think Edelkoort is too wonderful for words. The way she phrases things, the one said. It’s so simple. She goes to the talk so that she knows what the trends are and then can do the exact opposite in her work. The other one said she needs to know what the trends are in order to best instruct her students.

Edelkoort’s presentation is visually rich, I’ll give her that. There are slides and slides of beautifully shot photographs with moody music playing over them. Every so often the lights would dim and we would watch yet another montage of pictures Edelkoort had assembled. One spread showed a package wrapped up in hessian thread. The picture next to it showed a woman’s outfit wrapped in cords. Afterwards everybody clapped loudly.

I like to think I’m of reasonable intelligence but not much of it made sense to me. And that was part one. Part two dealt with colour. I’ve never been too adept at eye shadow application so I wasn’t unhappy to hear that we can now put lipstick on our eyes and lashes. Clothing will be inspired by sketching, pattern, art, checks, marbling, watercolour, staining vs. saturating, textured monochromes, painting with a free hand, smudging, ruining, rubberising, plastifying, smoking, lacquering, dripping and pasting. The eyebrows “will get a lot of attention” and “almost all men now have beards,” she declared somewhat, as far as I was concerned, off the trend forecasting point.

I also learned that 65% of women don’t like men in red pants. Funnily enough, the day before during the dynamic London-based Spanish duo El Ultimo Grito’s presentation at the conference, I had admired Roberto Feo’s red pants and thought that more men should wear them.

Perhaps my proclivity for that which is overwhelmingly unpopular explains my spectacular inability to understand what it is Li Edelkoort was talking about. I reckon I’ll continue to wear t-shirts. Bibs might be all the rage but I’ll likely give those a skip and to add one more completely unfashionable item to the list, I’ll continue to fancy men in red pants. DM

  • Dominique Herman
    dominique-herman(2).jpg
    Dominique Herman

    Dominique edits books and writes for local publications. She grew up in Cape Town and left the country to study journalism at New York University. After nine years in the US, UK and Spain, she returned to SA in late 2004 and started a few months later as a senior writer at the Cape Times. She has written part of a travel guide on southern England that was published in the US in 2001 within the Frommer's guides franchise; was one of the writers on the Platter's wine guide 2009 edition; and a compilation of photographs and interviews with high-profile South Africans she put together, entitled Perfect Weekend, was published locally the same year.

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