Oh boy, do I have a feast for surface-designing eyes to share with you today!

On Saturday, I visited the exhibit 'Vlisco Unfolded' at Dutch Design Week. A few months ago, I posted about Vlisco here.

If you're not familiar with this company, I'll tell you in a nutshell that they have been producing designer fabrics for the (West) African market for the last 167 years. Surprisingly, throughout their entire history they have been located in Helmond (a small suburb of Eindhoven) in the Netherlands! In any case, they possess (at this point) an unmatched understanding of the technological process (wax resist) and the aesthetic that appeal to this market. They are the self-proclaimed 'Gucci of Africa'.


They collaborate with contemporary artists, illustrators and photographers to create stunningly beautiful advertising campaigns (like the ones you see above, overlooking the Septemberplein in Eindhoven, and below).


The above photograph was taken by Freudenthal en Verhagen for the 'Jeu de Couleurs' collection released earlier this year. If you'd like to see more, you can visit Vlisco's Pinterest page, which they are using like a catalog with text and photos presenting the collection.

Vlisco exhibited at DDW for the first time this year. So, while they are an established institution, they are still seeking out new venues and wanting to educate a growing public about exactly what it is they do.



I was actually on my way to the Graduate Projects at the Design Academy Eindhoven when I literally stumbled upon Vlisco arrows (as pictured above) pointing me in the direction of their exhibit. They were posted on scaffolding and on the sidewalks along the Emmasingel. It was one of those happy accidents/dumb luck, where I found myself in the right place at the right time.




What I loved even more than seeing the finished products was getting a peek at several tables that were covered with pen and ink sketches. This insight into Vlisco's creative process was fascinating! You can really imagine that the designers start with a simple motif, and then by decorating within the initial lines, and/or placing that motif on a textured background, and/or combining it with other related or complimentary motifs, achieve an amazingly complex result.



I also thought these tables were an incredible lesson in the creation of 'collections.' That is something that Michelle Fifis of Pattern Observer spends a lot of time teaching in her fantastic online courses. Her standpoint is that you can increase the value of a single design by creating coordinates for it. So, you end up with a main design and 2-3 supporting designs that relate in color or subject matter, for example, but differ in scale, level of complexity or layout.


Designing collections is a skill in and of itself! It is truly challenging. When it works, it really works, but striking the right balance of variation in color, scale, level of complexity, layout, etc. takes a LOT of practice. I think Amy Butler is a master at this. And I thought Vlisco's sketch-strewn tables were examples of seemingly effortless successes in this respect! I'm not sure I would create the 4 designs pictured above with a plan to ever combine them, but there they are next to each other and I'm liking what I see!

Maybe because their complex designs are consistently built from the same basic marks - dots and lines, geometric shapes - they all seem part of a single family. In 167 years, they still haven't exhausted the possibilities of these basic marks!

I think it's truly an art to be able to create such complex designs and then on top of that, to be able to combine them into groups of 4 or 5 that truly vibrate, but in a harmonious way. To me, that is the craft that Vlisco has perfected.

The effect (below) is really disorienting. I can't tell if this model is sitting or standing, if the space she's in is two- or three-dimensional ... But I'm digging it, though I might be feeling slightly dizzy!


This series of ads for 'Jeu de Couleurs' by Freudenthal en Verhagen makes me think of Gustav Klimt paintings.


He also surrounded the women whose portraits he painted with blocks of pattern and texture, each made up of geometric shapes, dots and lines, and tied together by similar color palettes.

Have you seen other artists/designers doing this in a successful way? What home/fashion brands create collections of designs that you think work especially well together?

Next time I'll have a report on the Graduate Projects, as promised!