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best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen

ISABEL + HELEN CREATE KINETIC SCULPTURES FOR BOTTEGA VENETA’S ISSUE 03

 

designboom spoke with the british design duo isabel + helen, ahead of being awarded with the golden madonnina trophy 2021 of milan’s THE DESIGN PRIZE (find out more here). the london-based creative studio develops projects that highlight their shared love of analogue design processes and simple kinetics. since 2012, they have gained widespread recognition for their experimental, engineered installations and animated sculptures. underpinned by an ongoing exploration of movement, materials and mechanisms, their work has attracted clients in the fashion world including hermés, dior, moncler, craig green, and bottega veneta, as well as cultural institutions such as the victoria and albert museum and tate modern.

 

for issue 03

bottega veneta’s digital journal (see more on previous issues here and here) — isabel + helen have created two sets of animations that capture the fun and innovative nature of the brand. titled ‘issued’, the quarterly journal features not just editorial shoots but also videos that add to the storytelling of their products. by abstracting elements of the collection, the studio has come up with ‘inflatable bags’ and ‘kinetic dresses’, two playful series of kinetic sculptures, presented as short animations within the journal. read our interview with isabel + helen to find out more about the studio’s background, design philosophy and key moments that have defined their journey so far, below.

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helenvideo still from isabel+helen’s ‘inflatable bags’ series

full header video + all stills of ‘inflatable bags’ and ‘kinetic dresses’ courtesy of bottega veneta

 

 

DESIGNBOOM INTERVIEWS ISABEL + HELEN

 

designboom (DB): when did you first start working together?

 

isabel gibson and helen chesner (IG + HC): we met whilst studying at chelsea college of art in london. since graduating in 2012 we began collaborating on projects that highlighted our shared love of analogue design processes and understated kinetics.

 

DB: how would you describe the studio’s design philosophy?

 

IG + HC: our work is underpinned by an ongoing exploration of movement, materials and mechanisms, we seek to simplify often complex ideas and ambitions, translating them into something more readable and relatable. we aim to recreate moments of simple gratification for the viewer which are at once honest and unpretentious, yet also misleading in their apparent simplicity. process and play has always been integral to the way we work… experimenting with how simple mechanics can be engineered in such a way to bring materials to life and give them new meaning, making things move or perform – creating experiments with what we have around us, almost scientific in their execution.best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen

the series captures the essence of three bottega veneta bags

 

 

DB: how important is experimentation in your design process?

 

IG + HC: it’s a very important part of our process. we have a workshop/studio space in south east london where we spend our time making prototypes and testing out our ideas. most of our ideas come about through making and testing and tweaking until we’re happy with the end result.

 

DB: what are some key projects that have defined the studio’s journey so far?

 

IG + HC: our first ever project we worked on together was for the V+A friday lates, creating interactive sculptures -selfridges christmas window back in 2016 was our first windows commission -our ongoing collaborations with craig green/moncler and hermès have played a large part in shaping our practice -we recently had a solo show at the saatchi gallery exhibiting a series of large-scale paintings and films to explain the process.best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen

key details of each bag are highlighted within the sculptures

 

 

DB: can you tell us a few words about ‘in orbit’, your first solo show at the saatchi gallery?

 

IG + HC: for the show we created a series of tonal paintings, produced using a hand-made contraption made up of the paintbrushes arranged on a rotating canvas. we would spend hours setting up the process, but once the machine was turned on, we could step back and wait for the painting to reveal itself. it was almost therapeutic and reassuring, a moment where we could relinquish all responsibility and where the paintings would create themselves… the set up could take a few hours but the actual process of painting, a couple of minutes, and completely out of our control. a brand new painting was created every time we turned on the contraption, each one completely unique.

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen
bottega veneta’s pouch bag transformed into inflatable sculpture

 

 

DB: your work often employs analogue design processes and simple kinetics. do you also create 3D works? is there a difference in the process between the two?

 

IG + HC: yes we also create static 3D installations sometimes too, as movement isn’t always necessary to communicate our ideas. it just seems to be a natural thing we’ve been drawn to, but we never set out with that in mind initially.

best-design-newcomer-2021-an-interview-with-isabel-helen-designboom-large
DB: you have worked with fashion brands likeh, moncler, craig green, and now bottega veneta. how do develop a unique narrative around each collaboration?

 

IG + HC: our ideas are heavily inspired by each collection. we love hearing about the inspiration and processes that have gone into making the garments and the feeling that is conjured up through the collection as a whole. we then develop our ideas in response. for hermès we look to explore narrative and tell stories, viewing their windows almost like a public art gallery for anyone walking by. where as with craig green/moncler it’s much more about capturing an emotion and making the audience experience the collection in a very tangible way. this comes about through physically experimenting with different materials and mechanisms to develop new ideas.best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helenvideo still from the ‘spinning dresses’ series

 

DB: you are often commissioned to design display windows or sculptural compositions for fashion shows. do you think these will continue to play an important role in our digital world? is that role changing in any way?

 

IG + HC: we love the accessibility that comes with the digital output, it means you can reach a much wider audience which is exciting. before ‘the fashion show’ was only for the few but now with live streaming anyone can tune in, it’s much more democratic in a way. saying that, after the last year, people more than ever are desperate for physical experiences too. it’s important to have both. it’s where these two worlds meet that it feels really exciting.

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen
in ‘spinning dresses’ isabel + helen abstract elements of the bottega veneta collection

 

DB: what are you working on at the moment – any upcoming projects?

 

IG + HC: more experiments….more contraptions….more collaborations…. more exhibitions…

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen
‘in orbit’ exhibiting at saatchi gallery

 

 

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen
‘in orbit’ is a series of tonal paintings produced by hypnotic, rotating contraptions that have been assembled by hand

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen
mischievous machines: SS18 windows across all hermés UK stores | production: andy knight ltd | photography: francisco ibáñez | courtesy of isabel + helen

 

mischievous machines: SS18 windows across all hermés UK stores

best design newcomer 2021: an interview with isabel + helen
spatial design and kinetic sculpture for the moncler genius x craig green show; milan fashion week 2020 – light room | courtesy isabel + helen

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moncler x craig green – season 5 | photography: dan tobin smith

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isabel + helen 'in orbit' at saatchi gallery
isabel + helen 'in orbit' at saatchi gallery
the collection of imperfect circles and the tools used in their creation, explore the space between mass production and the creation of unique art works
the collection of imperfect circles and the tools used in their creation, explore the space between mass production and the creation of unique art works
the collection of imperfect circles and the tools used in their creation, explore the space between mass production and the creation of unique art works
the collection of imperfect circles and the tools used in their creation, explore the space between mass production and the creation of unique art works

project info:

 

designer: isabel + helen

 

THE DESIGN PRIZE is an annual award program that celebrates excellence on a global scale. initiated in 2017 and curated by designboom, with patronage by the city of milan, THE DESIGN PRIZE recognizes both the extraordinary achievements and little sparks of beauty and delight that have emerged over the past 12 months.

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