If the best reason to know the rules is to be smarter about breaking them, then consider the year-old collaboration between designers Albert Chu and Jennifer Myers not so much a violent upheaval but an exercise in playfully tweaking the system. Chu and Myers met while studying at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design — an institution they say reinforced their respect for constraints — and each worked in architecture and launched an accessories line before combining their shared pedagogy into a series of leather and brass pouches. “I think working within, and rebelling against, a set of parameters is actually the ultimate in design fun,” Myers says. Chu agrees: “We love working with fundamentals and trying to introduce a slight deviation,” says the designer of Otaat, which stands for “one thing at a time.” “Harvard was about being restrained in the conceptual and design intervention, that sometimes the most effective and thorough result could arise from a minimal, subtle act.”
To that end, the partners on Otaat/Myers Collective, who live blocks away from each other in Los Angeles, deliberately started their joint effort by articulating restrictions: “The collaboration was really based in conceiving of new problems and working through them,” Chu says. The pair became interested in clutches as archetypal objects with basic foundational elements, nothing more than two leather pieces, a closure and a wrist strap. But they are also the sort of blank slates that are open to variation, in which the smallest decisions about color or shape make a big functional difference. “It suits our processes of starting with elemental materials and primitive shapes and introducing a twist on the norm — something that elevates it beyond its understood use or aesthetic,” Myers says.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the designers are so adept at pulling joy from order. Both Chu’s father, a renowned physicist who has been considered for the Nobel Prize, and his grandfather, an influential mathematician in differential geometry, combined creativity with technical prowess. For Chu’s grandfather — who wrote a proof of the Gauss-Bonnet Theorem that is known for its brevity — simplicity was the purest way to describe an idea, and the reason for all that deep knowledge of underlying complexity. “They taught me that creativity and rigor are necessary ingredients for producing interesting and thoughtful results,” Chu says. “The idea that the perfect physical form could solve a specific function appealed to my sensibility towards simplicity and multivalency, where one thing could perform multiple roles.”
Another theme that seems to recur in the designers’ work is a sense of play and humor, a creative form that notoriously requires knowing which boundaries to push. Otaat first burst onto the scene a few years ago with a coveted series of conical, iconic party hats, updated in leather, and there are little puzzles and moments of sly surprise arranged throughout both designer’s home studios. Scroll through for a glimpse into Chu’s and Myers’ inspirations.
You can learn a lot about Dutch designer Bernadette Deddens by just looking at her. First there are the shoes, which — depending on the day and the whims of London’s weather — she very well may have made herself. One pair of sandals constructed from $25 worth of pale leather and black cording could be mistaken for Margielas, yet are no less awe-inspiring for the fact that Deddens actually nicked the look from Tommy Hilfiger. After all, who makes their own shoes, anyway? Then there’s her jewelry, which is almost always her design, unless it’s a collaboration with her husband Tetsuo Mukai, with whom she formed Study O Portable two years ago. The jewelry is their way of giving people a form of creative expression that can be carried outside the house and into the wider world, as Deddens so poignantly demonstrates — hence their otherwise peculiar studio name.
For more than three years, the Argentinean sisters Sol Caramilloni Iriarte and Carolina Lopez Gordillo Iriarte kept a design studio on the second floor of a building in Barcelona, handcrafting an eponymous line of leather bags in relative privacy. Sol, 32, was working part-time as a set designer for films; Carolina, 25, had just finished a year apprenticing under her friend Muñoz Vrandecic, the Spanish couture shoemaker. Called Iriarte Iriarte, it was a modest operation. Then in June, fate intervened.
You can sometimes guess at the greatness of an exhibition based purely on its location (a little off-the-beaten track, naturally), or when its roster lists nothing short of five talented up-and-coming designers. With that in mind, it seemed only right to plow the bitter, wintry streets of Stockholm earlier this month to find out more about the new, colorful Cray Collective.