May 21, 2018
Wolf-Gordon’s New Collection Defies Conventions with Its Tactility and Luxury
Dutch designer Mae Engelgeer’s three new releases in the Matter collection betray a fascination—seldom seen in commercial fabrics—with touch, richness, and contrast.
Irregular shapes shaded in a shiny ombré gradient emerge from a solid-groundlike terrazzo studded with precious stones. The rigidity of a rectilinear grid is disrupted by the sinuous winding of a rogue line in metallic fiber. An intricate veil-like form partially obscures a field of pinpoint dots, suggesting shifting layers of overlapping pattern. These complex compositions aren’t computer graphics or digital artworks; they’re an expressive new collection of upholstery textiles by Dutch designer Mae Engelgeer. With Mass, Points, and Merge, the three new releases of the Matter collection for American design company Wolf-Gordon, Engelgeer defies contract-market convention not just with her novel designs but with contrasting materials and textures that betray a fascination—seldom seen in commercial fabrics—with tactility, dimensionality, and luxury.
This new suite of textiles marks a departure from the reserved line play of the Wolf-Gordon + Mae Engelgeer collection, Engelgeer’s first collaboration with Wolf-Gordon in 2016, which featured digital wall-coverings, upholstery, and drapery fabrics rooted in Dutch Modernism. With Matter, Engelgeer draws from her cross-market expertise, designing a range of softer, domestically influenced upholstery fabrics that mix natural wool and cotton with polyester and metallic yarns to bring a warm, luxuriant feel to both workplace and hospitality interiors. Marybeth Shaw, Wolf-Gordon’s vice president of product design and marketing—who has masterminded licensed partnerships with design superstars such as Karim Rashid, Tsao & McKown, and Boym Partners—worked with Engelgeer throughout a roughly yearlong process to shepherd the collection from concept to finished collection launching at NeoCon in June.
Engelgeer’s design process began with conjuring up what she describes as “an atmosphere…a sort of feeling” rooted in inspiration gleaned from her travels, museums, and fashion, and the storefronts near her Amsterdam studio. She sketched shapes and used photos, material samples, and color swatches to help visualize concepts and give them texture. “I don’t do any hand weaving,” she says of this early stage, pointing out the lack of weaving equipment in her studio. “I try to keep free and open-minded in what could work, and I really like to play.”
With initial sketches in hand, Engelgeer visited the TextielLab, a resource center and fabrication workshop associated with the TextielMuseum in the southern Dutch city of Tilburg. There the sketches were first transformed into digital files and then into physical prototypes on the center’s weaving machines. Standing at the Jacquard machine as her samples were woven in real time, Engelgeer was able to revise the design on the spot and experiment with different yarns and fibers. “It’s a totally different process than sending out a sketch to a mill and trying to explain what you want,” she notes. Engelgeer eschews the constraints of practicality during this process of creative exploration: “What is important at first is to be super free in using the weirdest yarns, then to later start to make it more suitable for upholstery.”
Engelgeer sent the experimental samples from TextielLab to New York, where the Wolf-Gordon team, led by Shaw, picked up the thread. “We were in love with them, we thought they were so interesting,” Shaw recalls, citing the contrast between metallic and matte fibers, the sheen of silk, and the texture of the mohair yarns Engelgeer had selected. But translating the samples’ eclectic materials and soft hand in a fabric that could pass the industry’s durability and safety standards posed a daunting challenge. Wolf-Gordon worked with a domestic mill to manufacture Engelgeer’s designs, specifying a higher percentage of wool yarns and a washed finish in order to create the elegant look and feel that elevates these contract fabrics to premium quality.
Shaw is typically more hands-off at the outset of production, allowing the designers freedom to develop original concepts that enable Wolf-Gordon to innovate and maintain an edge within the industry. But she must also ensure that each collection delivers the types of products her specifiers demand, and as the process unfolds, she steps in with a guiding hand and an expert eye, progressively shaping a collection that reflects the designer’s intent while retaining its viability for the contract market.
During a visit to New York, Engelgeer and Shaw reviewed manufacturer samples and further refined patterns, materials, and colors. “[It’s] a bit difficult talking via email or phone about textiles, which you have to touch and feel,” Engelgeer says. Winnowing out designs that won’t work for technical or market-driven reasons, Shaw points out, helps achieve the right variety of patterns, scales, and colorways. In the Matter collection, Mass serves as the statement piece with its bold, outsize imagery and wide repeat, a contrast to the delicate, layered design of Points that rewards closer inspection with secondary details. Merge offers a more traditional design, but still with a touch of the unexpected. The subdued reds—muted corals, dusty pinks, and soft mauves that appear in six colorways— speak to Engelgeer’s fashion-influenced sense of color, as well as an industrywide shift toward warmer hues. Shaw finds that colorways pairing warm and cool tones give designers more flexibility in how and where they use Wolf-Gordon’s products. “Color trends are kind of like a pendulum that swings,” she observes. “For many years we have been in a gray, more industrial palette, and it’s inevitable that things warm up.”
In its final state, the Matter collection comprises 20 textiles in three patterns, presenting a range of tones and scales. “When I started this collection, I knew exactly what kind of feeling I wanted to get out of it,” Engelgeer says. “Now, [when I] see the collection together, I’m like, ‘Yes, this is what I had in mind.’” But the design process doesn’t end with the completion of the new collection; ideas generated in one project inevitably find their way into future textiles. “We’re always looking for an outside, independent voice who is going to bring something to our overall collection that really is exciting and forward thinking and very fresh,” Shaw says of working with young European designers on licensed collections. “I want to be influenced and conditioned by this new work.”
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