One of the biggest draws of Friday's Fashion Tech Forum in Los Angeles was a discussion between Off-White's designer-of-the-moment Virgil Abloh and Henrik Most, the Ikea creative leader. Ikea and Abloh announced plans for a collaboration back in June, when Abloh revealed his own redesign of the iconic blue Frakta bag. While it was obvious that their partnership would extend beyond the bag, it was not quite clear how. Now, we have a (slightly) better idea.
Their discussion centered around big ideas, rather than specific plans. What's confirmed is that the project will yield home design objects for millennials' first homes and is "planned to launch" in 2019. An official press release reads:
Starting your first home, developing your own space can be both exciting and challenging. Short term rentals, small spaces, tight budgets but still a longing to express yourself through beautiful objects and design. This reality for many young people of today made IKEA think about what we can do. That became the starting point for our collaboration with Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White.
Abloh said he wanted to work with Ikea since before he met anyone at the company. "I was visualizing, hoping ... like, if I can work with Ikea, that will open up this door to the way of thinking that usually is left for clothing to the rest of someone's dwelling space," he said. That is, creating home goods with great design that will inspire people to purchase items for their home because of an emotional connection rather than out of necessity. And, perhaps most importantly, to make it affordable to be able to do that. "I truly believe that design is linked to humanity; you can make the world a better place through design."
"There's no meaning in creating something just for creating something, that's not what he cares about. We want to make a difference in people's lives," added Most. "It needs to resonate on a functional level and an emotional level."
During the talk, Abloh polled audience members on their purchasing habits, asking whether emotion or necessity drives their decision to purchase a bed, for example. "I have a meeting with him in two weeks; I have to turn in my homework," he joked afterwards. So it sounds like their project is still very much in the research stage, but it builds on a recent uptick in fashion relevance for Ikea that began with Balenciaga's introduction of its $2,000 "Arena" shopper — which is inarguably similar to Ikea's Frakta — this past spring. After that, Ikea-branded clothing items and reworked Fraktas began infiltrating the streetwear scene.
At Ikea, Most has also spearheaded collaborations with Chris Stamp (of Stampd), Katie Eary and Walter van Beirendonck. We sat down with him after the discussion to talk about millennials, Ikea's interest in fashion designers, whether it's trying to capitalize on its recent chicness and if that Demna Gvasalia collaboration will ever come to fruition. Read on for our interview.
You spoke a lot about millennials during the discussion. Why is that group of particular interest to you?
They're the first digital natives; they were born into the digital life. They're kind of the drivers and the first generation who's growing up under these, I would say, revolutionary circumstances.
I think it's a generation that needs support in surviving and developing as human beings. I have a cousin who's a young girl — also a millennial — and when I talk to her about her way of life, and how she lives and how she's obviously on a lot of digital and social media platforms, the pressure she is put up to about how she looks and how she should behave, it's tough. So the millennials deserve all the love and care we can give them.
Millennials seem to care more and more about the aesthetic of their homes, maybe because of Instagram. Do you want to cater to that in some way?
Personally, I think this about posting the perfect home, for me it's a bit boring. I would say you should embrace imperfection, that's who I am as a person. My home is not always super-clean; I can be messy. I don't always do the dishes all the time, but I don't show it. We tend to always show the sunny side of life, the success stories and everything. I think that builds up kind of a — not anxiety — but you have to live up to the 'perfect life' and I think we should embrace an imperfect life. With this collection, where we are going to create design products for the millennials for their first homes; if that can make them comfortable in creating their own home in the way they like without having to live up to norms or status...
This is one of a few fashion designer collaborations you've worked on recently. What interests you, and Ikea, about the fashion world?
We come from a situation where, if you're a furniture designer, that's what you did. It's a little bit like you stay put in your job. I have a friend who said to me, 'You can be a priest in the daytime but a rockstar at nighttime, you don't need to be in one box.' I think it's super-inspiring to work with fashion designers because, first of all, fashion designers have the possibility to reflect what's going on in society, in the culture, extremely fast. I would almost say that's their job. It can also be messages they want to convey about gender, about norms, about how you should look, and I think, collaborating with fashion designers, we gain access to a scene a design company normally doesn’t venture into, and I think it opens up a lot of doors for new inspiration, for new ways of looking at what is important when you design.
What do you look for in a designer to work with?
I look for a designer who has a unique signature, who has a strong aesthetic expression, who is strong on form and shape and on communicating their brand value, but I also look at what they stand for, what are their values, what do they burn for, what do they believe in. A lot of when I do research is also looking into what they want to achieve. There's a lot of designers we would not be interested in working with because I don't see that we have the same kind of ground values in life.
What do you think about all the re-worked Ikea bags in street style lately?
I'm only happy, I'm humbled. I think it's fantastic somebody would like to redesign an Ikea Frakta bag; I'm just going to bow down because it shows that we do something that makes sense, and that's something I'm extremely grateful for.
Is there a feeling of wanting to capitalize on this fashion moment Ikea is having?
We would never do something like that deliberately. We have never asked people if they wanted to remake or revamp an Ikea bag; it's something that happens by itself, and when people create clothes or caps or whatever out of Ikea bags, it comes from the people, not from us.
Is it true you were working with Demna Gvasalia on a collaboration? Why didn't that come to fruition and will it in the future?
It's true that we have had discussions and talked to Vetements. We are always curious about companies that are like Vetements, that have a high degree of originality in what they do, and I'm personally very glad that they are interested in Ikea, but then it's also a lot about timing: Do we have a project that we feel is strong and that can grow and become something that we can benefit from both parts? I'm sure that maybe in the future the opportunity will happen. It's not going to happen this time, but who knows?
Would Ikea ever create clothing?
No. We are a home furnishing company; we like to add certain clothing elements but only as kind of 'spice.' We stick to what we're good at, and that's design and home furnishing.
Is Ikea trying to be cool? Or is it because it's not trying that it is cool?
That's not where it starts. With Virgil, what started was I've been interested in [him] and what he's done for a long time. Virgil is a very smart guy, and I like the way that he works across different aesthetic expressions, which I think is very fruitful for collaborations. I also think he's a person who has a message. He wants to communicate something, he's not just about clothes. At Ikea, we would never start up a project just because the person is famous. It's about what the person can bring to the table and what we can do together.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.