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Brief Published: 14 May 2019

Culturally Sensitive Craft at Milan Design Week 2019

Hafu Matsumoto, Loewe

Misused cultural references can degrade product value and cause lasting damage to brand image. A number of progressive projects at this year’s Milan Design Week (April 8-14) showed reverence to craftspeople and cultural references, highlighting a shift away from insensitive cultural appropriation. Here are two leading examples.

Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe put artisans centre stage. Eleven master weavers from around the world were invited to interpret the theme of basketry, applying their creativity and skill to leather. The most striking examples include American willow weaver Jennifer Zurick, whose intricate work is inspired by Native American craft techniques, and Japanese bamboo weavers Jiro Yonezawa and Hafu Matsumoto who both integrate bamboo to provide structure to their crafted pieces. 

Elsewhere at Ventura Future, Botswana-based designer Peter Mabeo tasked furniture design students from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with creating works that communicated cultural identity. Looking beyond the functional aspects of furniture, students learned how craft can be used for social and economic development in emerging markets. 

The collection of prototypes includes chairs, accessories and pattern designs. Elena Ralls’ Tripod Chair is designed to express the ingenuity of adaptable three-legged stools found across Africa. The use of panga panga wood – a common timber species native to the south-eastern Afrotropic region – shows the local design vernacular, while the honest form unites different cultures. Meanwhile, Amalia Attias’ metal chair features an all-over pattern which references contemporary African art, built up from paint and dry transfer lettering. 

Brands need to recognise and respect the cultural narratives of their designs to connect with hyper-aware consumers. For more on how to reach today’s consumers, see our Remixing History report.

Amalia Attias
Elena Ralls