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"My work could become more dangerous..."

In the second half of our interview with Li Edelkoort, we talk about Africa, why grey is the new black and how Dutch design will ride through the crisis.

By Jeanne Tan /asdf 18-03-2009

Here's part two of our interview with Li Edelkoort...

You were a guest speaker recently at Design Indaba in Cape Town. What did you talk about?
I spoke about the Future Farm, a forecast on the farm of the future and how rural and urban centres will merge, how that will affect creation and lifestyle and food.

I also spoke about the colour grey. I forecasted grey as the colour for summer 2008. I made a grey book with 45 grey colours which is a crazy thing to do of course. I was hiding all the other colours. This was a quest for nuance, dialogue and diplomacy. Against black and white.

When I made that book Obama wasn’t in the headlines yet. Basically he is the grey president – black and white in one. Mentally he is grey – its about ambre, shadow, light. The grey thing was announcing his presidency. That is comforting for me because basically we go back to real fashion and real style. A form of consensus. Within grey you can express many things, you can still do everything but it’s more of one opinion, more focusing. Taking more risk. I’m having to stick out my neck much more.

How is that a risk to focus more?
If you take the wrong focus, you can be very wrong! My work then becomes more dangerous…..

Did you see the crisis coming?
The grey was an announcement – I felt some disaster would come. In winter, we followed with going undercover. Discretion. Behind closed doors, comeback of burlesque, masking, veiling, hoods. It felt doom-like.

Back to Design Indaba, what do you think we can learn from Africa?
Generosity, happiness, optimism, improvisational talent. This is the recycling of the world but it’s very well done, neat, organised, colourful. It’s a creative continent. The day we will give economy to Africa…now we’re talking. They have a sense of style which is unbelievable, hopefully when we get there with our point of view, it will not overrule.

It’s also a very peculiar continent. Time is longer and slower there of course. Not that they go slower, it’s the perception of time. It’s still a young democracy, but still you feel that it’s dynamic and developing.

And what about Dutch Design. Where do you think it’s going? Is it thriving? Is it going down the drain?
Let’s be clear that from the five Designers of the Future nominees from Art Basel, there are two people from the Design Academy. They’re not Dutch though. I think what is interesting is that it’s becoming international. It has become almost like mentality which is now largely crossing the Dutch borders and so it’s alive and kicking which is what I can see.

Dutch design is more a journalistic point of view than industry. I think it has been strongest in the first 10 years of this century. In the 90s it was all about Droog, but it was more general in the beginning of this century.

Dutch design always works wonders in cases of disaster. The Dutch are good at reacting to economic crises, however they’re not so good when everything is glamorous. Then it’s over to the Italians. The Dutch are naturally frugal. I remember a student once made a vase for Hema. There was a little extra vase on the side: it was called the 103% Vase. This was for the small extra flower that you always break off from somewhere. This for me is 100% Dutch Design.

And lastly, what’s inspiring you to get out of bed at the moment?
My new books, lifestyle, trends and colours. I’m very inspired to do my work. It’s strange that I like my work more and more. For most people, this is not how it is when you do something for 20 years. In my case it’s the contrary. I get better at what I do which is also bizarre, I get more results.

All the big ideas have motivated me a lot – the grey, the Future Farm which will be around for the next 50 years, monolithic thinking, the beginning of a new period. Then fluidity, transparency, movement. Spreading our wings, I see a wonderful period to come. And since I live in the future, I don’t feel it (the crisis) anymore.

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