Fashion on the glass catwalk

Fashion in a soup, squeezed out of a tube, dripping out of a can? In Kjell Engman’s fantasy world, figures are clad in gorgeous glass. The exhibition «Catwalk – The World of Kjell Engman» (to October 15) opened at the Studio Kosta Boda Arts, a new exhibition space, on Wednesday night. Proceeds from the sales of the objects will be donated to the highly active Elpida – Association of Friends of Children with Cancer. Celebrated for his humor, playfulness and joy as it comes across in his glasswork, Engman aims to capture movement, reinforcing the expression of the figures through the light, essentially offering them a sense of rhythm. «This is my way of telling stories,» says Engman. «Sometimes it’s hard to express yourself; you want to tell other people your stories and glass is the kind of material you can really use for that, because you can make it transparent, you have so many options. Glass needs light in order to live, it’s a living material.» A talented sketch artist with a great sense of color, Engman has been a designer at Swedish glass powerhouse Kosta Boda since 1978. At his busy Boda glassworks studio, he works on a plethora of projects, and is responsible for a fifth of the company’s catalogs every year. Born in 1946, the artist studied at the Konstfack university college of arts, crafts and design, before attending the Pilchuck Glass School in the United States in 1981. Engman’s pieces are to be seen in both in Sweden and abroad, while a number of his works are scattered around public areas in Sweden. He has also worked on furniture design and silver. Nowadays, when working with glass, he enjoys combining it with metals and stones, for instance. «Sometimes you feel that glass is very delicate, fragile, so if you put a rock with a piece of glass you have a contrast,» he says. In the past, Engman had nurtured thoughts of developing his own studio; his carefree spirit, however, eventually opted for freedom of ideas and movement. Today Engman enjoys the best of both worlds. Within the Kosta Boda premises, the same group of people – Engman and a team of four glassblowers – have been working together over the last 18 years. «At the company we have a lot of freedom to do what we want,» says the artist of Kosta Boda, a pillar of glassmaking, established in 1742. «The unique pieces become a kind of laboratory of ideas for the commercial lines. I think this is rather unique in the world, because most companies do not allow their designers to do this as it is really expensive.» This luxury allows for a certain amount of experimentation, which leads to novel techniques and often intriguing results. According to Engman, the company’s most successful collections begin at the «lab.» These unique pieces are also best sellers, turning into collector’s items, often traveling within Sweden, but also in countries such as the Netherlands and the United States – where establishments such as the American Glass Association boast 15,000 aficionados. How does Engman fit into the frame of so-called Scandinavian design? «Some people believe that Scandinavian design is clean and pure. We live in a dark country; we need some light and we try to make things lighter. But I believe that I belong more to the Danish and Finnish way of living rather than the Swedish,» he says. «There are bad designers and good designers, so bring in the good designers instead of talking about Scandinavian design, who cares?» Over the years, Engman has developed a glass language of his own, mixing the imaginary with the practical. His vision has led him to the development of such themes as «The Temple of Dreams,» «The Circus,» «The Chakra» (Wheel of Life) and the critically acclaimed «Water of Myth,» a glass study on the culture of water in countries around the world. «Catwalk,» the fashion project, began three years ago after Engman read a story in a magazine on the subject of tailoring in the early 1900s. Fascinated by the techniques, the simplicity of the drawings and the way in which the garments were cut, he began sketching his own designs, making his own clothes and exploring his own movement through light. Long gray silhouettes were given hats and color; they became «Men in Trenchcoats» and «Ice Coats,» caught in «Fashion Tubes,» hiding in the transparent pages of the «Mysteries of Illustrations.» What kind of glass challenges lie ahead? «The mind is the only thing stopping us,» says Engman. «Who says you can only blow round things? You can blow whatever you want, it’s only people who can stop something or make it happen.» «Catwalk – The World of Kjell Engman» at the Studio Kosta Boda Arts, 21 Stadiou, Athens. To Oct. 15.

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