Akamae – the Straw Basket Collection that Pushes Boundaries
Using straw as her medium and Ghanaian expertise as her guide, French textile designer Inès Bressand produced sculptural shapes influenced by hat making techniques for a striking twist on the common bag.
Like Keef Palas, Akamae was a finalist in the accessories category of the 33rd Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography. Her shapes, including the oval backpack, embossed shoulder bag and large weave bucket bag drew the attention (and camera phones) of visitors to the installation, set designed by ODD Matter.
How did the collection come about?
– I had the opportunity to spend three months in Ghana in an area where basket weaving is everywhere. This was following my Master thesis at the Design Academy Eindhoven where I’ve investigated straw, and how this extremely simple material had been transformed and used in most cultures worldwide. I produced a series of straw backpacks pushing the limits of the usual archetypes, forming the premise of my later Ghanaian Akamae series.
Tell us more about the process?
– Living with the weavers for several months was a very immersive experience. The context of the work – very different of my usual way of life – under the harsh hit and in the beautiful simplicity of baobabs and banco houses, inspired me with pure shapes. I learned the technic, observed the material behavior and tried to push the forms weavers are used to into more experimental directions.
– I explored two approaches: first by exploring the weaving technique itself (I have a bachelor in textile design); secondly by using the simple forms the weavers do, and that I re-shaped afterwards using methods inspired by hat-making process. Indeed, straw getting supple in the water, I was able to give a new form to the baskets that would stay once dry. Back in France I added vegetable tanned leather handles that I used both as a technical and graphical element, like an accent underlining specific aspects of the baskets shapes.
Your use of straw makes me think of the architectural work with bamboo by IBUKU in Bali. It’s masterful.
– The straw used for this collection is called elephant grass. It’s a tall wild grass growing in the Savanna, which becomes naturally golden once dry. It’s simply rolled by hand by the craftsmen, who can weave it once dipped in water. The simplicity of the material, which could also feed animals or cover a roof, is magnified by the craftsmen skills, weaving at home or together under the shade of trees. The baskets being collected directly at each craftsman’s house ensures that they can organise themselves and be independent. The price of the basket is also fair, as it is fixed together.
– It results in a series of baskets exploring different forms, beautifully enhancing the natural gold of the material. Its sculptural shapes ensure a balance, where design act as a vector of rich cultural combination.
What about the human element?
– The combinations of materials and techniques are infinite and it’s my role, as a designer, to get these processes porous. Working with a craftsman/woman allows me to have a direct impact on this process and to try things immediately. First I observe and understand the technic, then I make I it mine and combine it with all my influences as we manipulate the material together. The craftsmen are often doubtful to go another route and this makes the whole process even more enjoyable, as we both learn along it.
– Of course it is also a human connection, rich in cultural background, general discussions etcetera as I am sharing their workshop and get to know them personally, whether it is in Ghana with basket weavers, French Provence with potters or in India with weavers.
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