Interview: Nadine Goepfert

Nadine Goepfert is a multidisciplinary designer offering creative direction, design and consultancy on textiles and materials for interior, product, art and fashion. She investigates contemporary culture to create intelligent concepts and material innovations for clients from various fields.

Her collections and art installations examine the function and conventional use of materials to develop new design perspectives. Her internationally exhibited research projects question the relation between garments, individual and society to reveal unconscious patterns of behaviour in the everyday use of textiles.

Permanent Compression, 2015  Alienating the shape of clothing by vacuum forming. Permanent Compression examines the transition between both two dimensional and three dimensional garments, while simultaneously creating a new approach of abstract painting.

Permanent Compression, 2015

Alienating the shape of clothing by vacuum forming. Permanent Compression examines the transition between both two dimensional and three dimensional garments, while simultaneously creating a new approach of abstract painting.


JGF: The first thing I wanted to talk about was this "Permanent Compression" which is gorgeous.

N: Yeah, you like it?

J: I do I like it a lot, and I'm curious in your head what is the difference between art making  and textile design? Because normally, you would think of textile design as managing elements, primarily, of mass production and commodification etc.?

N: Yeah, I think that was a project that was specifically more art related than the other projects that I do. It was really this kind of project I did when I had time in between not working on any jobs. I had this idea in mind. I saw an image of these vacuum bags on line and it was actually the way it was compressed it looked like a Rothko. So, I was like, 'Oh wow that looks like a painting.' So it was really this kind of simple moment and then I really liked this idea that I'm usually always working with the body, with the garment that is flat, and let's say 2D and then you wear it and it  through the relation to the body become 3D. and this was really the other way around, it was about compressing the garment and making it super flat and see what happens now. What I also liked about it was the fact that it was this vacuum seal, a technique which I guess in the States it's more common, like every second housewife is using these vacuum bags. It's nothing... it still has this connection to daily-life but it's a bit more overtly Art than what I've done before. But the difference between art and textile, It's just a matter of approach. My approach is more art related. The way I start working I think is more comparable with the way an artist starts working. I begin by reading a lot, and go to talks and I don't know, it's more arty maybe. but what I don't want, what I never wanted, or what is really hard for me is really translating these thoughts in a proper a product that is salable. This is something that I'm thinking about, that I really want to keep this freedom.

Martin Niklas Wieser, AW15, Textiles, 2015  The textile design for Martin Niklas Wiesers’ AW 15/16 collection is inspired by soles of sneakers - their complex structure, layering and organic shape.

Martin Niklas Wieser, AW15, Textiles, 2015

The textile design for Martin Niklas Wiesers’ AW 15/16 collection is inspired by soles of sneakers - their complex

J: How do you mean? You want to compartmentalize so that you're not fully transforming these ideas into mere products?

N: No, like not fully. Of course I work with clothes but it's never really wearable clothes. I don't know if I will ever really make it there. Like, now, I just finished this scarf collection which is super wearable but it still has this art aspect somehow inside. Although, the thing is, my work is always relating to daily-life. And this is why I like calling myself a designer. When people think about design, they will always think about daily life objects, and daily life habits and things like that.

J: Why is there such a strong separation then if you are going from wanting to have a conversation with aspects of daily-life but at the same time not make it fully wearable. What is the reason for not wanting to fully indulge in mass-production?

N: I think this is more a question about the materials and things like that. I want to still work experimentally and not forcing myself to make a dress that is washable and things like that. When I have something in mind and it doesn't really function in daily life or as a product, I think I would never change it. I would just keep it like that. 

Matters of Habit 2017  A collection of clothing materialising a detailed research on the interaction of the wearer and the garment. Matters of Habit is a continuation of the collection The Garments May Vary (2013). Based on detailed observation each garment deals with different aspects of daily interaction and handling of garments – unconscious habits, movement (including dressing and undressing) gestures, storage and care.

Matters of Habit

A collection of clothing materialising a detailed research on the interaction of the wearer and the garment. Matters of Habit is a continuation of the collection The Garments May Vary (2013). Based on detailed observation each garment deals with different aspects of daily interaction and handling of garments – unconscious habits, movement (including dressing and undressing) gestures, storage and care.

J: The things that are in the "Matter Of Habit", those look very wearable... I guess the materials look... it fluctuates, some look really wearable and others...

N: Yeah, they are. and if people want to they can also order it but it's not something that is going to resonate with a lot of people. It's more like, people from Japan that would like to wear it. It's nothing for European people, most of it. [laughs] 

J: Is there a political/ethical element to that at all? Not wanting to do sort of mass production or engage in economics of scale and fast fashion?

N: Yes, of course. That is also why I write that my stuff is only available on request or in limited editions. Because there is so much stuff out there and what if I produce all this and then don't sell it? I mean, it's financially hard for me to produce but at the same time it's all these resources, and all this stuff that gets wasted. But that is a big topic here, I don't know how it is in the states, that fashion and all this will maybe change in the next few years. Now I just read that Burberry has decided to no longer present seasonal runway shows, they will just release their collections whenever they want, I think that's a good step. But maybe also people get even more confused. There is a new collection this time and then there is a new collection at another time... maybe they need this kind of rhythm. I don't know, it's a question of time. I mean, fashion, not in the sense of clothing but in the sense of time, was an invention to get more stability. Of course it's a paradox because fashion will be there and go away again, it actually destroys itself. but at the same time it creates a rhythm which is maybe important for the people. 


Manners, 2017

A study on napery and the significance of table linen in social and historical context. The table cloth, formerly considered a sign of wealth, has become a common practical item. This not only implies a change of meaning, but also a change of materiality.

Manners investigates this development through a collection of tablecloths, multifunctional napkins, tea towels and aprons. Made from linen, cotton, rubber and PVC the items aim to juxtapose and merge former and current aspects of domesticity. Whitework embroidery and macramee, techniques often discredited as housewife crafts, are translated into contemporary shapes and framed in a more useful than decorative context.

Manners not only examines table manners, but considers manners as in „habits“. The collection comments on routines, rituals, automatism, and rules related to (communal) eating. It highlights and simultaneously breaks with the ideas and taboos of table etiquette.  Limited editions available from AW’17. Preorder here.

J: So, we're in a moment, where the feed is constant, the new is perpetual, so, it makes sense in terms of marketing not to focus things seasonally when attention isn't harvested in that way anymore but I wonder if that just makes it more problematic in generating a constant feed of new stuff. It sort of answers one question and then produces more problems. It's a question of whether it's about creating a more conscious and humane production cycle or accelerating the current cycles of exploitative consumption.

N: Yeah, actually, sometimes I ask myself who are those people who are constantly longing for something new? Am I also part of this or who is this actually? I did this one project in school, in 2010 I think, with my friend Lisa. We were asking how can we make people buy less things, and good quality things. We realized this question is kind of Utopian and the only possibility is to deal with the fact that the people constantly want new stuff but maybe we can deal with it in a more sustainable way. So, what we did, it was more like a visual project showing two collections which look exactly the same. One of the collections was made out of fabric, everything organic, hand dyed and super high quality and the other collection which really looked exactly the same was made out of paper. So, it was just to show it's not about the aesthetics you choose, it's only about the quality. If you are a person who likes to have something new every week, you can buy the paper collection and throw it away after you wear it once. It's recyclable paper and everything. But if you like to have a garment for a really long time, if you like to create a relation to the objects you own, then you can go for the other collection. It looks the same but it's made of fabric. This was just an idea for how we could deal with this fast fashion thing.

J: There's another political dimension here as well which is the cost. When things are made to be so unique and only made on demand, obviously they are going to be very expensive. Maybe this idea of relationships forces you to think a little more about that, the idea of buying clothes that should last you longer maybe it more sustainable and ultimately less costly to make that sort of purchase? 

N: Yeah, of course they are expensive. But if you decide to not buy too many things and just a few a year, I think then it's alright, no? It happened like this before. [laughs] Things were just handmade and made on demand. But of course, it's also a matter of how much people earn and that is problematic that people don't earn enough to buy things that have a kind of quality. Sometimes they are just forced to buy clothing at H&M or something.

J: And that desire for cheap fast and new, which is provoked by the neo-liberal impetus on economic growth, is very hard to displace. It's hard to compete with those engines of growth.

N: What I do with my work is to position myself more in the position of a researcher and an observer. I want to inspire people with my work, I want to inspire engineers, I want to inspire other fashion designers to see it's not only about innovation and do like a garment that looks nice and new and special; to look around at the habits of the people and re-approach how these habits themselves are designed. Garments are something people are in contact with everyday so it's coming at it a bit like city planners might approach traffic flows or something. I don't want to be the person at the end of this, I don't want to create the end product.

Everyday Essentials, 2017

Everyday Essentials is a series of garments and corresponding objects. The collection investigates the moment a garment is left behind, stored or hung and at that point the relationship which is created with different everyday objects f.e. chairs, hangers or hooks. Together, garment and object form an abstract sculptural entity which is emphasized through experimental surfaces and the alienation of everyday objects. Hereby functionality is not disregarded, but underlined and reconsidered.

The design of each garment is equally influenced by the human body and the object, creating alternative forms and new possibilities of wear and storage through poetic yet minimal interventions.

J: Which brings me back to my first question of what really is the difference between what you are doing is it more of an art practice rather than a commodity practice? 

N: Yeah, it is more of an art practice. Also, my work, the way people perceive it, I have more exhibitions in museums or wherever than I have people that want to buy my stuff. 

J: Is this more of a European versus American sensibility? Are there textile designers in America approaching it in a similar way? 

N: I don't know. I have been talking about this with my friend who lives in Paris, we also studied together at the Rietveld. and when I visited her she remarked that in Paris, it's so different, this intersection between art and design, all the people want to create products that they can sell and that is also the way they think. And we both, we went to school at the Rietveld where you learn to think quite free and artistic and conceptual I would say. I mean, I was thinking about this a lot, I mean yeah, maybe it's only about money. Really about money, that in Berlin it's easier to live here and survive here then in Paris or in New York where you need a lot more money. Here you have the possibility of working in this way that doesn't require is change your focus.

J: It seems like there is something still possible in Berlin which no longer exists in many places. New York for a long time had this  mix where it was possible for people to live in the middle of this world city, where there was so much global wealth and media, but an artist could survive almost siphoning off resources from that global metropolis without capitulating fully to rational of capitalism. It's become a given now that an artist needs to think of herself as an entrepreneur and operate from a stance of how to make products that not only make use of the tools of digital-capitalism but actively promote it's rational. 

N: Yeah, yeah. If you have a certain financial background of you get funding I think then it's fine, but if you don't have this, and you don't get it, then yes it's hard. 

J: Let's go back and talk about what it is you are exploring and researching right now.

N: Actually, I just moved into a new studio and what it has changed for me is that it is really quiet. I started reading again, reading Barthes and... I mean this is kind of the bible for my work, all of his writing.

J: Is there a particular book that you've been into right now?

N: Right now I'm reading "The Fashion System" again, which I never read in its entirety. I always read parts of it and then read it in different languages. For me, it always says something different. Sometimes I read it German and then try to find the translation in the English book and then I think, 'I cannot find it!' [laughs] The sentences are just so different and sometimes not as important as in German or the other way around. Yeah, so, the last thing I was researching was the scarves, and I was looking at people and studying how people wear scarves, and there is so many different ways people do this. You can knot, you can drape it, you can wear it loose, it's so many different forms. What I think is quite interesting is that a scarf is a garment that has no applications, no buttons or anything and also no sleeve or anything that mimics your body shape, nothing that tells you, 'here is the arm', it really is just this square piece of fabric, you can do anything with it. What happens at the moment when you drape it around your neck, it divides itself in two pieces. From that moment you are able to close it. Before you are not. I think this is really interesting and also because the way you wear a scarf I think it transports a lot associations about the 'person'. How a banker wears a scarf is maybe different from another person. You can wear it in a posh way or you can just like wear it casually. 

J: How did that observation develop the way you approach the scarf?

N: What I hoped is that in building this collection, as a collection, it forces people to pay attention, as all my other collections do. Having this moment of 'ah yeah, I never thought about that but yeah you can wear a scarf like that, or like that.' It's some kind of automatic reaction we are all used to but it is such a daily habit we don't think about it that often. So, draping, I thought, how can I give someone a manual of how to use this scarf. So I created some really minimal interventions on this piece of fabric, like cutting a hole inside or things like this. Through this cut it will make people think about these different ways of how they use the scarf. 

J: Was it a combination of developing fabric for this, or was it prints?

N: No it was really just laser cutting them. Actually all the items are breaking with the learned habits while concurrently offering new variants of wear. [laughs] but it's a super minimalist product, it's not telling you, it's still an autonomous object.

J: When you make something like this, how many do you develop?


Breaks in Continuity, 2016

Unlike a jacket or a pair of pants, a scarf does not convey the way it is closed through its form. A scarf usually has no applications which mimic a body shape, like buttons or sleeves. Therefore it does not indicate how to drape this usually rectangular piece on the body. Through its formal simplicity the scarf forces the wearer to develop an individual way of wearing it which often indicates different social conventions. It makes us speculate about the personality of the wearer, maybe more than any other garment.

N: There are 7 scarves for now.

J: What's next? Do you already have an idea of what project you want to do next or do you wait until one is done and then get into it.

N: That's the thing, I have a huge list and lots of idea for projects I want to get into, but of course as I'm working on commissions as well, there's sometimes not the time to properly approach it. There are two more collections coming in the next four or five months. One of them is not about the relation between garment and body but the relationship between garment and object. Which means, how the the objects, like a hanger or a hook, how they are related, as a passive object, actually interacting with the garment. It was an idea that grew out of two items in my last collection, "Matters Of Habit". One was this t-shirt which has this imprint of the hanging wrack on it. That's the kind of relation I'm talking about. From that moment I thought that is also interesting, why always only focusing on the body? Garments are also always interacting with objects. This is a way in which an object influences the material of a garment.

J: So it's like an echo of the relationship?

N: Yeah. There is this other sweater in that collection that has the humps of the hanger.

J: Interesting. What other relationships have you thought of besides the hanger?

N: I think I cannot talk about that yet. [laughs]

J: Okay, okay. But it's a relationship of the garment to object but you are still seeing it in the context of the body rather than how the garment sits on the object independent of the body?

N: Yes, it's just not the basis for how I'm approaching it. It will still be wearable but I'm not thinking about movement or anything. At the end, when they come together, the garment and object, it will become like a sculptural entity. 


Selected objects by Nadine Goepfert are available in limited editions.

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