Behind the scenes

Art of Akris: Albert Kriemler meets Imi Knoebel

The duo dreamt up an Akris collection that is futuristic in fabrication and ease of wear

Albert Kriemler joined Akris, the Swiss luxury fashion house his grandmother first established in 1922 as a maker of patterned aprons, in 1980. At the family concern, Kriemler has since dotted his tenure with views of fine art.

There are his design inspirations – Kriemler’s muses have included Swiss artist Félix Vallotton, member of the turn of the 20th century Parisian Les Nabis movement – and the venues he chooses for Akris’ seasonal fashion shows, such as the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, to which he invited guests last January. Then, there are the partnerships he fosters with contemporary artists – some blue chip, some more esoteric, all chosen by Kriemler himself – and whose works have shaped Kriemler’s collections. “There’s a richness when I get into an artwork,” says Kriemler on the phone from the brand’s headquarters in St. Gallen, Switzerland. “I come up with new fabric treatments or silhouettes.”

Kriemler’s list of collaborators is inspired and counts American-Cuban artist Carmen Herrera (spring/summer 2017) and, for Akris’ SS19 wardrobe, Romanian artist Geta Brătescu.

In dialogue with Thomas Ruff, Kriemler in 2014 devised dresses and tailoring ingeniously cut from black fabric finessed with battery-powered LED lights, in homage to the German fine art photographer’s series Stars, which assembles details of negatives showing the night sky above Chile. Kriemler had first spotted the work at Munich’s Haus de Kunst museum years before their eventual team-up. “It was a real collaboration,” the designer remembers today. “He still is very happy about it. It’s good to know when things like that last.”

Like Ruff’s starry skies and Kriemler’s LED wizardry, a preoccupation with light also led the way to Akris most recent link-up. “It was a pure Freude [absolute pleasure] to collaborate,” Kriemler enthuses when asked to detail his work with Imi Knoebel.

Ranked among Germany’s leading post-war artists, Knoebel is a former pupil of genre-defining artist and educator Joseph Beuys. In minimalist paintings, drawings, installations, projections and other mediums, Knoebel focusses on abstract forms and an interplay of colours. His commissions have included nine stained glass windows, bathing the French royal cathedral of Notre Dame in Reims in blue, red and yellow light when hit by the sun.  

Kriemler first discovered Knoebel’s work in St. Gallen, at Galerie Wilma Lock. Later, a chance encounter during a gallery opening in Vienna introduced designer to artist. But it wasn’t until last year that Kriemler approached Knoebel and his wife with the idea to collaborate. Navigating changing travel restrictions, Kriemler visited Knoebel’s studios in Düsseldorf, famously home to the artist colour kitchen, where many hundreds of colour swatches are stocked.

Once confirmed, the collection became a “work in progress, across several months” says Kriemler. “A lot of trials, fabric preparations – in this collection, the new thing was phosphorescing fabrics.”

By his own admission, Kriemler is a fabric geek; materials and fibres shape his designs. “This is something I always like,” he says. “I think it’s great to come up with brand new fabrics and research colours. It’s something I adore doing.”

While pondering his SS21 collection, Kriemler recalled first seeing the box-shaped sculpture Batterie, finished by Knoebel in 2005 from aluminium treated with phosphorescent green paint. “I thought, ‘interesting material, interesting colour’. I was not aware that it was phosphorescent when I saw it first, in the daytime,” said Kriemler. “Then, by the end of the evening, that cube was shining. It was fascinating.”

To translate his wonder into clothing, Kriemler went on a quest for threads, yarns and even sequins that would glow in the dark. The successful result are dresses, outerwear and tailored separates that light up the dark with a light green glow. Elsewhere, Knoebel’s signature geometric shapes have inspired architectural silhouettes and painterly prints. 

There’s a charitable aspect to this partnership too: led by the maxim of his erstwhile teacher Joseph Beuys that decreed that all art should aim for societal influence, Knoebel in 1988 debuted his Kinderstern, an impressionistic star-shape that has since come to advocate children's rights, with all its proceeds benefiting charities. In Kriemler’s designs, the Kinderstern features as a joy-bringing repeat pattern printed on fabrics, and emblazoned across Akris’ emblematic trapezoid AI handbag. A selection of leather Kinderstern tags promise charitable donations. 

Akris has featured on the Paris Fashion Week schedule since 2004. With physical fashion shows not taking place in September 2020, Kriemler decided to instead present his collection as captured in a five-minute film, created by Anton Corbijn. The short film features Knoebel – shot from the back, his black suit silhouetted against the bright shapes of one of his canvas – alongside Kriemler’s enlightened designs. “On the first day of shooting, we waited until the evening for all the clothes which had been hanging out in the sun during the day,” Kriemler says of their charging process. “It worked quite fabulously.”

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