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Issue #4
May - October 2011
It's All Personal
Maya Dvash / July 06 2011

They number their works and attach instructions such as "Fucks up every style, Help yourself" or "Corrupts every style, Relax". They advocate total creative freedom, adopt a new approach each season, and do not design for a particular consumer ("We design for ourselves", they say). They use friends and colleagues to show their collections, who wear and use the exhibits in order to give the show a "live context". According to them, their creativity is born from personal needs, they aim for simplicity and comfort in everyday living, and are not averse to annoying their clientele. For them, it's all personal.

Bless is one of the most intelligent design labels whose contribution to the world of design is likened by respected design critics, such as Alice Rawsthorn of the New York Times, to the post-World War Two contribution of Enzo Mari and Bruno Munari.

From right to left: Ines Kaag and Desiree Heiss

Bless was formed in 1995 by Desiree Heiss (who lives and works in Paris) and Ines Kaag (who lives and works in Berlin). The two designers met during their studies and their common interests led to the creation of Bless.
They came to design from two completely different directions. As an adolescent, Desiree, who comes from a poor family, took old clothes from her mother and grandmother and unsuccessfully tried to remake them to match the popular labels of the time. It was only later, when all her friends wanted to be different, that she suddenly became fashionable. "Sometimes it helps to grow up without certain things", she says today, "It forces you to become much more creative, to find unconventional solutions".

She went on to study fashion at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. One of the examiners at the entrance exams was designer Vivienne Westwood who asked her to make a house from cardboard. If not for that house, she says, perhaps she wouldn't have been accepted. And yet, not long after she began, she decided she should stop studying and go out to work, but then Helmut Lang came to teach, and he was the first to give her confidence in her work.

By contrast, Ines Kaag was born to a family of furriers and was always sure that when she grew up she would run the family business. But instead she went to study fashion in Hanover. Later, when she went on to study haute couture in Nuremberg, she too suffered growing pains.
Their first edition, N° 00 - Furwigs, was chosen by Belgian designer Martin Margiela and formed part of the 97/98 winter collection he showed in Paris.

Then came Bootsocks, combination boots and socks, and Bags, which can be worn in separate pieces, and more and more. In the 1990s, when they discovered that they were becoming "hot new young designers" and that people were purchasing their collections just because it was "the right thing to do", they created a limited edition entitled The Set, which was nothing more than a piece of cloth on and in which one can hang or place different objects. In this way they screened their clientele and allowed only true aficionados to follow them.

Bless N° 3 - The Set

Bless N° 3 - The Set

In their work they flirt with the world of art and design, but design multifunctional unisex garments and functional objects. Their clothes can be worn, their chairs sat on, and their hammocks relaxed in. "One of the things I admire about Desiree and Ines's work," says Alice Rawsthorn, "is that so much of it is functional, while also fulfilling other arguably more important and complex objectives. They design clothes that can be worn, and hammocks that can be snoozed in, whatever else those objects may explore, articulate, or signify".

Bless N° 7 - Livingroom Conquerors, Tablecare

Over the years they have developed a unique method of collaboration with various brands (creating a limited edition of sneakers for Adidas and dressing an Alfa Romeo car in haute couture are just two examples). Rather than advertising in magazines, each season they "hijack" (their definition) a respected magazine and advertise their collection in a distinctive way, and their stores, even the permanent ones, feel more like galleries.
For example, they showed their fall collection, N° 3 and N° 4, to fashion and art students who drew the live models, and their drawings were then published in Mono Kulture magazine; and in Intersection magazine they showed an Alfa Romeo car clad in beige leather as part of a project entitled "Dress Your Car in Couture".

There is abundant humor in their works which underscores the fact that even though they think about every detail, they do not take themselves too seriously. On more than one occasion this humor touches upon money. Thus for example the hybrid chair they showed in their Know Howowow project is also a piggybank - into which you can put coins and which features a mirror that makes you think you are much wealthier than you imagine.

Bless N° 43 - Piggybankchair

Faithful to their unconventional approach, their shops differ from one another and from conventional ones. In all their shops, even the permanent ones, they like to create a sense that nothing is permanent. Thus for example, instead of opening a new shop in Wekleitz in Germany, which is considered an area rife with unemployment, they collaborated with existing shops, selling their furniture in the furniture shop, scarves in the clothes shop, a hairbrush in the hairdresser's, and The Set, which is an abstract product, in the filling station. They hardly sold anything. It seems that in general, money is not a central motivator in their work.

Bless Shop N°22 Surface to Air

Bless Shop N°22 Surface to Air

"For us, freedom is the ability to make any decision even if it isn't conventional or realistic, but it's not easy to work with us", says Desiree. "We work in different cities and we don't sketch".

Instead of sketching their designs, they write and describe what they want to do. "It would have been easier to sketch, but we don't believe in it", they say. The geographic distance between them creates the possibility for a different interpretation of the idea, because when you write to one another or talk and relate, each person can interpret things differently.

In contrast with the prevailing "auteur" and "design star" trend in recent years, they do not position themselves center stage, and during their recent visit to Israel they made it clear that they do not pose for photographs.

They came to Israel as guests of the Department of Jewelry and Fashion at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design (May 17-20). The workshop they gave, "Shop For a Day" created academic collaboration between students from HfG Karlsruhe in Germany and students at Bezalel. The Israeli and German students split into groups in accordance with suggestions for subjects made by the two designers, such as freedom, market, religion, and a sustainable pop-up restaurant. They showed the results - various products the students sold at prices ranging from 0 shekels to tens of shekels - all over Jerusalem. Thus, (30) recycled fans were sold in Mahane Yehuda Market, chairs collected from the street and covered in graffiti were given as gifts in various locations around the city, and shirts inspired by information about destruction that the students found on the web were sold at the Uganda Bar.

BLESS at Bezalel Academy
Bezalel students selling recycled fans in Jerusalem's city center

BLESS at Bezalel Academy
From the project by Bless and students from Bezalel

BLESS at Bezalel Academy
Another project in Jerusalem's city streets, the product of collaboration between Bless and Bezalel

The two designers are currently showing an exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz, which they have numbered N° 41. The exhibition closes at the end of August.

Bless N° 41 Retrospective

To the Bless website >>
To the New Olds exhibition page at the Museum, in which Bless is showing

Maya Dvash
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