Linen and design, the key to new applications

18 January 2024

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The Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp is committed to a young generation of designers and supports the most creative projects, revisiting the uses of flax and imagining new applications for this plant fibre which is gradually making its mark in the world of design and decoration.

Linen rug Secrets of linen

Discovering and supporting future talent

“The versatility of flax-linen, a plant fibre, and its ability to combine new aesthetic possibilities with more responsible practices is expanding the scope of what is creatively possible,” -  as advocated by the Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp, who is, year in and year out, supporting tomorrow’s talent as well as a new generation of creative people in search of sustainability. Such as the Céline Thibault and Géraud Pellottiero duo, who participated in the Design Parade Toulon 2019 with their installation Zoù Maë!, an ode to the bath that blended Japanese and Mediterranean cultural traditions. As they are known for their work that transcends design, architecture, craftsmanship, visual arts, textiles, and performing arts, the Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp gave them free rein to design an immersive flax-linen scene for the Love Linen pop-up at La Samaritaine this spring 2023.

For the graduate of ENSCI-Les Ateliers (2013) with a major in textile design, as well as interior design from the École Boulle (2011), this very short-term project was the chance to discover, try things out, and learn. “The different elements of the scene were a translation of my interest in working with linen in all its forms: it’s both rough and gentle at the same time. Ideal for weaving, it is there for the taming!” – notes Céline Thibault, who is now preparing for the Fabric Rendez-Vous in October last year, where she will be presenting only materials made with linen. “I am intrigued by flax-linen because I know what it looks like, I know the farmers and businesses that process it, and I love the transparency of the scutching and spinning processes. Linen is not perfect, it wrinkles easily, but I like working with this vibrant fabric by combining mastered techniques with spontaneous surprises!”, - adds the young textile designer, the proud granddaughter of farmers from Sarthe and Mayenne.

Transcending uses

Although the two designers believe they are  at the dawn of their big linen journey, their work with pleated linen appears quite mature. “We were looking for a linen that would hold up well, that would have texture. Choosing M1 certified (fire retardant) linen allowed us to design wall upholstery for architecture and interior design. Once it’s attached to the wall, it’s a perfect fit!”, - say the designers. To forge a connection with the world of fashion, the linen is dyed before being screen-printed and then pleated: rather than making a soft linen garment, they have made it more rigid, decorated with a bright and colourful design and silvery film. “For this pop-up, I really wanted it to pop and break the docile image of linen!” - says Céline Thibault.

By using different approaches and launching collaborations with local craftsmen, the duo is highlighting the contrast between raw flax-linen, a humble fibre with a small environmental footprint, and work with “extraverted,” hardly recognizable linen. “Since I didn’t know how it was grown or developed, I looked at this fabric with a pair of fresh eyes: I was enchanted by rolls of hackled flax, whose hues and lustre remind one of unending locks of hair,” - adds Géraud Pellottiero. “In the end, we decided to keep the raw fibre in the scene to surprise visitors, and to start a conversation about the fibre and rich agricultural know-how.” Inspired by this immersion, the interior designer has also discovered flax-linen’s other technical properties, such as woven flax panels with bio-sourced resin developed by the Swiss company Bcomp. “These panels reveal the textile quality and transparency of the layers of flax: they let through a soft light, which remind me Japanese sliding paper partitions. Linen also creates a new creative aesthetic for interior design,” - adds the young man.

New dialogues and expressions

By supporting a new generation of talent and entrepreneurs in the Flax-Linen industry, the Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp is betting that these new dialogues will test the limits of design. “We are working every day to diversify the uses of flax fibre,” - explains Laura Vanneste, a fourth-generation Belgian entrepreneur specializing the flax fibre trade and the design of linen textile products. For the past year, the young woman has been working full-time on the Secrets of Linen brand, founded by her father in 2006, for which she makes customised linen carpets. “Even though linen can be difficult to tuft because it’s a strong fibre, it’s also very durable and ages well,” - adds the young entrepreneur, who was able to breathe new life into a batch of unique yarn spun by her grandfather in the old family factory in Stasegem following a meeting with designers Céline Thibault and Géraud Pellottiero.

Interested in this fluffy fibre, available in shades of violet and green, the designers quickly reviewed and adapted their weaving techniques: “Our meeting with Secrets of Linen immersed us in a family history, where flax-linen was the main protagonist. Over one day, we could see that Laura wanted to inject a greater creative will, with more colour and a new approach. It was her interest in innovation and renewal that inspired us to decide on our own visual style, characterized by a graphic design with structured shapes that showcase the yarn and its various shades within one colour palette,” - explains Céline Thibault. The three of them remember wishing to break the mould of flax-linen, and to avoid a white-grey-beige atonal colour scheme at all costs. “By opting for what I call ‘plant mohair’ - a type of fuzzy yarn - we were thumbing our noses at wool and changing people’s perceptions of linen. We had to make multiple attempts to make sure the yarn was tight enough to remain fuzzy!” - recalls the designer.

The La Samaritaine pop-up set up last spring featured a checkered rug in shades of green and a Scottish rug in shades of violet. Slightly fuzzy, they looked as if they had been woven from different colours. “It is such a joy to be able to give life to deadstock fabric, to reuse it by forging a link between past and present. Céline and Géraud have a vision for the fabric and eye for colour that allow them to break codes and create less commercial designs. And to enhance the sophistication of linen, which is sometimes lacking. Thanks to its architectural composition and play on colours and reflections, this project is young, chic, quirky and creative!” - says Laura Vanneste, seduced by a rewarding and daring collaboration.

Flax-linen compositions/flax-linen composites

Over the years, the Alliance for European Flax-Linen and Hemp has built strong ties with well-known designers who are re-examining and discovering new uses of flax-linen, producing new applications or market segments for this plant fibre. Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, chairman of this year's Villa Noailles Design Jury, and designer and ENSCI professor, and François Azambourg, is one such designer: this year, his work was exhibited at the MAD (Musée des Arts Décoratifs) in Paris.

“From a creative standpoint, linen is an extraordinary material that can have numerous, and often surprising, applications,” - admits Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, the designer of the Duale coffee table for Saint-Luc (2011). Comprised of a round tray made of flax fibres and plant resin on solid oak legs, it plays on the implicit duality of flax fibre: “I wanted to highlight the emotional undertones of this material: a fibre with natural, warm colours and unevenness, but which, in terms of how it’s set up, also evokes other composites that appear more high-tech, like carbon,” - explains the designer, who is committed to boosting the sustainability of his designs.

Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, créateur de la table basse Duale pour l’éditeur Saint-Luc (2011)

Flax-linen offers a new path for composite materials as a sustainable alternative to fibreglass or carbon fibre, as it does not contain or contains low levels of petrochemical derivatives: “Flax-linen has a more interesting mechanical resistance than fibreglass, while also being lighter. Although it is still not fully established in certain fields, flax-linen is an extremely noble fibre of the future, easy and pleasant to work with compared with other materials. Completely natural, it requires low inputs during production and the growing process,” - adds François Azambourg, a designer and professor at ENSCI. Since 2007, he has been working with automotive supplier DCS (Design Composite Solution) to diversify his offering and design a new type of chair: instead of using carbon, he created Lin 94 (94% plant origin), a material that can be used to shape chairs like car doors: “the idea was to place a fabric in a mould and press resin into the fabric at very high pressure. The mechanical regularity of the fabric was key to the project: with its long, straight fibres, flax was the perfect candidate in terms of mechanical performance,” - recalls the designer, whose explorations remain at the forefront of innovation today.
Some of whose pieces was recently on display at the MAD in Paris as part of the Légèretés manifestes (Lightness) exhibition dedicated to François Azambourg.

A new aesthetic

Different place, different exhibition. As the official partner of the Villa Noailles since 2017, the Alliance for European Flax-Linen and Hemp has also been supporting the finalists of Design Parade 2023. It is increasing its upstream commitment in order to facilitate access to technical innovations and techniques that are specific to European flax, in order to better support finalists in their flax sourcing and to provide them with linen for their creative project. For his project staged at Villa Noailles, Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance decided to cover the walls in linen drapes, in order to highlight the raw and vibrant nature of the fabric. “Flax fibre is not just a low impact but also a versatile material, rich in textures and colours: when you keep it raw, it develops natural vibrations. I love materials that speak and live on their own,” - adds the designer. What better way to decorate a space than to combine raw linen with kiln-fired blackened cork and wood-fired Salernes ceramic tiles?

Always looking ahead, François Azambourg is working on the prototype of a sewn linen chair in collaboration with the Alliance for European Flax-Linen and Hemp: designed like a padded glove, a thick linen canvas is dipped in a specific amount of resin before being inflated with air. The chair, completely empty, takes shape as the resin polymerizes the fabric, making it rigid. “This technique means we can produce the flax-linen structure somewhere else, transport it easily (flat) before inflating it on site (or nearby). Today, I try to lighten design structures to conserve resources. Before, design consisted of both form and concept: now, environmental issues are shifting the debate, focusing it more on materials and spurring a new approach to object aesthetics,” - concludes the designer.

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