Rejecting a zero-flaw mentality, the trend for imperfection, even in the luxury realm, is catching on. Formes de Luxe reflects on this growing movement as exemplified by branded products in less-than-perfect textile, wood, ceramic and glass, among other materials.
Kintsugi: when broken is art
The Japanese art of repair, kintsugi (literally "golden joinery"), doesn't attempt to hide cracks and chips. Unlike most restoration techniques, this thousand-year-old art brings them to light. In the 17th century, aesthetes are reported to have deliberately broken pieces in their collection to have them beautified by a kintsugi master. Once repaired and lined with gold dust, the most humble of chawans (bowls used in the tea ceremony) were transfigured.
An object repaired with the Japanese kintsugi technique ©Myriam Greff
Brands and designers have adopted the technique: Guerlain drew inspiration for the limited-edition Orchidée Impériale Black, hand-decorated with 24-carat gold (Bernardaud), as did Oki Sato (head of the Nendo studio) for the Mino-yaki collection created for Miyama. The latter borrows from yobitsugi: a technique in which colorful plates and dishes are carefully broken, their shards then reassembled in various combinations. The essence of kintsugi becomes apparent in Myriam Greff’s studio. "No one chooses this restoration technique randomly," says the artist. "A kintsugi is hope at the end of the road. The broken object often speaks to a more personal incident. It's a duty of memory where the object, often a simple everyday item, becomes witness to a lived experience."
Orchidée Impériale Black, hand-decorated with 24-carat gold ©Guerlain
The aesthetics of mending at Isabel Marant, Etro, Junya Watanabe...
London-based Célia Pym has elevated repair to an art. She describes the act of mending as "a slow effort to maintain the damage in place." Challenging accepted ideals that would have mending be invisible, she has chosen to explore this further. Why does a garment wear out here and/or there, leaving a trace of the body that wears it? And why and how can it be patched as "a gesture of care and tenderness"? The Japanese stitching technique sashiko that can be used to repair damaged textiles with squares of embroidered cotton and hemp, comes to mind.
Worn out clothes can be repaired using the Japanese stitching technique called sashiko ©Celia Pym
Also born of necessity, indigo patchworks called boro are popping up in collections by Isabel Marant, Etro, Junya Watanabe, and Kuon Tokyo. The work of set designer and textile artist Ysabel de Maisonneuve is another example. For the exhibition Bleu de Travail in Roubaix, she presented a piece created in Japan, "where kimonos were regularly taken apart to be cleaned, then reassembled by swapping the most used areas with the least damaged areas to prolong the life of the garment." After stumbling upon a batch of kimonos from the 1940s and 1950s at a market, Maisonneuve gave them new life by dying them indigo and crafting novel forms that allow each imperfection to tell a story.
Vintage Boro Blazer ©Kuon Tokyo
Embracing the imperfection of raw materials
Resist formal perfection and reconnect with "the beauty of things imperfect, impermeant, and incomplete," wrote Leonard Koren, who is attributed with awakening the West to wabisabi. On the roof of the Greenwich Hotel in New York, the TriBeCa suite honors the wabi spirit. Art and antiques dealer Alex Vervoordt designed the penthouse with Japanese architect Tatsuo Miki as an expression of the aesthetic of austerity and silence.
Natural, raw materials—some recycled—show the traces of time; objects have a patina shaped by the craftsman’s hand; "inhabited" objects encourage a bond by echoing the cycles of life they endure. Korean woodturner Minwook Kim, a finalist for Loewe Foundation’s most recent Craft Prize works in wood. "I trust the beauty of the material (…) without trying to control it. My inspiration is found not only in the color, texture, or motif of the wood, but also in what we generally see as its ‘flaws.’" These precious "deformations" form the identity of each piece Kim creates.
Minwook Kim's pieces highlight the natural texture and imperfections of wood ©Minwook Kim
This attraction to original imperfection is present in the creations of Alexa Lixfeld and in the work of Philippe Constantin (Maison Incens), who custom creates each bottle in the Les Insensées collection—which arose from a fortuitous dosing error—applying labels made of mica or slate by hand. None is quite the same and nor are they entirely different.
Les Insensées collection features labels made of mica or slate ©Maison Incens
Elevating nature through design
Fossile, a project led by the young sculptor and carver Louis Biron "questions our era’s means of production"—and the damage it will leave behind—as it also inspires new creative processes that integrate Nature as a tangible co-producer. For the series 10L-3L, which uses the jerrican to denounce the exploitation of fossil-fuel resources, Biron collaborated with earthworms to make yellow bronze sculptures with a white patina and a form based on the galleries dug by the creatures. "More than a technical contribution, bio-integration represents a change in our relationship to the world," says Brion. "It is urgent that we drastically rethink the way we interact with the living world."
10L-3L series uses the jerrican to denounce the exploitation of fossil-fuel resources ©Louis Biron
Artistic director Erik Kessels offers another perspective on these "perfect imperfections." His exhibition, presented at the 47th Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles, was an ode to the liberating power of error and accident "that enables us to surpass perfection" and "escape the stifling conformity" of a culture obsessed with perfection. Subtitled The Art of Embracing Serendipity and Error, the exhibition brought together some 20 artists: Heike Bollig’s collection compiled manufacturing errors that escape the industrial world’s quality control; and Joachim Schmid presented a series of "failed" shots taken with a Canon camera on its last legs.
Alessandro Michele celebrates imperfection
"I cling to my imperfection as the very essence of my being," wrote Anatole France. A century later, Alessandro Michele, former creative director at Gucci, responds: "True beauty lies in imperfection." Italian architects, designers, and artists Riccardo Dalisi (who also spoke out in favor of the Imperfeição Perfeita at the 2019 Porto Design Biennale) and Gaetano Pesce, whose exhibition Nobody’s Perfect was still touring China last year, are also witness to the value of imperfection.
In 2022, Les MétamorFoses, an association that focuses on upcycling, presented a first collection created using imperfect materials sourced from France’s most prestigious workshops ©Les MétamorFoses
In a world of mass production, their furniture collection—anthropomorphic chairs in colored resins and armchairs made of rags—makes imperfection an added value, transforming each object into a unique piece. This approach was dear to Czech photographer Miroslav Tichy—a self-proclaimed "pioneer of chaos… because nothing can arise without chaos." Forgotten photographs found in the depths of the studio included those that were over or underexposed, blurry, scratched, stained, and framed using the materials at hand.