The transformation from purveyor of garish flat-pack nightmares to the new darling of the fashion world didn’t take IKEA very long to complete.
By 2016, it had shaken off its reputation for missing screws and flimsy furniture, but ownership of its products was still something to keep under the polyester rug. For most millennials, buying at IKEA was born of necessity rather than choice. The price of designer furniture and a lack of disposable income meant — and still do mean — that every urbanite’s house or apartment move is followed by a trip to the big blue warehouse of meatballs and occasional mental breakdowns.
But, starting first with a collaboration with menswear designer Katie Eary, the Swedish giant has quietly reinvented itself. It has reasserted its 75-year legacy as a genuine creative powerhouse with an undeniable influence on millions of homes around the world. After Eary came a visit and request for collaboration from Kanye West, before Balenciaga “took inspiration” from its FRAKTA tote bag and spawned an avalanche of custom IKEA-based pieces on Instagram.
In summer 2017, IKEA announced it was collaborating with the likes of Virgil Abloh’s OFF-WHITE, luxury fragrance house Byredo, and STAMPD. Earlier this month, it revealed upcoming projects with adidas, LEGO, and Saint Heron.
One of the main drivers behind these projects is IKEA head of design Marcus Engman. While visiting IKEA’s headquarters in Älmhult, Sweden for the company’s annual Democratic Design Days event, we had the chance to sit down with Engman and discuss everything from the OFF-WHITE collab and its plans with adidas to millennial living and the future of furniture. Check out the interview below.
We met at the Milan [Furniture] Fair. That was how it started. I think Kanye was visiting us here at Älmhult at around the same time and, of course, he and Virgil worked together. That was the background for it, at least. When we met there in Milan, we were already thinking about it. We had some ideas, he had some ideas — we both wanted to help millennials make a statement with their homes.
For us, no. That came about when we started out working. In the beginning, we just wanted to reach out to young people and make the home important to them again. We have seen fashion, music, and other areas become increasingly important for young people — but the home has gone a little bit down. So we were thinking, “Can we do something about that?” Virgil shared our view on the importance of the home to be a full person.
Some of you guessed it! @virgilabloh @off____white prototyping a fresh take on the FRAKTA bag in IKEA’s very own prototype shop in Älmhult. "We’re in a moment where IKEA is transcending, and people are bringing this “do it yourself” culture” to the blue bag. What I’m most interested in is doing that process in partnership with the brand. It’s allowing me to put my opinion on a classic. It’s unique, and distinctly as much of off-white as it's IKEA". Photo @piotrniepsuj . #IKEAtoday #Collaborationpartner #virgilabloh #offwhite #IKEADDD
I think we learned a lot and I think he learned a lot as well. He’s a great creative, of course, and I think that he thinks across disciplines. He has no boundaries for his thinking, which is good. He doesn’t see himself just as a designer. He’s part-architect, part-fashion designer, part-product designer. It’s more on a conceptual level that we speak.
For him, I think it’s been important to work with something that’s not as false as music or fashion. You have to have the stamina to go through the products and then really make them good. When you work in fashion, you create things in weeks to months. Here, we talk about years. That’s a big difference.
Sometime in 2019. But something might happen this fall.
You could call that a rumor.
Well, the first collaborations were with Walter Van Beirendonck and Katie Eary. I have an interest in the narrative of fashion — how they reinvent themselves for every season, how they are able to do that all the time, how they tell those stories. That is something that has not happened at all within interior design, which is kind of a slow business.
So I thought we could learn from their ways of being creative and how they start off with a story most of the time, rather than a product idea. I found them really interesting, so I wanted to see how they work creatively.
It’s already changed, I think. I think we’re far better off thinking about the narrative and starting off with the question: What is the storyline in this? Also, to put things into context, we don’t work on a product-by-product basis. It’s actually more contextual. That’s why we do collections, for instance.
It’s very early days. We’ve only met a couple of times and talked about what we want to achieve together. We’re absolutely not on the product level. What me and [adidas Originals design director] Josefine Aberg talked about, and what we’re really looking forward to, is merging our design teams. They have a great design team and we have a great design team — what will happen if we mix them? We come from two completely different angles and I think it could be really cool.
It will be in the sector of sports at home but it will take a holistic approach. I want to work with the sleeping part. You know if you really want to go into competitive sports or live a healthy life, you need to eat properly, train properly, and sleep properly. Together, we could take on all three and make something new there.
@adidas x IKEA is happening. Check back here for more info as we get it.
Nope. We truly believe in the brands and their designs, but when we do stuff, we want it to reach as many people as possible. When we do things, we don’t even call them “limited collections” — they’re more time-restricted. Usually, when we run out of things, it’s because of new production methods or those types of things that mean we can’t make it in on a larger scale. The problem for IKEA, which is also what’s good for IKEA, is that we have 2 billion customers. When we stock something, we have to do it at scale. We don’t want to generate hype by keeping it limited. That’s not the idea.
I can’t say that we’re going to supply everybody around the world because there seems to be really big demand for Virgil. When we started out working with him, it was big news. Now it’s huge. That has happened during a year. It’s really hard to foresee actual numbers but we will try to cater for as many people as possible.
taking your input on this @ikeatoday interior design project. live in a second on twitter @virgilabloh via periscope #ikeaxvirgil
I can see that happening.
No, we want to make everything affordable. We work together, we create some extraordinary designs together, but it has to be affordable. This is not Virgil Abloh. It’s Virgil Abloh and IKEA. Even if we were to work with a brand like Louis Vuitton, it would still be at IKEA price levels.
I think the key is to design things that can be repurposed. If you look at the comfort series we did together with Tom Dixon, it’s all about repurposing. You could buy it as a bed but then make it into a sofa, or make it into something else at the end of the day. Its variety of uses is good for sustainability. It has longevity in your home, both in terms of personality but also in function. That’s important.
IKEA has been famous for our flat packs and do-it-yourself philosophy. In the past, we focused on “How do you put this product together?” Now the focus is on “How do you tear it apart again?” Because we know that people are moving and moving often — you need to make it easy for people to tear it apart and put it together again.
It’s a bit of a shift from previous generations. What young people want and what they can have are two different things. You can see it in the living situations that a lot of young people have today. They have to move a lot and they live in secondary housing all the time. Sometimes you move every six or eight weeks, and then your home reflects that. What I’ve seen during home visits, and also with my two daughters — one is living in London and the other in Stockholm — is that things such as small decorative lighting and souvenirs are far more important to them in making a home than actual furniture.
I think it’s an inspiration to us, first of all. Actually, both Pinterest and Instagram. We draw a lot of inspiration there in how people are putting things together. What I love about it is that it’s so much more diverse. It’s an eclectic way of putting things together. Anything is okay. It’s a little bit like what has happened in fashion. There could be wild contrasting prints, for example, but everything is okay and that’s lovely. But, on the other hand, we’re not designing for Instagram or anything. We design for people’s lives.
A bit of hype there for a period! I thought it was kind of cool, actually. Nobody had anticipated that at all. We always loved the FRAKTA bag. It’s one of the iconic faces of IKEA and it’s actually one of the best bags ever made. We love it at IKEA, but it was a little bit of a… I wouldn’t say shock, but it took us by surprise. A nice surprise. I like it. And it’s also about anything that caters for other people’s creativity. I love that. I love things that show off people’s creativity and not just IKEA’s creativity. If they use our stuff in a creative way and make it, then you know that, okay, they like us for some reason.
Next up, who really won the 2018 fashion World Cup?