The audacious beauty of AKAMAE..
The audacious beauty of AKAMAE..
We met in 2018 at the Hyères Festival, can you share a little of what has happened since then?
Just before applying to the Accessories competition of Hyères, I got contacted by a buyer of Dover Street Market Ginza in Japan. She was visiting Marseille and did some research about designers there. We met and DSMG placed an order. I made the AKAMAE series in 2015 during a research trip in Ghana with basket weavers: producing my basket bags in series wasn’t my plan but this offer was too great to not try. The visibility of the Hyères Festival and Dover Street brought a good light on my work with natural fibers, shops started to place orders.
I went back to Ghana to work with the weavers and started to be an artisan and entrepreneur on my own in France. As the orders grew, I later teamed with a good friend living in a small village of Ardèche and we made a workshop there where all the basket bags are now put in shape and the handle stitched.
I go to Ghana every year to develop new techniques and shapes with the weavers and this leads to a new edition of baskets bags a year. Nowadays we mostly sell in Japan, UK and North America but our goal isn’t to get much bigger, I prefer to develop new collaborations with other designers or brands and to do experimentations with different materials, as I am primarily a designer.
What does the process in Ghana look like?
I’ve been researching straw for my thesis and 3D weaving has always been very appealing to me. Living with the weavers in Northern Ghana was and is a deep experience where I learn a lot about another attitude to life: simplicity, materials, roughness. The people and the basic elements are at the center here and it is very inspiring as a creative person.
The design process happens a lot with our hands, because we don’t necessarily write and speak the same language. We use our four hands to manipulate the straw and draw in the air, and a lot of good ideas come from this constant interpretation of each other.
Collaboration is really the base of the AKAMAE project and elsewhere the result would have been totally different. I learn a lot from the gap between the richness of the women, so talented (using no molds!) weaving so simply with rough straw, some water and a knife, and the final users, who are like from another planet.
Clarisse Demory provided the art direction for Spring Summer 2022, correct?
I met Clarisse via Astan Konate, who has been full of advice for me, slowly bringing me out of an ‘everything homemade’ attitude. It was great to work with Clarisse because the shooting happened at her mothers’s house in the North of France: it was still homemade in a sense but yet so curated and strong, the perfect blend for me. I enjoyed it and learnt a lot.
Alma Libera, the photographer, shot in analog which brought this craft aspect that I love in the pictures. The balance was right between a curated series of pictures and the origin of the straw bags, miles away from the marketing world. The bridge is everyone’s talent I guess!
How has this collection evolved from previous collections? Has the balance shifted between craft and design shifted in any way?
The SS22 edition is a little special because after two years of seeing no one in real life [due to Covid-19] we thought that some baskets needed more attention than they first received, and we decided to select our favorite baskets from the previous editions and propose them again.
The editions are part of one large growing family so we can always re-order some pieces. To bring a new perspective to these bags, we have designed simple geometric patterns and played with the shapes to create a sort of op art effect [on the bags]. It seems far from the basketry but the essence of the craft-design piece is still very present to me.
You also work with Loewe, tell us a bit about that?
I was very excited to collaborate with Loewe because it was the first time I was with an actual accessories design team and had access to such a good level of leather craftsmanship, in Madrid. The design brief was open and I had a lot of freedom to design.
The exercise of blending my taste with Loewe’s Paola collection is very interesting, the team is super kind and open: it was intense and I learned a lot. We still produce the baskets both in Ghana and Spain.
Everyone seems to either love or hate Marseille, why is it a good base for you?
I have lived in Marseille for six and a half years; I love it’s mix of cultures, natural surroundings and the sun of course. We are a bit off-the-grid and the other French cities seem too tidy – in every sense – for me.
There is nothing to expect from the officials here, so we have to make things ourselves and it’s actually much nicer! Being a little on my own as a designer is also good because I have less opportunity to feel impressed by others and [influenced by] the trendy codes.
Words by Reeme Idris
Interviewee Inès Bressand