Fifty Shades of Grey

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Ikea’s bold interpretation of urban India, the result of a collaboration between a Swedish textile designer and students from NIFT, New Delhi

When you think of Indian textiles, clothes or prints, lots of bright hues of colour come to mind is colour. When IKEA announced its limited edition Svartan range of products this month, the result of a collaboration between Swedish textile designer Martin Bergström and students from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) New Delhi, I pictured bright, vivid colours; possibly some ornate embroidered pieces too. Svartan proves an antithesis to these pre-conceived notions. The range on display is a total surprise.

50 Shades of Grey

The colour palette of the range is principally black, white and fifty shades of grey. Yet, it is in no way a dull collection. Svartan, meaning blackness in Swedish, is a collection of home furnishings, fabrics, decorative and functional items such as stools and tray tables. The textures and designs of the various products, made using cotton, wood, glass, paper and powder-coated aluminium, beckon you to touch and feel them.

Bergström conducted a workshop with 25 NIFT students to create 2000 sketches which provided the starting point and inspiration for this collection. They looked at the city of Delhi with a new lens. Distressed walls created by monsoons and dust; an urban tangle of electric cables that frame the sky, visible between multi-storeyed buildings set in close proximity of narrow lanes; everything became inspiration for patterns, imprints and abstract drawings.

50 Shades of Grey

“Everything seems to have a patina or texture in India. Nothing is smooth or polished, and you never know if things are 300 years old or contemporary. I find that inspiring,” says Bergström who has been working the field of art, design and fashion for over a decade. He is known for his bold and avant-garde designs and for using forgotten handicraft techniques to bring his designs to life.

The entire Svartan range was produced in India using traditional techniques. The sketch book range was made at a paper factory that has produced paper for 300 years.

“When I came to India, the first thing I noticed was the light,” Bergström says. “But then I started seeing other things. I saw the beauty beyond the obvious.”

50 Shades of Grey

IKEA says that the goal of the collection was to strike a balance between the organic and abstract, and they have certainly succeeded. The powder-coated metal, foldable tray table, and bowls of different sizes have lovely textures that make them feel ancient and modern at the same time. They have been created by local artisans in India and are both functional and beautiful. The sheer cotton fabrics, wool throws, rugs and linen have stimulating prints and a warm feel about them, in spite of the lack of colour. The wooden side tables and stools have a rugged, solid feel to them. Angular glass bottles, blown by hand, have a uniqueness to them and makes them, to use IKEA’s description, “perfectly imperfect”.

Knowing the story behind the Svartan range makes each product feel like a work of art and IKEA has acknowledged this by making the prints available as posters you can hang on your walls too. IKEA claims to be the largest single purchaser of textiles in India and has been doing business with India for years. They are committed to environmental and social sustainability through their supply chain, tracing product materials used to their source as far as possible. They work with World Wildlife Fund and local partners in India and other countries to influence farmers to grow cotton sustainably using less pesticides, fertilisers and water. Through the IKEA Foundation, they also work to protect and educate children in the cotton farming areas.

Jyoti Shankar
Jyoti Shankar is a freelance writer and sustainability professional, who is passionate about nature
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