It’s the start of summer and menswear week in Paris, and the streets and boulevards are teeming with stylish guys wearing a patchwork of colors and textures. In contrast, in one of the austere but sunny industrial galleries on the upper floors of the Palais de Tokyo, the start of a new collaborative design project, At.Kollektive, evokes more understated and thoughtful ideas.
An experience of Ecco Leather, the tannery and leather supplier behind the Danish family brand Ecco Shoes, At.Kollektive brings together a coterie of class-A talent to design small capsule collections that sit outside the trend cycle. The objects and accessories they create, which will be delivered monthly from January, use only Ecco’s innovative leather, which has been developed to use less water than traditional tanning methods. “It’s not exactly out of fashion, but it borders on design in an interesting way because it’s not a one-off thing and it’s well thought out and durable,” says Berlin designer Kostas Murkudis, best known for his work with designer Helmut Lang and one of the four collaborators on this first album.
There is also Natacha Ramsay-Levi, the former artistic director of Chloé, Parisian leather goods designer Isaac Reina, who cut his teeth at Hermès, and menswear designer Bianca Saunders. Everyone was asked to design a capsule collection with few limitations except material (prices range from £230 to £12,000). “To be told, do whatever you want – I was like, really?” says Ramsay-Levi of her first project since leaving Chloé at the end of 2020. “There’s no overarching creative direction: we wanted to allow them to interpret in their own way, challenge them to have a point different point of view”, explains Panos Mytaros, CEO of Ecco.
Ramsay-Levi’s output is perhaps the most comprehensive offering, spanning accessories, jewelry, furniture and a selection of ready-to-wear, all in a concise color palette of bright orange, black and earth tones. The bags stand out: a collection of handbags, totes and purses with extra-wide stitching such as tubular braids on the seams, often in contrasting leather, suggesting a kind of pop exaggeration of basketwork. There are also chunky clog-sandal hybrids with metal rivets; an assortment of leather cuff bracelets and earrings; and soft black leather vests and T-shirt dresses, perfect for layering. “My idea wasn’t to design them to go together, but they all have the same gesture,” she says.
The project marks the first time Ramsay-Levi has explored furniture design, in the form of a monolithic style ottoman. Atop a stone base, the square leather cushion looks almost vacuum-packed, mimicking a texture like marbled veins. “I’m not a furniture designer, so I didn’t want to get too serious,” she says of the style she privately called the Flintstone. “I think the whole collection is a serious proposition, but there’s also a humor and goofiness to it that I love.”
For a designer like Saunders, less established than the rest of her cohort but a finalist for the 2021 LVMH Prize and winner of the ANDAM Prize the same year, this project offered unprecedented access to the best leathers and manufacturing techniques. “The possibilities are endless and it was pretty overwhelming at first,” she says. His collection stands out for its use of bright, pure colors – Yves Klein blue and salmon pink contrast with the neutral tones employed by others. The collection is also her first official foray into accessories: alongside two styles of shoes (from £255), she has developed a collection of oversized bags, totes and clutches, all rectangular and fitted with a metal frame ( from £865). Many will also appreciate the functional details like the removable straps.
“I was so impressed with the capabilities of the company; they were developing amazing leathers for big luxury brands and not communicating about it,” says Murkudis. For his offering, he has developed a range of accessories and objects that riff on ideas of Suprematism, the first iteration of abstract art known for its geometric style. For several trapeze bags and clutches (from £342), he used pleating and bonded leather techniques to flatten 3D shapes while retaining a sense of structure, explaining that he wanted the bags to look almost like a painting. “I wanted to focus on the technique of this industry, more than the craftsmanship,” he says of the styles he has developed. Alongside those bags are a monochrome cutout sneaker, a buttery leather trench coat, and moto-style jackets. There is also a leather lounge chair that he had made by Paolo Castelli in Italy.
While all the designers have worked in relative silos, there is a harmony between the four editions – the leather, of course – but also a studied exploration of form and technique. “It came out a lot more even than you might think,” adds Mytaros. And yet, it is their differences that make it most appealing. They have a similar minimalist elegance and natural color palette; where Murkudis’ bags are flattened, Isaac Reina’s (from £1,035) are rounded or tubular, taking inspiration from a cylindrical lamp designed by Le Corbusier. “I was looking for radical geometry and working around the circle to create interesting volumes,” he says of the shape he replicated as a lamp, table and stool in smooth nude leather.
Perhaps what unites each object most is the motivation behind the project: each will appeal to an individual solely on the merit of its design and superior quality. A subjective falling for something, as the French say, which will not look outdated the following year. “It’s not about telling stories, it’s about an object that exists on its own and becomes yours,” says Ramsay-Levi, who says he’s spent the past two years wondering about how it works. Of the industry. “I felt the need to reconnect with the reason I first wanted to work in fashion: to do beautiful things and have fun,” she says, adding, “It’s like I’m protesting this project ; this is exactly the way i want to work.