Anatomy Of A Design: Step Into The Future With The Utopia Collection

Fredericke Winkler, Design Director for Hodsoll McKenzie, a Brand by Zimmer + Rohde, joins us to discuss “Utopia” – a new textile collection that imagines the modern, sustainable design of the future.

Raymond Paul Schneider: When did you first start to develop this new collection?
Fredericke Winkler: The collection UTOPIA resulted from this extraordinary moment when the pandemic hit Germany last year in March. We sat down to go through different scenarios: How will the crisis manifest itself in the company? How can we use the state of emergency constructively? And what does the post-Covid world look like? After that, it was clear to me that we have to lead Hodsoll McKenzie into sustainability. After all, the brand is predestined for this path because it is defined by two essential components: natural materials and the appreciation of textile craftsmanship. This decision had a significant impact on the further development of the collection.

Raymond: What was the overall timeline from conception to achieving the final design?
Fredericke: I usually start my first research in May, defining my theme and looking for new developments in my partner mills. In July, my first ideas become design drafts, mood boards turn into color concepts, and the first woven or printed samples arrive. It’s a great moment. This phase ends in August when we make our final selection of fabrics. After that, I can start coloration and make the last refinements. The entire collection will be finished just before Christmas (always the most significant present to me) so that it will be ready to be launched in June, more or less one year after kicking it off.

Raymond: What was your initial inspiration, and where did the idea(s) come from?
Fredericke: Interestingly, the idea for Utopia came to me while I was still working on the 2020 collection. Hodsoll McKenzie has deep roots in British design history, so I went back in time for the past collections. But I didn’t want to do that for 2021. I had the desire to look into the crystal ball this time. Utopia simply translates as the idea of the best possible future. And yet, again, it’s a very British theme. The term Utopia goes back to a literary work from the 16th century by the Englishman Thomas More. He was the founder of utopian literature. The plot revolves around a fictitious society on an island whose coexistence is based on Morus’s optimal ethical foundation. A few decades later, Francis Bacon invented New Atlantis, whose capital Bensalem uses wind and water energy. When the sustainability aspect was decided for Hodsoll McKenzie in March, the theme was a perfect fit.

Raymond: Please describe your overall creative and design process.
Fredericke: My design process always starts with a story or a theory, like the concept of Utopia. I start reading about it and exploring all aspects. Most of the time, associations arise here that manifest themselves in a design or a color world. For example, I was captivated by the fact that utopian stories often take place on islands. And in the real world, too, dropouts often seek their fortune on deserted islands. Why? Because they promise protection? So I made a list of such legendary islands and interpreted their stories and vegetation in my designs. The most bizarre story is undoubtedly that of Floreana, which I have interpreted in the article of the same name.

Floreana is an island in the south of the Galápagos archipelago, which was the scene of a grotesque sex-and-crime affair in 1934 among its first inhabitants – German dropouts who, according to legend, preferred to be naked and live in a corrugated iron hut. In the collection, FLOREANA is an exquisite Belgian linen fabric. I have embedded graphic foliage in a strong zig-zag stripe for the design that reminds me of lush tropical plants on a corrugated iron roof.

Raymond: Did you have a specific audience or theme that you had in mind?
Fredericke: This is a complicated question because Hodsoll McKenzie is chosen and loved by very different customers for different reasons worldwide. All of them appreciate the natural material, and most say that it is our soft color shades that they particularly like. As a designer, I am a service provider, but not without a mission. In line with this year’s theme, every designer’s job is to make the world a better place by addressing issues or positively influencing habits through the way we design. I am certainly addressing people who are open to such an exchange.

Raymond: Please describe the methods, tools, and materials you used to develop and prototype this design?
Fredericke: I love to experiment with different techniques. I love to draw and paint, I’ve tried lino print, and I use the collage technique to play with images. But my most crucial method might be that I don’t consider myself an artist but to be more of a curator. Our weavers and printers determine at least as much as I do how the individual designs and colors look in the end. My job, however, is to create a coherent entity.

Raymond: Did you utilize a new technique or technology to conceptualize this product?
Fredericke: I don’t think so, but I defined new criteria according to which I developed my designs. Roughly speaking, these are the use of environmentally friendly raw materials (certified) such as hemp and linen, the use of energy-efficient production processes, regional sourcing where possible, and the development of close partnerships. It’s quite a journey to meet these criteria, and I am not there yet. But still, I love what we have already reached. Furthermore, I am very interested in the principles of the circular economy, so I have set myself the goal of increasing the proportion of recycled fibers bit by bit and focusing more on the general cycle of our products.

Raymond: Please describe any challenges that affected the design and perhaps steered you to an entirely new final design?
Fredericke: Well, precisely, these criteria were my biggest challenge because many of our suppliers have already dealt with the issue to a greater or lesser extent, but at very different levels. So I had to figure out how to implement my new framework with them because one explicit goal was to embark on this journey with these long-standing partners. If you ask me to what extent influenced my designs, I would say that you can see this collaborative spirit of departure in them—this joy of experimenting with new yarns or production processes. There is a lot of attention to detail in this collection.

Raymond: Describe your overall brand DNA and Ethos
Fredericke: Hodsoll McKenzie is all about the best balance between head, heart, and hand, between man and nature, between rough and soft, heritage and new paths, craftsmanship, and experiment. It is the complete celebration of what Mother Earth gave us to make textiles, this outstanding material that, in my opinion, is the foundation of the cultural entity of humankind.

Click here to see more of our “Anatomy of a Design” series.

Hodsoll McKenzie is available through Designer Library in Washington DC and Zimmer Rohde.

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