Studio profile: Deutsche & Japaner

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Published:  March 22, 2016
Katia Pase

From the south-western German city of Mannheim, creative studio Deutsche & Japaner is quietly producing bold, experimental designs across a range of disciplines and applications – from type design and merchandise for Jay Z, to a line of leather accessories, to concept furniture and interior design and recently, a new collaboration with German street fashion brand Ucon Acrobatics.

Katia Pase spoke to one of the studio’s four partners, Moritz Firchow, about adapting old techniques in new ways, and balancing contemporariness and sustainability in design.

Deutsche & Japaner's studio in Mannheim, Germany.

Deutsche & Japaner’s studio in Mannheim, Germany.

There are four of you in the Deutsche & Japaner team, and you all come from different backgrounds. Can you tell us a little about the difference in your educations, and how this influences the designation of tasks in the studio?

Indeed each of us joined the team with a different educational imprint, and we each work with a different focus. While Ina studied industrial design, David, Julian and I studied communication design. David and Julian followed this with a Master’s degree in arts, and I did my Master’s in scenography. The combination of different orientations was not a matter of coincidence, but rather a well thought-out decision. Being able to approach things from different angles is a great advantage from our point of view. We never work on a project with a single one of us jumping in; we always team up in whatever combination makes the most sense. Dialogue and examination is a very relevant procedure in terms of design.

Do you ever clash over the direction of a project, or the language you should use for a project? How do you reconcile these differences?

Naturally, there are different positions towards directions every once in a while. Even though we have grown together in understanding and language, we remain four individual characters. The good thing is we have learned to discuss things in a proper way and to respect each other’s opinions.

In the end these moments where we differ lead us to research the best arguments, to figure out who is making most sense. Once a position is convincing to everyone, we merge energies and follow the strategy without disturbing for the sake of ego.

Moritz, you still run Arcademi, an independent online publication featuring really well curated creative work from across the globe. How does this project feed back into your own work?

First and foremost Arcademi keeps me awake and educated, sort of. Naturally you come across loads of things while digging for beautiful objects, amazing creators and new languages. Although it is quite an effort sometimes, I still love seeing every single post appear on the site and people’s reactions to it.

Practically, you can imagine that Arcademi is also a profound tank of optional collaborators. We have worked together with people that have turned up on Arcademi, and have even made good friends from all parts of the globe.

And from Arcademi you also spun Aesthetics Habitat, which focuses on collaboration between brands and creative practitioners. Can you tell me more about this project? Are you facilitating the collaborations shown here, and what does that involve?

Aesthetics Habitat is a venue related to Arcademi. I mentioned collaborations being born of Arcademi, and Aesthetics Habitat is a perfect example. While Arcademi generally concentrates on the creators, I felt a need to be able to display exceptional brands or products, but I did not want to enter into any commercial context or even advertising. So I came up with Aesthetics Habitat, a place generating unique editorial series together with exceptional artists and extraordinary brands and objects. This way it is no longer just the product that is showcased, but the artistic language of a photographer and the creative direction, making the production relevant in an aesthetic sense.

Love Me Los Angeles and Matthias Weingärtner for Aesthetics Habitat.

Love Me Los Angeles and Matthias Weingärtner for Aesthetics Habitat.

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BMW i8 & Studio Amos Fricke for Aesthetics Habitat.

I’ve heard the members of Deutsche & Japaner say before that you’re not fashion designers, but obviously you do make apparel and fashion products. Why do you draw a distinction in terminology?

We enjoy taking on tasks we are not confident about in the very first second, as it is exactly these projects that make you evolve and gain experience. So when it comes to fashion design, as in any other discipline we didn’t grow up with or were not educated in, we really respect professionals. All of us have had a relationship to fashion for decades and we know the effort needed to create exceptional pieces, techniques and impacts. There is so much more to it than a pattern on a surface, so when it comes to cuts, fitting and textiles, it is a science, just like any other discipline. We like trying things out, but in some cases we just scratch the surface and prefer to leave the real deal to the committed pros.

Deutsche & Japaner for Ucon Acrobatics. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa. Liquid pattern by Kristofer Forsell.

Deutsche & Japaner for Ucon Acrobatics. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa. Liquid pattern by Kristofer Forsell.

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Deutsche & Japaner for Ucon Acrobatics. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa. Liquid pattern by Kristofer Forsell.

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Deutsche & Japaner for Ucon Acrobatics. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa.

You recently produced a collection of sportswear in collaboration with Berlin lifestyle brand Ucon Acrobatics. How did you start the process for developing the collection? What key concepts did you discuss and discard?

The first thing we thought of was the range of items and the storyline. We were looking for a principle to combine different characters, to create a range from sporty to elegant, from simplicity to attitude. The result is pretty obvious if you compare the see-through mesh pants to the Shiro shirt. Several influences were combined, from sailing to baseball, from cosy cotton cut-offs to ultra lightweight mesh textiles.

Can you tell us more about the pattern used in the collection? What did the process to develop this involve?

Our idea was to shift the old batik technique (wax-resist dyeing) into a digital futuristic style. So we worked with Kristofer Forsell, a creative developer who programmed an application that transforms photographs into colourful liquid imagery. We used this app to shift an image of a flower bouquet, which refers to the heydays of batik – 70s, flower power etc.

You also designed the SS15 printed lookbook for Ucon Acrobatics, which features heavy use of repetition and tessellation, and lots of decadent copper colouring.

The concept behind these patterns, and the repetition of imagery and body parts is also referring to digital visual language of patterns and tiled graphics. The colours have been inspired by the fashion collection itself.

Ucon Acrobatics SS15 lookbook by Deutsche & Japaner. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa.

Ucon Acrobatics SS15 lookbook by Deutsche & Japaner. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa.

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Ucon Acrobatics SS15 lookbook by Deutsche & Japaner. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa.

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Ucon Acrobatics SS15 lookbook by Deutsche & Japaner. Photography by Mirka Laura Severa.

Much of your work feels incredibly contemporary. Can you comment on how you consider being of the moment versus being timeless in the way you approach your work?

Well, thank you. Of course we try to develop things using our common sense of contemporariness but, as you mention it, we seriously try to consider the sustainability of our design – a mission not easy to undertake as from our point of view trends are super fast and sometimes do not last long as others become more relevant. Throughout the years all of us from Berlin to Sydney have seen so many things come and go: 45-degree lines, triangles, shredded glitches, a trillion self-published risograph zines up to 3D madness etc…

I guess that every studio needs to decide on its position and understanding of design. Influences are great and should be respected and well thought out. From our point of view I think I can say that we love things that come across a little more quietly – neither silent nor too loud.


See more at deutscheundjapaner.com.
This article was first published in the February / March issue of desktop.

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