02 May 2023


The hidden potentials of denim

Johanna Seelemann (1990, Leipzig) is seen as one of the biggest upcoming talents of the contemporary design world. Structured, precise and with a meticulous attention to detail. The designer explores objects and materials from our everyday surroundings with a forensic approach. For The Art of RAW, Johanna investigates raw denim; its qualities, versatility and the pivotal role it plays within her five-part furniture series 'Potentials'. "I'm all about accuracy. I want everything to be solved and I don't like it if there's a detail that doesn't make sense. I need my ideas to be visible and legible."

Johanna Seelemann talks prototypes, production systems and a change of perspective

After graduating at Design Academy Eindhoven in 2019, the German designer worked for prestigious design duo; Formafantasma. Stating she has; 'the highest respect for their contribution to the field of design,' she still works closely with them today. Production systems, ecological cycles and the infrastructure behind them, sparks her curiosity. After gaining substantial notoriety and success, she now owns her own studio whilst living between Germany and Iceland.

What inspires you within your work?

"I like looking at points in time when objects are manufactured before they actually reach the consumer. What happens before they come to you? What's the system that brings everyday objects to us? And the whole infrastructure behind that."

Where does your interest in objects and their journeys come from?

"In Iceland, there's an abundance of naturally available materials; like lava and ice, but a scarcity of many other materials that are essential for everyday life. On an infrastructural level, it means that the country is heavily relying on the importation of goods, this changed my perspective on what it takes for an object to be made and to be in a certain place. And that's when I realized that design is inherently related to material cycles and the economy. Living in Iceland, alongside studying at the Design Academy and working with Formafantasma; all profoundly changed how I channel my creativity."

"I thought of how raw denim is transported from one place to another and of course, it's in rolls. Which for me, was a simple, beautiful, clear reference."

- Johanna Seelemann

Throughout her creative process, Johanna took inspiration from the G-Star headquarters in Amsterdam, designed like an air hangar by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas' studio OMA. She also looked at the interior elements, such as the G-Star office furniture, created in his instantly recognizable angular way, by prestigious architect Jean Prouvé. We provided the designer with a roll of left-over denim which became a key part of her concept.

Can you describe your 'Potentials' concept for The Art of RAW?

"Yes, I was inspired by the trip I made to visit the office, so the collection of all of the objects is intended for an office space. Back home I came up with the core idea behind the furniture series: each piece is like a material storage. So, in a way, they're all maintaining the raw material so that it can potentially be transformed or reused at a later stage in life. I thought of how raw denim is transported from one place to another and of course, it's in rolls. Which for me, was a simple, beautiful, clear reference. I used the rolls to measure the denim width throughout and all of the objects feature the rolling and wrapping of the material around the wooden framework. I think raw denim is such a beautiful material so I was trying to minimize the wood as much as possible and make all of the structures as light as possible. I wanted the wood to just be a frame for the canvas; a supportive structure where denim is the main actor."
Room divider: 2/3 of the denim roll width
You really feel that with The Room Divider. Tell us about that.

"The room divider has a great presence. I like it because it’s so dominant within a space. I wanted to find a way to reinterpret Jean Prouvé’s sun shelters, but for an office environment. You can see this in the wrapping principle, I didn't want to waste any material so I created a technique where I wrapped, folded and clipped the denim roll as resourcefully as possible."
It seems like you are very detailed-orientated person...

"Oh yes, I'm into the details. First of all, I inevitably need to find a concept that I'm excited about and in this case, it was working with the raw material in the most resourceful way. I'm all about accuracy. I want everything to be solved and I don't like it if there's a detail that doesn't make sense. I need my ideas to be visible and legible."

And for each object you started with scaled prototypes, didn't you?

"Yes, I almost always work with prototypes. Most of the pieces I develop by doing small scale models, to show how it functions and give them the attention to detail they deserve. It's where you can figure out the proportions and principles before going into production and realizing (when it's too late) that actually they don't work together."
The Low Stool: 1/3 of the denim roll width
The Leaning Bench: Full denim roll width
The Floor Mat: Full denim roll width
The Valet Stand: 2/3 of the denim roll width
What about The Low Stool?

"I wanted to explore sitting in an unconventional way, by having this rather low element, in contrast to very high chairs or regular chairs you find in an office. But also looking into the different ways you can sit and the different body postures. It relates to sitting lower and looking up - not sitting high and looking down. But it wasn't about the hierarchy, I was more focused on investigating diverse body postures."

And The Leaning Bench?

"I was interested in the type of object where you're leaning on it. Not sitting, not standing, but taking more of a rest. It's something you find in a lot of public spaces, on the tram or at stations. I wanted this to be somewhere to meet, have a coffee and be together - it's the most communal piece."

It would work well in the G-Star office for sure. And on the other end of the scale is the floor mat...

"The floor mat is pretty versatile. It can be shipped and transported flat and you can fill it with any type of filling material you want. But once it's filled, it all of a sudden gets a different character. It's somewhere to rest your feet or you know, if you're working on a standing desk you could be standing on it without your shoes. I had fun playing with the graphics on the object. Initially, I used the stitching on the back pockets of G-Star jeans as inspiration. It's actually tricky to work with curves and I realized that once the volume gets filled it takes its own curvature naturally."

What can you tell us about the fifth and final piece; The Valet Stand?

"Essentially, it's a two-part structure that stabilizes each other. In this case, the filled denim does this to the wooden frame. It came from a place of exploring weight but also taking note from the floor mat. I see this as a jacket holder in the office."


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