Akris and Carmen Herrera Collaboration 2017

Alice Kriemler-Schoch founded the Swiss fashion house Akris in 1922. She began by selling polka dot aprons and now her grandson, Albert Kriemler, is the luxury brand’s creative director. We love a family business and we love one even more when they collaborate with artists. Kriemler frequently works with people in the visual arts space and for his 2017 spring collection he worked with Carmen Herrera.

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A look from Akris’ Spring 2017 show (L) Alba, 2014 By Carmen Herrera (R)

Like Kriemler, Herrera is recognized for her minimalism and has an interest in architecture. Kriemler is known for his sleek and refined designs where Herrera creates simple, abstract art. She is an expressionist and uses straight lines as the starting point for most of her paintings. She has said that out of straight lines comes everything.

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A look from Akris’ Spring 2017 show (L) Orange & Red, 1989 By Carmen Herrera (R)

Over the years the Cuban born artist has gravitated more and more to the minimalist style she has now. She has been painting for many years but started off studying architecture in Cuba. Realizing architecture wasn’t her passion, Herrera went on to attend the Art Students League in New York City and from there continued to pursue art. She showed her work alongside renowned artists Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg (to name a couple) and some of her friendships have been with Yves Klein and Barnett Newman. Living in NYC she worked in the same circles as Ellsworth Kelly and Jackson Pollock. I’m going on a bit but I think I’ve gotten my point across that Herrera was well immersed in the art world. Making it even more shocking that it wasn’t until 2004 when she sold her first piece of art. She was 89 years old. It would be five more years until many people saw and appreciated her work. Herrera is grateful for her recognition now and when asked about going unnoticed for so long she said, “Being ignored is a form of freedom… you feel free to do as you please and the hell with the critics.”

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Young Carmen Herrera painting

Even after being noticed it would be years later until Kriemler saw a piece of her art. It was in 2015 that he saw Blanco y Verde, 1959 while getting a tour of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The painting is part of a series and truly fascinated him. He said, “Her sense of color and proportion, a blend of euphoria and perfect order, stunned me.”

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Blanco y Verde, 1959 By Carmen Herrera

You can’t tell from the picture but the piece is two canvases that hang together. The first canvas is what the green triangle appears to be cutting into. The second canvas starts at the bottom of the green triangle and is all white. The triangle is done with acrylic paint and at the time Kriemler saw the painting he had never heard of Carmen Herrera before. He said, “I was so surprised that there was art that I don’t know, I’m passionate about art. I don’t know everything, but I have seen a lot. I spend a lot of free time in museums and galleries. It’s part of my free time where I clear my head and get inspired by new things.”

Kriemler took it upon himself to learn more about the artist that had slipped by him. He was intrigued and wanted to meet her. This ended up happening on her 101st birthday at her humble NYC apartment she moved into in 1954. Herrera still lives there today and it has always served her as an art studio. At 105 this amazing lady still gets up and sketches every day.

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Pictures of Carmen Herrera’s studio in her New York City apartment

When they met, Kriemler almost instantly wanted to ask her to work with him on a collection. They hit it off and Herrera even gave him a book with a note inside that said “To Albert, my best wishes for a great success, Carmen Herrera, May 31, 2016.” Despite this, Kriemler didn’t want to be too forward and chose not to ask during their first meeting.

A copy of the note Carmen Herrera gave Albert Kriemler

Instead, he asked if he could see her again. Thankfully they got together the next day. During that meeting, he asked if he could use her work as inspiration. She said yes and was honored and delighted. “When I met Albert and saw his work, I was struck by the simplicity of his designs combined with his passion for craft and materials. I knew he was a kindred spirit,” said Herrera. Kriemler then began choosing paintings to inspire pieces for the collection. There wasn’t a certain year or period that he was drawn to, he took her life’s work into account.

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A look from Akris’ Spring 2017 show (L) Blanco y Verde, 1959 By Carmen Herrera (R)

Blanco y Verde was his starting point. It was the density of the green that really stuck with Kriemler and it amazed him that in the 50s Herrera was already using green and white together. Herrera’s use of color really impressed Kriemler, not just in Blanco y Verde.

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A look from Akris’ Spring 2017 show (L) Iberic, 1949 By Carmen Herrera (R)

As the creation process of the collection progressed, Kriemler found it challenging to use such minimalistic art as inspiration for pieces to be worn on a woman’s body. He has said, “The best thing is when the woman appears first, not her clothes.” He had to figure out how to interpret a linear painting and said, “For the first time in my life I did linear draping” (as a technique to create pieces for the collection). It may have been a challenge but he pulled it off. Intricate folds, pleats, angular laser cut suedes, embroidery and the house’s famous St. Gallen lace helped bring the collection to life.

Sketches for Akris’ Spring 2017 collection 

“I set out to translate her (Carmen Herrera) abstract, geometric lines which captured my mind and heart into a woman’s body language expressed in a relaxed and refined wardrobe,” said Kriemler. He did this and continually checked in with Herrera throughout the process. He wanted to make sure she approved of what he was creating and most importantly, wanted to respect her. He didn’t want to just transport paintings to pieces of clothes.

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A look from Akris’ Spring 2017 show (L) Untitled, 1952 By Carmen Herrera (R)

The first design Kriemler showed Herrera was the dress above inspired by the painting Untitled, 1952.

The entire collection came together with bags, including Akris’ signature Ai bag. Limited edition scarves were also made which had images of Herrera paintings on them thanks to digital photo print technology.

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An Akris Ai tote bag from Spring 2017 that was inspired by Untitled, 1952 (L) An Akris scarf from Spring 2017 that was inspired by Iberic, 1949 (R)

The final designs were debuted at New York Fashion Week and it was the first time Akris had a show in New York City. The fashion house normally presents collections in Paris and the fact that it was done in New York was as tribute to where Kriemler got his inspiration.

Akris’ Spring 2017 show 

The same week the collection was shown, Herrera’s first solo museum show, which was also her first American exhibition, opened also in NYC. It was at the Whitney Museum of American Art and titled Lines of Sight.

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Carmen Herrera’s Lines of Sight exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 2016 / 2017

Kriemler said the timing of Herrera’s retrospective and the Akris show was luck. What wasn’t luck and was definitely perseverance was Herrera’s art being shown alone at the Whitney. Having worked in New York since the 50s and being 101 years old, you could say it was about time!

Also going on at the time of the collection’s launch was Kriemler accepting the 2016 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion from The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), once again in New York City. Undoubtedly, he was extremely pleased to be chosen for the award.

It’s safe to say Kriemler and Herrera are both prominent people who deserve all of the success they have had. It’s a no brainer that the duo would create such a simple yet bold incredible collection.

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A look from Akris’ Spring 2017 show (L) Equation, 1958 By Carmen Herrera (R)

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A look from Akris’ Spring 2017 show (L) Green Garden, 1950 By Carmen Herrera (R)

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Carmen Herrera and Albert Kriemler working on Akris’ Spring 2017 collection