SOPHIE ROWLEY

ON PLAYING WITH THE PERCEPTION AND USING DENIM TO MAKE OBJECTS

SR profile

Sophie is a German born London based designer whose multidisciplinary practice is driven by experimentation with materials. She combines skills from diffrent craft and disciplines to alter everyday, man-made materials in unexpected ways in order to question our current perception on materiality. The new raw materials often resemble and mimic natural shapes, forms and patterns. Sophie graduated from an MA in Material Futures from Central Saint Martins in London and works from her studio in Hackney.

WORDS Nina Thorstensen
PHOTOS Rosaline Shahnavaz

Could you say something about your background; how and when did your interest in design begin and what does word designer mean to you?

I always wanted to be a designer in some way. I knew for sure that I wanted to follow that route as a profession after I went to visit a design school in Pforzheim, South Germany. I went there to check out their graphics department but ended up being a lot more interested in the fashion course there. So I decided to study my BA in Fashion design, however I did that in Berlin. For me a designer is someone who has their own design identity and has found their place and role in the design scene or environment they are in.

At the beginning of your design process is experimentation with the material. Can you describe the most positively surprising moment you’ve had with a material?

Once I sandblasted a piece of a reworked blue foam and it suddenly looked like a coral when I took it out of the machine. Before it was a scrap piece of material but aftrwards I started to be very precious about it. This is the weird contrast in perceptions we have, that I am interested in.

Once I sandblasted a piece of a reworked blue foam and it suddenly looked like a coral.

In Material Illusions you created a collection of objects using readily available waste materials like denim, paper, Styrofoam and glass transforming them into organic shapes and forms. Can you say something about how did you get the initial ideas?

I really like mundane materials that no one pays attention to because they are so engraved in our everyday lives. I take them and start exploring other properties, characteristics or aesthetics they might have. In other cases I find a process or craft that I really like and then think of different materials that I could use in that process.

You’ve been working with denim for some time, using it to make objects, surfaces and patterns, challenging its conventional use as a textile. Where would you like to take the material next? Do you have any plans for the future?

Yes definitely. The next step is to get the material produced more easily without losing its aesthetic value, at the moment it is still very time consuming to produce. I am also planning to do some tests with different adhesives as well as different colors of denim.

Commission for Nissan was your first project for the car industry where you pushed the new denim surface further by creating a highly polished, smooth and thin dashboard for the car. How did the working process and method of creating for Nissan different from others you did with the same material?

The main difference was that for the previous designs I had the facilities at the university to work in. The commission for Nissan was after I graduated so it was a new challenge and a great opportunity to explore the material with different tools and processes. I wasn´t sure up till the end if the mold Nissan gave me was going to withstand the vacuum process I applied, luckily it did!

How things are made and where they come from is becoming more important today as consumers are getting more educated and as a counter reaction to our commodity populated world of mass production. Rapid changes in culture, economics and technology need dynamic designers who can realize intelligent, responsible innovations. What tools and skills should designers today possess to be able to create design solutions with future in mind?

Rather then simply dealing with aesthetics, shape, form and pattern, I feel that designers today mostly take on more responsive roles and aim to design more future focused. This development you can see in the amount of collaborations between designers and scientists for example. I think that these interactions, cross disciplinary working methods as well as open source knowledge can allow for great ideas and more instant solutions to our rapidly paced environments.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now?

In terms of shape I am looking a lot into sculpture at the moment. I like artists such as Hans Arp, Barbara Hepworth, Ruth Duckworth or Brancusi who to me have perfected forms and organic shapes. In terms of materials I get influenced everywhere. It could be a new material that I want to start working with or a new combination of materials that I might want to explore.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work?

In my project Material Illusions it was all about tricking the viewers and their senses. I really enjoyed playing with people’s perceptions. Transforming the materials so far that their original aesthetic is not recognizable any more is key to my work. I hope that people remember my work for that.