Could you briefly describe who you are, where you are from and why you became a designer?
My name is Beatrice Waanders and I graduated from the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam where I studied Interior Architecture and Design. I worked as an interior architect for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where I furnished the Dutch embassies, but I was increasingly drawn to making my own designs and to do something with my fascination for materials. I experimented with various materials, but following a felt-making course, I was completely sold on it. We have a pied-a-terre in a farm in Drenthe, where I discovered the herds of sheep and all the exceptional types of sheep that are farmed there by hobby farmers. My love of wool, felt and sheep has grown organically into my current work.
Your work we shared last month on the DDW Instagram caused some commotion. Some people think that your work goes hand in hand with animal cruelty. We would like to get rid of this misconception, so could you explain how the project HAPPY SHEEP came about?
Sometimes there is commotion about my work because people think that it is unkind to animals, but the opposite is true. There is very little knowledge about local sheep wool, and I have made it my mission to improve this situation. My wool comes from sheep from natural grazing projects set up by Natuurmonumenten or Staatsbosbeheer (the Dutch countryside and forestry commissions). The sheep live a wonderful life among the heathers and the wool is not the objective, but a by-product. Sheep are not slaughtered for their wool; they are sheared once a year just like dogs are trimmed or people have haircuts.
HAPPY SHEEP is a series of rugs with colour stamps from the ram still in the wool. These parts of the fleeces are usually discarded because they are not suitable for dying. I think that these colour stamps are a natural part of sheep husbandry and that is why I give them a prominent role in the design. A sustainable advantage is that the wool does not need to be dyed for a colourful result.
Your company is called The Soft World and you only (or mostly) work with felt as a raw material. Why is that?
I really wanted to create a soft world with my label. Sheep are friendly animals and wool is a by-product that originates from natural projects that help improve flora and fauna, the line from shepherd to product is very short and the shepherd receives a fair price. I do not dye the wool and we make the felt by hand without using machines or chemicals. Additionally, I work with clients from the Pameijer Stichting in Rotterdam diagnosed with a mental disability. They can earn an income and their talents are utilized. So apart from the wool literally being soft, the entire process is too.
My fascination with felt is partly woven through the entire process with animals, nature and cultural heritage that lends my work many layers. This, I believe, makes it a product to love and keep close to you for a lifetime. It is the opposite of contemporary mass production in which product content and origin are difficult to trace and that we tend to replace with something new, with the disastrous consequences for our environment.
If, just once, you had to work with a material other than wool or felt. Which material would you choose?
That would definitely be another natural material, and then I think literally of flowers and plants. Strikingly, I often work with flower artists like Zomers in Rotterdam, Menno Kroon and Oogenlust. It is the reorganisation of nature and its natural beauty that fascinates me.
On your website you open with 100% felt for architecture. What do you mean by this?
Through the current use of hard materials and a preference for open spaces in architecture, there is a demand for acoustic solutions and for warmth too. Wool has so many benefits for architecture, including improvement of acoustics, interior climate through the use and deterioration of air pollution, fire retardance and it is easy on the eyes too due to its soft and natural characteristics. Felt does not compete with the architecture, but often interacts interestingly.
As well as using felt for architecture, you present your felt works at art, fashion and design events. How would you classify your work?
Felt is such a versatile material that you can use it for all sorts of art disciplines. Basically, I am a felt artist and I find it really interesting to collaborate in different directions. But most of my work comprises autonomous feltworks in which I can express my own feelings about beauty.
Your work is on show globally, at trade exhibitions, on catwalks and in galleries in Amsterdam, Tokyo, Paris, and Milan. You even dressed Rihanna for the cover of W-Magazine and worked with John Galliano. How did you acquire this international fame?
I already worked internationally for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so it seemed logical to me to present internationally from the start. Over ten years ago, I exhibited at the international interior fair Maison & Objet in Paris where smaller Dutch designers never presented independently, but that was really useful in acquiring an international customer base.
What is the most special or remarkable work you have ever made or designed?
There are a few. Of course, I thought the collaborations with John Galliano for Maison Margiela and for the singer Rihanna were fantastic. More so because Galliano wanted to dye the wool, but I insisted that I would only work with undyed wool and he agreed to this. For the art festival Route du Nord, in Rotterdam, I made a felt yurt from human hair. The idea was to literally merge the DNA from all the cultures that live together in the neighbourhood Oude Noorden, in Rotterdam, into an overarching and protective tent, symbolising the neighbourhood. I also suspended a felt work 70 metres in length, 50 metres off the ground in the city hall in The Hague, made of wool from the flock of sheep in the Hague sand dunes, the idea was to bring this nature into the city to inspire city dwellers to spend time in nature.
If you were able to choose anyone in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist or someone else), who would that be and why?
Do you have a while? I am an admirer of the performance artist Marina Abramovic. I would love to felt-in Marina as a performance. The suit that would result from this could be exhibited afterwards. I would also like to wrap a piece of nature in felt with Christo to prevent trees from being cut down. And I am sure that with our Dutch nature artist Herman de Vries a beautiful project could be dreamt up on location. I’m going to be busy!
Do you have any news you would like to share with the DDW community?
My HAPPY SHEEP project is only just getting started and I am far from finished with it. The latest designs with the ram’s colour stamps can be seen during the coming edition of OBJECT during Art Rotterdam Week next month in Rotterdam.
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