Pia Wallén, who was born in Umeå, Sweden, and now lives and works in Stockholm, creates bold, minimalist objects from her signature wool-felted materials.
Wallén, who studied fashion design at the Beckman’s College of Design in Stockholm in the mid eighties, made an international breakthrough with her own namesake brand in the early nineties. Over the years, she has collaborated with IKEA and brands such as the Swedish design label Asplund and Italian leather manufacturers Arte & Cuoio.
Inspired by traditional Swedish folk craft techniques and patterns, her bold, minimalist designs also have a dramatic modern edge. This juxtaposition of ancestral craftsmanship and her unmistakeable, contemporary—yes, futuristic—designs have become Wallén’s trademark.
Her already iconic work is displayed in the permanent collections of Sweden’s National Museum of Fine Arts, the Röhsska Museum for Design, Fashion and Decorative Arts in Gothenburg, and the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Cologne, Germany. She has participated in exhibitions around the globe, including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Victoria & Albert in London.
One our favorite Pia Wallén designs at Alpine Modern is the Crux Blanket, which the designer designates her “icon.” In Swedish folk art tradition, the cross (crux in Latin) is a strong symbol for hope, a meeting point of heaven and earth, plus, the designer says German artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) was also an influence. Introduced in 1991, the Crux Blanket has meanwhile become a classic in contemporary Swedish design history. Fostering mutually meaningful and lasting relationships with her manufacturers is very important to Pia Wallén. The original blanket is still produced by the same small family weavers in southern Sweden, using the finest wool and traditional Scandinavian felting methods.
The traditional weaving and felting process takes time, which is why supply of the handcrafted wool object is limited. Thus, Pia Wallén has introduced a new version of her treasured paragon: the new Cross Blanket in pure organic cotton, produced in collaboration with a Swedish company that manufactures in Peru.
We recently caught up with the designer to talk about her brand, her inspirations, and about life.
A conversation with Swedish designer Pia Wallén
What is your vision for the brand that bears your name?
My ambition is to create a deeper meaning, content, sympathy, and respect in the relation between the object and the user.
Your collections include accessories, jewelry, and interior objects. How do you decide what products to make?
It’s a combination of fulfilling my personal needs, ideas, and a curiosity for developing my new products as well as my old ones. It’s a lot like researching. It’s important for me to find and develop a good relationship with my manufacturers, and together with them create new techniques and products.
Your recent lines of accessories and jewellery have joined objects that combine felt, metal, leather, lacquer, plastic, and other materials in striking new ways. How do you choose and source your exquisite materials?
I’ve specialised in wool-felted materials and that is the main material throughout my collections. I’m inspired by materials from different cultures as well as by new, futuristic materials.
What does quiet design mean to you?
Quiet design is discrete and anonymous.
What’s your legacy (thus far)?
That my designs are objects to like, to sympathize and share a life with. My classic objects, like the Slippers and the Crux Blanket, have been in the collection for over 20 years, and I hope for many years to come.
What’s your favorite place in the world?
Paris, it’s like a second home for me.
What does “home” mean to you?
Home is where I nourish.
What’s most important to you in life?
Love and health.
When are you happiest?
When I exceed the expectation of my creations.
Who is your design icon, and what do you admire about her or him?
The artist Eva Hesse, for her work and life—a pioneer for female art. And also the artist Meret Oppenheim; she has influenced some of my work.
What are you working on these days?
Currently, I am working with the exhibition “Shapes of Fashion—Nordic Artwear” for the Textile Museum in the south of Sweden. It’s a continued work of my Capes Project, which started in 2015. △