HEAVY DUTY DESIGN
CITIZENS of Honour
Designers and brothers Daniel and Markus Freitag make high quality accessories using recycled truck tarpaulin. After making their debut at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and building a reputation the world over, these two Swiss pioneers are on the trail of Europe's heavy goods vehicles.
Daniel & Markus freitag In 7 dates
1971 Markus is born.
1972 Daniel is born.
1993 They create ‘F13 Top Cat’, their first messenger bag, from recycled truck tarpaulin; it remains their best-selling item.
2003 Their original model becomes part of the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
2006 The Freitag tower is built: a stack of shipping containers which houses their flagship store.
2010 Their seasonal collection, ‘Freitag Reference’, is launched.
2011 Due to lack of space they relocate to bigger factory premises of 7500 m².
SOME CITIES ARE VAIN BEYOND BELIEF. THE SPLENDOURS OF PARIS, NEW YORK, LONDON OR ROME CAN SOMETIMES COME ACROSS MORE AS DISPLAYS OF STRENGTH, ALMOST REDUCING THEIR BEAUTY TO A CRUEL, POWERFUL SEDUCTION. Other cities, such as Zurich, greet visitors with a vulnerable innocence: any pretensions are as fragile and translucent as tracing paper. Such cities can be caught by surprise, with disarming naivety. Progress is made without posturing, unaffected by onlookers. Zurich has never tried to follow trends. Rather than seeking to move with the fickle humours of ever-marching time, the city has wisely waited its turn, its cityscape rarely contributing to the experiments of modernity. There have admittedly been several beautiful architectural imports – the French Belle Époque, Italian neo-baroque and German Bauhaus – but their austere appearance brings to mind an exotic plant struggling to acclimatise to the rarefied atmosphere of the high mountains. Yet today’s world fits Zurich like a glove: in this post-industrial, ecological, conservative era, the lack of affectation and the frugality of the city can be perceived as a welcome soberness. Amidst the uncertainty of the economic crisis, profligate humanity will need to rediscover this purifying simplicity.
Daniel and Markus Freitag are old hands at making a virtue of necessity, and in their way, they embody the Swiss mindset whose genius lies in its incredible economy of means. These masters of design have built a career on a variation of the messenger bag, the ubiquitous satchel slung over every postman’s shoulder the world over. But the reinvention of this cult item lies less in the success of design than in the Freitag brothers’ choice of material. Their design was to go down in the history of luxury accessories, as did the saddlery of Hermès, Louis Vuitton’s luggage or Gucci’s leather goods, in days gone by. The concept, which the two brothers came up with nearly twenty years ago while still graphic arts students, is truly visionary: looking for a case to protect their designs, they created a bag made from the tarpaulin of a curtain-sided truck lined with bicycle inner tube, using a seatbelt for the strap. Not only were these materials readily available for very small sums, the main ingredient also combined the hard-wearing, waterproof qualities of rubber, the resilient colours of plastic and the texture of quality leather. It came with a lifetime guarantee and any tears were easily sealed using a touch of coloured resin... The Freitag brothers had just invented elegant recycling, bringing new life to the residue of the road – as a useful and decorative, practical and desirable cult object.
GETTING THEIR HANDS DIRTY
New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recognised this masterpiece by including the brothers’ first creation (which has since been named the “F13 Top Cat”) in their permanent collection. The Museum of Design Zurich also recently ran an exhibition on the two young heroes of Swiss visual identity. After all, the bags breathe life into recycled materials, stitched together with white thread with a care which prevents them from looking like a patchwork of cold meat or Frankenstein’s monster. Each year, around 400 tonnes of tarpaulin are painstakingly cut by hand, with the skill of a butcher carving his prime cuts. It takes a real understanding of graphics to know when to cut through the middle of an emblem or how to choose the most significant letters or twist the meaning of a fragment of a logo... and these are the elements which make each bag a unique work of art. The tarpaulin itself is not chosen at random. Truck tarpaulin is considered the most durable and exhibits the most interesting wear and tear after it has been exposed to the elements for five to seven years. This finish lends the material a more natural appearance than the faux-worn look of stone-washed jeans and proves that it truly is used canvas, without which the bags would just be yet another greenwashed product. The production line operates a just-in-time system, keeping pace with the arrival of materials. The biggest problem with these spontaneous deliveries lies in their excessive uniformity (lots of blue, red and off-white); to flesh out the palette a little, teams are sent out to motorway toll stations around Europe in search of rare colours (like black, which hauliers avoid because of its heat-absorbing tendencies). The style offices of the factory are a sight to behold, strewn with periodicals specialising in heavy goods vehicles and young designers returning from some arty café ready to get their hands dirty working with the latest highway trends.
ODDS AND ENDS
The Freitag brothers have already developed around fifty prototypes which are split into two categories: a masculine range which makes use of the prints on the tarpaulin, and a more classic range with block colours that allow the quality of the exotic material to shine through. The former line conveys the rugged charm of rust and deindustrialisation, the latter a purity somewhere between leather and mineral. Offcuts are used to make wallets or mobile phone cases, and any leftovers can be recycled once the PVC and polyester have been separated. The whole enterprise works as a large-scale salvage operation. Behind the raw concrete walls and shining metal doors of the factory, 4 million litres of rainwater are harvested and filtered every year. Even before moving to this site - which would not look out of place in Silicon Valley - the factory was housed in a pyramid of seventeen containers stacked up alongside train tracks. This skyscraper of odds and ends is now the brand’s flagship store (it has eight other outlet stores under the same name in Zurich, Davos, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, New York and Tokyo). It is also Zurich’s most interesting building, and was probably its highest tower before the nearby construction of a mirrored glass monolith suddenly dwarfed it by comparison. Most importantly, the Freitag tower managed to single-handedly transform the drab appearance of this neglected part of town, which has now become one of the most sophisticated areas of the city. All it took was juxtaposing one colour against another for a new perspective. Successful recycling is all about transforming appearances, just as the same landscape looks different when accompanied by electronic music rather than an aria... The brothers are today’s great transformers.
Production Sandrine Giacobetti Text Julien Bouré Photography Jean-Claude Amiel