”Do you judge a magazine by its cover or its content?”

Bless begins with a beautiful story: In 1996, the entirely unknown fashion label of sorts announced its existence to the world via an advertisement in the British style bible i-D, offering a – fur wig. Maybe naively expecting the world to take notice, the phone ended up ringing just once, but as it happens, it turned out to be a call from Paris. A few months later, all models for Maison Martin Margiela’s Autumn / Winter 1997 collection ended up wearing fur wigs on the catwalk. The fashion world took notice, and Bless got the attention it had hoped for, after all.

But maybe more important than the surrounding story is the ambiguity of the fur wigs as such – a reimagining of a wig as a hat, or vice versa – that would become a sort of signature of Bless to this very day. Since then, Bless has been firmly in between: in between fashion and product design, in between fine art and commerce, in between Paris and Berlin, in between the practical and the outright bizarre.

It’s a duality that can be traced through all their projects, collections and ideas down to the very core of the label: Bless is at heart the result of a friendship between its two founders, Desiree Heiss and Ines Kaag. Both had studied fashion – in Vienna and Hannover, respectively – live and work in different cities – Paris and Berlin, respectively – and met each other by chance. They shared similar views on work and the world, soon decided to share their ideas, and so Bless was born on the spur of the moment.

Bless’s trajectory resembles a straight zigzag line. Constantly oscillating between fashion collections, design products and exhibitions, their output is vast and vastly different, often more than a little bewildering and at times even amusing – as well as continuously and refreshingly unconventional. Seen from afar and as a whole, however, it is surprisingly coherent.

To select a few random examples from an infinite stream of ideas: pearls and braids to embellish your household cables and extensions (N°26 Cable Jewellery), hand-knitted leather shoes (N°16 Shoe Escorts), desks and shelves suspended like mobiles from the ceiling (N°22 Perpetual Home Motion Machines), chairs with integrated vacuum cleaners (N°17 Design Relativators), a workout computer that quite literally turns your computer into a personal exercise machine (N°40 Whatwasitagain), a ‘workbed’ table whose surface can be flipped over, transforming it into a bed (N°33 Artistcare) or, a personal favourite, a series of oversized hammocks customized with fur or piles of cushions (N°28 Climate Confusion Assistance). The list goes on and on and on.

What might at first appear deliriously confusing and sometimes downright absurd is, in fact, connected by a consistent train of thought: a permanent questioning and re-thinking of our world, an almost childish imagination, wondering why things are what they are and couldn’t they be otherwise or even better? Underneath each of Bless’s 43 projects to date lies a persistent echo of what ifs and why nots and wouldn’t it be great ifs.

It should be stressed, however, that Bless is not a subsidized arts project, detached from commercial realities. It is a fully functional, if smallish, business with its regular infrastructure of suppliers and outlets, as well as frequent collaborations with larger companies. And maybe this is the most admirable aspect of all: that a company like Bless, with all its fantastic and fantastical products, can be subject to an often volatile market such as the fashion industry and survive financially, and with integrity. It might be easy to overlook, but Bless is also a pragmatic undertaking: All objects and items serve a specific, if at times unexpected, purpose and are made with an almost obsessive perfectionism. They work.

This relentless examination of and experimentation with the status quo extends beyond their products to the entire scope of their activities. One of the very few German fashion brands to be included in the official schedule for Paris Fashion Week, their presentations are reminiscent of art happenings rather than regular fashion shows, using only friends and acquaintances as models and casually creating a welcoming and intimate atmosphere. Invitations to exhibit, on the other hand, are often met with temporary stores set up in museum spaces (and introducing the idea of a guerrilla store long before Comme des Garçons, it should be noted). Instead of catalogues or lookbooks, independent magazines, such as mono.kultur for this issue, are being hijacked to present their collections in a different context from season to season. Bless’s curiosity is applied generously to every detail – even down to this interview, where they continuously reverse the role between who is asking the questions and giving the answers.

All in all, Bless is more than just a fashion label or a design studio or even an artists’ initiative, more than a set of clothes or products. It is a train of thought and ideas applied to the everyday, and quite beautifully so. It is a practice of light-heartedly embracing friction and renegotiating certitudes.

All the different sides to Bless are expressed nowhere more casually and elegantly than in their recently opened Berlin store: Located in Ines Kaag’s former apartment, it has maintained the charm and intimacy of a private flat (and is actually being lived in by the ‘store manager’), with the difference that the clothes in the closet happen to be designed by Bless, as are the bed sheets or the mobile furniture or the fur hammock, blending seamlessly into a general living environment with all its daily clutter, while effortlessly creating a sort of personal and mundane experience of the Bless world. The impression one is left with is more than just pleasant; it’s desirable and absolutely convincing. All of a sudden, Bless makes perfect sense.

And now wouldn’t it be great if you could even…? Well, yes. It would, wouldn’t it?

Interview by Adriano Sack
Introduction by Kai von Rabenau
Artwork Courtesy of Bless
Design by Manuel Raeder

Read the interview in issue #28 of mono.kultur, available from selected shops. You can also order directly from us via our online store mono.konsum.