Few of today’s carpet designers can claim to have a more recognisably individual style than Jan Kath. But the Bochum-born innovator says that his distinctive way with textiles was acquired over time rather than with him from the start. ‘My handwriting had a good twenty-five years to slowly develop and refine itself,’ he tells us. ‘I get inspired by an almost infinite archive from our common industry. I dedicate myself to different periods of carpet culture and develop a variety of contemporary designs and structures at the same time. These often completely disparate compositions can be married—like in a huge modular construction system.’
Kath cites the ‘layering’ technique used in Photoshop software as a further comparison to explain his method of combining influences. One example is the celebrated Erased Heritage collection, which he says ‘appear ultra conservative and yet are at the same time absolutely contemporary’. He stresses the value of being able to draw on an understanding of textile history, ‘in theory and practice. I’m not saying that you can’t create interesting designs without a deep knowledge of carpet tradition, but a carpet is more than a “flat surface”. There is more to a successful carpet design than just a good graphic performance—rather the designs go hand in hand with technique and material.’
When your work becomes as internationally well-known and admired as Kath’s is, having a signature style starts to create its own complications. ‘Our ideas have frequently become a trend in recent years—and often we have simply been copied,’ he admits bluntly. ‘But I believe that the essence of our design language, in combination with quality, always imparts a strong charisma that cannot be replicated by single, copied pieces that flood the market with inferior quality.’
But it must surely be difficult to stay fresh and continue to cut an individual profile in such circumstances? If so, Kath obviously relishes the challenge. ‘One could also say that the constant commercialisation of our ideas is permanently spurring the team and myself to get even better and to develop new concepts.’
Perhaps the relationship between Kath and those around him in the company is, ultimately, the key element in preserving his signature. ‘I personally am intensively involved in all steps from the birth of the idea, the storytelling, to the final finishing,’ he says, adding: ‘Sometimes, maybe, too intensively. No matter in which province we knot our carpets—be it in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, in Boudha, Kathmandu or in the villages around Agra—uncompromising quality is the basis of everything. The relationship with our weavers in the local factories is a very close and familiar one. Because only when the synergy is right is one able to produce products whose soul is tied into every knot.’
‘A Family Affair’, Jan Kath’s annual event at the company headquarters in Bochum, Germany, will take place from January to March 2021, and is a chance to view Kath’s signature collections. Buyers, designers and journalists wishing to attend are invited to fill out a request form. If you are unable to attend in person, schedule a live video call via Zoom to visit the event virtually, view a newly made film and join a curated tour of Kath’s new collections with a member of the Jan Kath team.