Bathroom Design Week

Design meets fashion. And, for once, in a good way. The super-brand Kartell by Laufen bathroom collection gets a new set of clothes…

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Celebrated fashion photographer Hugo Comte's new campaign for the latest iteration of Kartell by Laufen sees a collection of models get up close and personal with the bathroom collection

It's more than a little bit ironic.

I've been banging on for years now about how design isn't, or, rather, shouldn't, be about fashion, for all sorts of reasons, chief among them sustainability. And now I'm about to tell you about a fashion intervention in industrial design and, what's more, tell you that I think it's A Good Thing.

It's been a fair few years since I first wrote about the canny union of two design-brand heavyweights, the Swiss bathroom experts Laufen and the Italian plastic-furniture alchemists Kartell in their literally named ‘Kartell by Laufen’ joint collection. It’s a meeting of two contrasting design languages – both underpinned by a commitment to a rigorous, research-led industrial-design approach – which, in their difference, complement and amplify each other in a case of ‘one plus one equals three’: the opacity, robustness and permanence of Laufen's materially innovative sanitaryware on the one hand, and the visual and physical lightness of Kartell's translucent, moveable elements on the other. In short, an optical and haptic marriage with indisputable pedigree credentials.

Kartell by Laufen unites the opaque robustness of the Swiss bathroom experts' materially innovative sanitaryware with the visual lightness and transparency of the Italian plastic specialists' reconfigurable products

Gonna dress you up: Kartell by Laufen | News

Kartell by Laufen unites the opaque robustness of the Swiss bathroom experts' materially innovative sanitaryware with the visual lightness and transparency of the Italian plastic specialists' reconfigurable products

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The fact that the collection has endured is testament to the fact that it’s no cynical marketing exercise. Indeed, Kartell by Laufen’s market success, since it was first launched in 2013, can be attributed to two things: its proposition as a comprehensive system, one that, with its array of non-fixed furnishing elements, can be reconfigured over time, according to both utilitarian and aesthetic need and preference. The second, its development as a timeless concept that deploys trend-eschewing rational forms and expertly finished, forever materials. (You may have noticed that I’m a bit of a fan.)

So, fashion this definitely isn’t. And yet.


‘Kartell by Laufen’ is a meeting of two contrasting design languages which, in their difference, complement and amplify each other in a case of ‘one plus one equals three’


When it came to creating a new campaign for the collection – which, in 2021, sees the introduction of new colours, finishes and products, the manufacturers turned to Belgian image-maker Hugo Comte, known for his ultra-editorial, super-saturated, sensual fashion photography.

Too cool for school, but not for the bathroom. Fashion photographer Hugo Comte's imagery underscores the haptic, emotional value of good design, a counterpoint to the increasingly digital, virtual times in which we live

Gonna dress you up: Kartell by Laufen | News

Too cool for school, but not for the bathroom. Fashion photographer Hugo Comte's imagery underscores the haptic, emotional value of good design, a counterpoint to the increasingly digital, virtual times in which we live

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His signature idiom – highly contemporary and somewhat nostalgic à la fois – has been applied to the creation of a suite of short films, among other elements, that act as a neat counterpoint to the still-life, more architectural set of pictures German photographer Oliver Helbig was asked to create in parallel. While Helbig’s visuals offer up a perfect synchronic slice of time, a precise and exact moment that captures Kartell by Laufen in all its beautifully composed glory, Comte’s clips are diachronic, expressive narratives, full of movement, sound and, of course, strikingly otherworldly models. Have a look for yourselves. For me, there’s more than a touch of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point about them, if you’re searching for a reference.


Acquire, develop an emotional attachment, and keep forever is the message here


Utilising the discourse of fashion works well here, I’m going to argue. Because what we witness this crowd of too-cool-for-school young ones in fact doing is interacting with the products’ tactile, analogue physicality. Held, cradled and huddled around as if a source of warmth and energy, the Kartell by Laufen pieces become the welcome antithesis of an overwhelming, dislocating, intangible digital culture in which we increasingly live. Acquire, develop an emotional attachment, and keep forever is the message here.

Fellow photographer Oliver Helbig was also commissioned to develop a concept: in this case, a series of super-styled still lives, which emphasise the products' architectural, systematic quality

Gonna dress you up: Kartell by Laufen | News

Fellow photographer Oliver Helbig was also commissioned to develop a concept: in this case, a series of super-styled still lives, which emphasise the products' architectural, systematic quality

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Naturally, demographics are shifting all the time, and the campaign also serves to address a younger generation of specifiers and consumers, with the invitation to mix and match, to curate the bathroom space as you like a particular incentive. Plus the ability, as city-dwelling becomes an ever-smaller affair, to plan for tighter spaces.

Fashion might just be back in fashion when it comes to serious design.

New colour options and finishes for both the sanitaryware and the accessories are available for 2021, as well as new products – the Only Me mirror by Philippe Starck and the All Saints mirror, both available in different sizes and, of course, hues

Gonna dress you up: Kartell by Laufen | News

New colour options and finishes for both the sanitaryware and the accessories are available for 2021, as well as new products – the Only Me mirror by Philippe Starck and the All Saints mirror, both available in different sizes and, of course, hues

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