Interview: Jan Kath
We speak with the rock star of the rug world (no joke).
Jan Kath's carpet creations challenge the assumption that rugs are boring and only interesting to your parents. He's known as the rock star of the rug world (no joke) and his designs are to carpet what Ksubi is to fashion: edgy, for lack of a better word, on-trend, notorious and at times quite controversial. Born in Berlin, Jan comes from a family of carpet dealers and as a child would visit rug makers in Iran and Nepal. While traveling through Asia and the Middle East in his twenties, Jan witnessed and adapted the traditional techniques of these cultures and has woven them (pun intended) into his own practice, which is completely contemporary.
The Tagged collection, for example, is postmodern in its leaning, taking a traditional design and then mixing it with graffiti writing, while the Erased Heritage collection employs his signature 'eroded' effect that makes it seem like these oriental rugs are actually decaying. From Russia With Love makes use of an overstated floral motif and fluorescent colours, whereas the Sliced series picks up on the current fascination with mineral specimens and agate slices (totes Tumblr). It's easy to see why his award-winning designs have been exhibited at numerous museums, such as the Frankfurt Museum of Applied Art, and have been included in international showcases like the Beijing International Design Triennial.
Jan is currently in the country to unveil one of his latest collections as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations taking place for prestigious Australian rug experts the Cadry Family. We caught up with the rug rebel and spoke about how much he is informed by fashion and Anthony Kiedis' house.
Ingrid Kesa: You're known as a trend setter in interior design. What is the most impressive house or living space you have ever seen?
Jan Kath: The Hawaiian home owned by Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It's an isolated villa on a cliff on this hidden island with a jungle as the backyard and the ocean at the front. Anthony called me and custom ordered some rugs from my Roman Vendetta collection. It was such an amazing place – exactly my taste. I have been to some of the most impressive homes, and even palaces, around the world but personally this was so special. I would love to live there.
How do you combine both modern and traditional techniques?
Probably my new Tagged Collection is the best example of this and has resulted in me winning the Domitex international award for Best Innovation. This collection combines centuries-old knotting techniques with modern hand-tufting technology.
The result is a whole new look with a classical handwoven rug which looks like an antique which is then tufted with graffiti which looks like silk is bubbling out of the background bearing slogans such as "Make Rugs Not War" and "Sex Rugs and Rock 'n' Roll." Normally rugs are either hand woven or tufted so this technique combines to create a brand new genre with the traditional carpet acting as the canvas and the tufting as the paint so it is like a work of art.
Can you tell us a little about your from Russia With Love Collection?
I was initially inspired to create this series after seeing the many amazing floral rugs that were so popular with the Russian Aristocracy who were obsessed with everything French and had rugs created in Persia to compliment their French furnishings. A few years ago I was in New York in a Russian restaurant drinking lots of vodka and I noticed the embroidery on their table cloths and napkins so I decided to contemporise these designs and create a range of rugs in traditional floral patterns as well as some my trademark distressed effects, even slashes or large blobs of paint on the carpet. It's such a departure from what I normally do which has been so well received we are having trouble keeping up with the orders as each rug is unique and takes at least three months to hand weave.
In a fashion sense, the neon colours, ombre, tie dye and acid wash effects that you use in your work are very on-trend and look like they could translate into garments. How much does fashion influence your work?
Fashion does influence me but I am always trying to feel a trend a couple of years ahead. Creating for clients I am also constantly talking to designers and architects. I introduced the world to erased classics and since then every trend I start is copied so I have to keep being ahead by setting the trends myself – I never follow.
What is your own house like?
Very minimal. German lifestyle brand e15 is one of my favourites so I have a neon red chair and lamp and a large leather Baxter sofa and walnut furnishings on metal frames in my Berlin apartment. The look is very modern but also timeless.