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The Dutch designer’s masks and coat hooks may appear absurd, but their commercial appeal has attracted a host of admirers, from Moustache to G-Star Raw

Words Enya Moore

Bertjan Pot sits down at a sewing machine in his new Rotterdam studio, takes a spool of cord and feeds it between his fingers, turning it in a circular motion. As a potter forms clay on the wheel, Pot manipulates the yarn into a nose for an imaginary face. The wall beside him is filled with the colourful masks that first appeared in 2010 – an ongoing process. The number of drawers overflowing with yarn suggests how many Pot still makes. “I order one kilometre per colour,” he says. “I have used a lot of kilometres.

Although the masks started out as an in-house exploratory work, they resulted in a number of other projects. When fashion company G-Star Raw spotted them, it commissioned a series for its entire eyewear campaign. Carpet manufacturer Golran reacted specifically to the mask’s colours, inviting Pot to make a series of carpets. Even Pot was surprised by this: “How do they know that because I can make a pretty mask, I can make a pretty carpet?” And this year, French company Moustache has produced Pot’s range of wooden coat hooks that reference the odd faces. Oooga Booga, Frik Frak and Pierre give the clothes that hang from them a life of their own.

Pot’s playful process informs much of his work and one investigation can lead to several outcomes. “You can split ideas,” he says. “With the masks, I found a lot of companies are interested in designers’ autonomous work, as long as you can make it work for them.

But it isn’t all fun and games in the Pot studio – he is also very focused on the process. “The thing that fascinates me is production, if it is going to be possible. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I had become an artist, but I am interested in how things are realised, which is more about design than art.” The Sprinkles collection for Febrik used Dutch fabric company Innofa’s double-bed circular jacquard machine to create a wonderfully illusory textile. Having already used the machine for products such as Jumper and Lazy Bastard, Pot was well aware of its capabilities.

As with Sprinkles, Pot had a producer in mind for Come On LED’s Go!, launched at Milan this year, before it was even on paper. “A lot of people were asking for a dimmable version of Downstairs (2012). Bas den Herder of [the production house] DHPH spent a lot of time figuring out how to dim LEDs, but by the time he did, nobody was ordering it any more. He put so much effort into it that I wanted to make something else that used his research.The light, like Downstairs, is a spectacle. Will it be produced en masse? “I don’t think I would like to see it mass-produced – it’s not for everyone,” Pot says. The excitement is in finding the edition, then who is going to make it, produce it and sell it. That puzzle is the exciting part, not dominating the world with my products.

There is a saying in Dutch, ‘Ik houd de bal aan de voet,’ a football reference, which means if you keep the ball on your foot, you’re in charge and it’s up to you what you are going to do. All the things that generate money now started with a playful gesture. I think it is a better strategy for me – not to be ruled by briefs from producers. It simply means you will get better stuff if you let me do what I want”.