from instagram to off white, we deep dive into fashion’s obsession with ikea

As Virgil Abloh becomes the latest designer to reimagine the FRAKTA bag, we look back on fashion’s fication with the Swedish company.

by Wendy Syfret
08 June 2017, 2:55am

It's hard to say where the connection between fashion people and IKEA began. Considering the ongoing conversation around people in creative industries being consistently underpaid, it's very possible that many of today's brightest style innovators once decorated their small apartments with the Swedish brand's budget offerings. Maybe, surrounded by Allen keys and bright blue plastic carry bags, something took root in their minds. Whatever the genesis point, there's no denying that in 2017 fashion is obsessed.

This week saw Off-White's Virgil Abloh offer his take on their FRAKTA bag. You know the one, it's huge and blue but you can never quite fit your flat-packed side table into it. Under Virgil's gaze it appears as a brown cardboard version of itself with the word "sculpture" scrawled on the side.

In a statement the Off White designer explained: "IKEA provides a landscape — fertile soil for new ideas and concepts. My duty then, is to provide something provocative. Given how tremendous this opportunity is, I'm not content to make another chair. I love working with the best in class of any genre. IKEA is a brand that spans generations — that stands for something. To give this collection a young approach and pay respect to that DNA is my goal." 

It isn't the first time the brand has collaborated with a progressive fashion identity. They regularly work with designers, the most notable effort being with Walter Van Beirendonck in 2016. The Antwerp Six legend went a bit further than swapping plastic for paper. He designed a number of prints to appear across a range of fabrics and furnishings. At the time he explained his inspiration for the range: "I came up with a story about characters living in the clouds and the sun and the moon, [who] are very sad because there's so much going wrong in the world and they're crying and big tears are falling down and the clouds get big holes … and the cloud people really started to panic, 'What's going on? Our clouds are broken!'"

Of course, you can't begin to approach this theme without also mentioning Balenciaga's own unexpected homage to the aforementioned FRAKTA earlier this year. Reimagined in leather — and for $2,145 — the bag made headlines around the world and sparked a conversation about our evolving ideas around luxury and self aware reflection on counterfeiting. IKEA were quick to make it clear they 'get it' in a statement to the Today Show. They said they were "deeply flattered" by the imitation, lating poked fun of the facsimile on their site, with a subtle reference to the "original" IKEA FRANKA bag. 

Without an intellectual property lawsuit in sight, they opened the gates to other reworkings of their products. The move not only made them look like good sports, but also delivered wave after wave of organic advertising as individuals shared images of their own attempts to rework the bag. Although the reality was no one needed their permission: fashion kids had been messing with IKEA products for years. While the FRANKA thong, face mask and cap were among the countless remakes that made the round last month, the brand has always been seen as fair DIY game. 

Australian designer Alexandra Hackett has been messing with their products since she was a student at RMIT. Many of her design — wallets, bucket hats — that were shared in the latest post-Balenciaga rush were actually created as early as 2013. They existed within a larger, ongoing body of work that has seen her remake products from Nike and McDonalds alongside repurposing shipping labels, receipts, security tags, Chux wipes and even banana skins in an exploration of waste, recycling and our connection to logos and brands.

This underground, intellectual, and long running trend is arguably also responsible for elevating the brand online to something beyond the providers of your first double bed. It's also helped entice the likes of Virgil and Kanye West — the latter's fixation saw him express an interest in collaborating last year to create stylish and affordable products for young people. The situation was, of course, brought full circle by the artful, and unofficial, invention of IKEA branded Yeezys. A move that stressed the most pressing point of all: Say what you will for the place of industry leading names, our favourite collaborators are still smartass kids on instagram.


Text Wendy Syfret
Thumbnail image via Alexandra Hackett

Virgil Abloh
Walter Van Beirendonck
alexandra hackett