what is raw? head of 3d design pieter kool explains, presented by g-star raw

As the Dutch denim maestros begin to strip back the outside to reveal what’s underneath, Pieter Kool discusses his work process, the brand’s pursuit of perfect 3D design and what it is that makes G-Star RAW.

by i-D Staff
07 October 2016, 8:57am

In terms of job titles, Head of 3D Design is, all things considered, pretty cool. Currently held by the appropriately named Pieter Kool of Dutch denim maestros G-Star, it's illustrative of a company who do things a little differently; who like to scratch beneath the surface; whose new co-owner Pharrell Williams goes by the brilliantly Wonka-ish moniker of Head of Imagination, for instance.

It's this doing things differently that continues in the brand's recent autumn/winter campaign. Stepping beyond the typical, staid product shoot in favour of the people, crafts and spaces behind the company, it is a journey into the world of G-Star and the team effort that goes into it. A family portrait - plus a series of digital shorts - that seek to answer the question: "What exactly is RAW?".

A team member well placed to answer is Pieter Kool. Part of the G-Star family since his graduation project caught the company's eye back in 2004 - he was developing a G-Star Store of the Future after all - Pieter is the man behind the brand's many, non-clothing outlets, as well as its very cool, wall-free HQ in Amsterdam. As G-Star begin to strip back the outside to reveal what's underneath, we spoke to Pieter about his work process, the brand's pursuit of perfect 3D design and what it is that makes G-Star RAW.

What are your earliest memories of G-Star?
The G-Star Elwood. My best friend used to wear a first generation Elwood in 1996, with the orange heel reinforcements, and it was the bomb. It was such a completely new and uncompromised type of jeans that we all wanted one.

Can you tell us a little about what your role as Head of 3D Design entails?
My team is responsible for the design of all physical output of the brand, apart from clothing. We design all retail concepts, retail furniture, lighting systems, crossovers (like our Raw Ferry boat, the Prouvé RAW furniture crossovers etc), company interiors (we designed the entire interior of our global HQ ourselves, including office chairs, kitchens, design studios, etc) and trade fair pavilions. I'd say that is doesn't really matter what we design, the result will always originate from our concept of RAW.

How important is 3D thinking to G-Star?
We design products for people, and people are not flat pieces of paper but curved, 3D human beings; anybody taking design seriously should realise that they're designing for the real, 3D world. The classic 5-pocket jeans is just the starting point of our work. There's no use in copying and romancing something that was perhaps functional 130 years ago, without appropriating it to modern use, engineering and production techniques. Look at buildings or furniture, etc; the world has become a 3D place, and so has denim in our point of view. We never talk about 3D thinking; it's just what we're doing, just like a fish never discusses breathing in water.

Prouvé RAW Fauteuil Direction 1951

You mentioned the Prouvé RAW furniture crossovers and we noticed you're holding a Jean Prouvé book in the family portrait… What's would you say that G-Star has in common with the designer?
Prouve was super RAW. When the other, more PR-savvy, modernist designers in his time were working with chrome tubes and white, he was cleverly engineering radically new and uncompromised furniture constructions with, for example, sheet metal, using all kinds of colours. Much more true to the modernist principles, actually, since he used materials according to their inherent qualities, and not their PR value. His work truly originates from the "just the product" philosophy that G-Star aspires.

Is there a common thread between everyone in the image? What makes a typical G-Star employee?
The RAW Family Portrait tells the story of what exists beneath the surface of the brand itself: the people that make it, their craft, and the spaces they occupy. G-Star is really an assembly of outspoken characters, all adding their own interpretation of RAW to the work floor. Our building is very open and just by walking through the building you can see what everybody is up to - and you're invited to join the conversation. This principle of cross-pollination, especially between people from different crafts and backgrounds, is what we're looking for. A product engineer and a knitwear designer discussing a project will, for sure, come up with ideas that push the boundaries of what we've been doing, because of this multidisciplinary approach. There are two requirements to make this work; big ego's have no place here and you need a passion for product engineering. We're looking for the best product, not a designers' name tag on the label.

RAW Family Portrait. Meet the family here.

In what way has day to day office life changed since moving into the new headquarters? What was the main goal going into the build?
There were three goals:
Cross pollination. By creating a very open and accessible work environment, people from different teams and departments walk into each other's work and creativity is bound to infuse.
The building had to be a super flexible 'platform for change', not a solution to the program we had in 2013. This really works. The entire floor setup, from the wall and ceiling systems to the desk and chairs are made for change. We group and re-group teams all the time, all according to what the work dictates. Managers don't have offices, but sit among their teams, saving a lot of time on update meetings, and no empty offices, because managers are never at their desk anyway. This was truly a RAW, drop-your-ego step for the organization; to go super horizontal, and we're very happy with this. We really work much better this way.
The building shouldn't have an interior. We bring in so much stuff, like new collections, denim art pieces, prototypes, large test prints, etc, etc into the building, that a finished interior design would compete with all these things. Hence, the building has no colour at all on the inside, creating a podium for the stuff we're doing, instead of colliding with it. This was a very RAW statement; build a building 'without an interior'.

"We made a building with no walls." Pieter Kool, Head of 3D Design. With G-Star since 2004.

In what way has your background in engineering influenced your work there?
In essence, we're not about selling a dream of youth, sex, etc, we're about designing the perfect product. "Just the product", we always say. It's up to the user to give personality, meaning and identity to it. This is what we call RAW. We create, just the raw, canvas, the user is the painter. This functional, product focused RAW mentality really resonates with the engineering spirit; engineering is about solving complicated problems and it can be quite hardcore technical at times. But then, any product that appears to be logical and simple, is the result of many hours of crafting, trying and testing, to make it this intuitive. What fascinates me is the aesthetics that follow from this engineered approach to design. While a pair of jeans, of a store interior, can be based on purely technical principles and details, the end result can be human, intuitive, beautiful and fun.

What would you say your proudest or biggest achievement has been?
Our HQ was a very special project. It's a total design, completely focused on our flow of operations, including building and everything in it. It was great to redefine ourselves through this. But, there are also small projects that I'm very proud of; we made imprints in our 3D denim models in concrete. Concrete has the quality of exactly copying the texture of the mold. In this case, the concrete had the exact same structure as denim. This was a very nice representation of RAW.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to have a career in design?
Work together with people that you don't understand - or not their craft at least - and sweat it out until you're a good team; our multidisciplinary approach teaches me that if you bring people from different crafts together, and set out with a common goal, all kinds of wonderful things are bound to happen.

Finally… What does the future of G-Star look like?
Somehow it feels like the future is already here. It's what we have been doing, are doing and will be doing. There are so many projects to work on and there is so much depth in RAW, that we'll continue to explore this defining thing about us. And needless to say you can expect a lot of cool stuff under the lead of Pharrell Williams!

g-star raw