June 2023
︎︎︎Published in The Plant #19

Years, moment, Ohyescoolgreat


Bless N°05 is not a product - it is an opportunity.
It is an invitation from BLESS to customers with a critical outlook on taste and fashion. The BLESS N° 05 is a test of the conviction of BLESS customers to the fashion form that BLESS pioneers. It gives the chance through investment into the future design of BLESS to prove relevance of trust and the faith of customers. Here is the chance to participate in the creation of a new phase of design and to enable the development of new products. The goal is to achieve a partnership with customers which enables both parties to feel a sense of achievement at each new product that is created through this process. The pre-financing through subscription helps BLESS maintain it's freedom. Through this freedom one can concentrate on the essentials. The customer also benefits from this new interpretation of the coulture idea in the meaning of a special service. The offer is strictly limited and intentionally so to allow direct contact with the participating members to encourage and contribute to the interaction between BLESS and it's customers. The offer is a purchasable right to be part of the "trust partnership" and is valid for one year. This entitles the member to certain inalienable rights which are: • Special services, as i.e. the choice of a personel limited-number. • Exclusive delivery (before the general public) • Special conditions for the BLESS advanced line and other special products • Cost savings on BLESS products • Laid back consumption __ The cost od participating in the BLESS "trust partnership" is DM 1000.-, which means to receive the next 4 BLESS products free. __ subscribe BLESS / abonnez- BLESS / abonniere BLESS / pay once 1000,- DM and get the next 4 BLESS products, relax for 1 year. For subscribtions call: BLESS Paris +33 1 48 01 67 43 • BLESS Berlin +49 30 44 01 01 00 • BLESS GbR Kaag/Heiss ∞ Oderberger Strasse 60, 10435 Berlin, Germany * Bankverbindung/ Relation banquaire/ Bank Account: BLESS GbR Kaag / Heiss ™ Dresdener Bank, Berlin (Bereich 262) • BLZ / Code etablissement: 120 800 00 • Konto / Numero de compte: 40 486 036 00 M•&-**/ FOR INFORMATIONS CALL: PRESS PARIS +33-1-42 01 5100 • pressing@wanadoo.fr • PRESS MILANO +39-02-58 10 55 20 • fsoncini@planet.it www.bless-service.de blessparis@wanadoo.fr blessberlin@csi.com

    • BLESS N°05 Subscribe BLESS (1998)

BLESS is best explored as a speculative project for a different kind of fashion making. The creative platform established 26 years ago by designers Desiree Heiss and Ines Kaag sits directly within (or outside of) all of the creative disciplines and resists formal categorisation. BLESS products are rigorous, fantastic, poetic, spiritual and sometimes, joyfully odd.

Formally trained in fashion, both Heiss and Kaag were suspicious of the discipline’s glittery veneer from the start. The period in which they met – the early 1990s – felt like a particularly free time for young designers and artists. Despite an underlying sense of both climate and political crises, things seemed possible. In fashion, the left shoulder on a two-button jacket could be yanked up 10 inches and it would be accepted; a skirt could become an object for the home. Upcycling army surplus was pragmatic, not profound. A transgressive naiveté flourished and as a result “the nineties” have become shorthand for bold ideas previously uncomplicated by the engulfing scale of the internet. Today, even the rambunctious pseudo-intellectual silhouettes of Rei Kawakubo have been flattened into little more than bejewelled seasonal blips. The very notion of being – let alone surviving as – a ‘conceptual fashion designer’ has been erased with every software update.     

Demimoorebag, life, wondered

Despite BLESS not being underground nor unknown, it feels like a challenge to try and get to know what it is or who Heiss and Kaag are. They have enjoyed a level of personal anonymity that is difficult to imagine in our byzantine digital age. Early on they refused to have their portraits taken, which Heiss says was ‘almost like an educational statement to explain that the core of our work is not about us as people. It's really about what we want to say with our products.’ After releasing a series of accessories, their first full clothing collection – BLESS N°09 Merchandising – was offered in 1999 as an answer to the dilemma of persisting press requests for portraits of the designers and included t-shirts with their pictures on. Two years ago they decided to make a new product-cum-portrait, this time creating a handloom jacquard of their merged faces. ‘Supposedly, BLESS is a child – now of 26 years old – which is a great age,’ Kaag says. ‘This is BLESS today.’

When the pair first met in 1993 at an international competition in Paris they had not been used to the rhythm and demands of creative collaboration. Heiss, studying at Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, navigated the English eccentricity of guest professor Vivienne Westwood with the sensual rigour of Helmut Lang and later costume designer Frida Parmeggiani. Kaag meanwhile spent her time at Fachhochschule für Kunst und Design in Hanover exploring what ‘innovation’ meant within the context of fashion. They were immediately drawn to the handcrafted alchemy of each other’s work: Heiss using crochet and Kaag felt.

They kept in touch and worked on an edition of 20 sheer summer tops in 1995. They spread posters around Vienna and Berlin of collaged women wearing them with only the name BLESS and a telephone number underneath. Soon after, using money borrowed from their parents, they placed ads in i-D, Self Service and Purple Fashion listing the same number next to a Polaroid of the first BLESS product: a fur wig. Martin Margiela commissioned the duo to make more out of old fur coats for his A/W 1997 show. BLESS’s creative output was – and is – fuelled by a kind of rational naiveté.

When they first had the idea to collaborate, they penned a manifesto:

‘BLESS is a visionary substitute to make the near future worth living for. She is an outspoken female – more woman than girl. She’s not a chosen beauty, but doesn’t go unnoticed. Without a definite age she could be more between her mid twenties and forties. B. hangs around with a special style of man. She has no nationality and thinks that sport is quite nice. She’s always attracted by temptations and loves change. She lives right now and her surroundings are charged by her presence. She tends to be future orientated.

BLESS is a project that presents ideal and artistic values by products to the public.’

In the same way we try to give bodies to the chatbots and A.I. machines intruding on our lives today, BLESS was personified as the ideal woman of the 1990s. A free spirited and open minded, confident somebody. Heiss and Kaag knowingly created an avatar to protect themselves from the disturbance of celebrity. ‘When 10 years had passed, we were reflecting on that manifesto and asking if it was still valid. We thought that as we were older, we wouldn’t have done it in the same way but now, after another 10 years has passed, it somehow feels valid again,’ Kaag says.

‘When we started to work together, the urge to define who we are and what we have in common was important and that's when this character appeared,’ Heiss says. ‘The manifesto talks about things that were dear to us and also some wishful thinking… how we would like to be. It was not intended to be the starting point for the outside, it was the starting point for us, to understand what we were. We wanted to establish our own values and invent a world – and everyday life – that we could live.’

These values were designed to negate certain norms. Heiss and Kaag call what they do a ‘made-to-measure profession’, it is something that they have grown with and into. Whose needs would they serve? How would they make money and survive? BLESS was ‘a pot where you could put in wishes for a better future’. They were realistic in what they did not want. Kaag says: ‘Observing what’s happening today, young people in general tend to dream for bigger things but it's very rare that people take the time to sketch out a schedule for the week or for the year on how you would like to live and work. This is something we did in a very playful way in the beginning, wanting to take the time to think about a product and then release it the moment it was finished.’ Yet quickly it became apparent that the structure of the industry – its seasons – helped to formalise their way of working rather than hinder it. ‘It took me years to really accept that the seasonal rhythm made more sense for us, but this was good because otherwise we would have been far too slow’ Kaag says.

Armpitshirt, thought, feel

Too easily BLESS can seem like an esoteric post-modernist charade. A wooden hairbrush which has flowing locks of human hair in place of bristles is not an inert Surrealist object but rather a tool whose purpose is to preserve hair as a souvenir, a practice associated with Victorian mourning traditions. Chairs designed for BLESS N°07 Living-Room Conquerers (1999) on which denim or cotton-Lycra is held taut by tall fiberglass sticks maintain their functionality despite looking entirely new. Since 2005 Heiss and Kaag have continued to transform the appearance of the electronic cords, cables, and chargers omnipresent in all our homes by threading them with wooden beads, artificial stones and plastic bangles. ‘There was always this questioning of “is this a good idea?”’ Kaag says. ‘That’s why we started to develop all these side activities and this dilettantism to work with things that we didn’t know. This is something we are proud of, more than having a certain career in interior design or fashion or whatever. What has not changed over these 26 years is that we are better in doing things than talking about them.’

The duo are impressed by the sheer fact that they still exist. The complexity of creative thinking which BLESS has applied to everything from their retail spaces (a residential flat in East Berlin) to the things they make has established a new way of contributing to the worlds of fashion, art, interior design and philosophy. ‘There has been no recipe or even anything we wanted to transmit but we’re so lucky that we’ve found the glimpse of how life could work for us,’ Heiss says. ‘If you take your own values and your own needs as a base for whatever you create, it's necessarily meaningful. It's not hollow. And it's also tough in a way because of course, you fail permanently.’ The duo have always approached BLESS as an ongoing research project that will eventually come to an end.

Important, understand, point

Presently Heiss and Kaag are working on their third printed volume Celebrating 25 Years of Always Stress with BLESS N°42 – N°74 which will be released this summer. Like the two books before it (Celebrating Ten Years of Themelessness: N°00 – No°29 (2006) and Retroperspective Home N°30 – N°41 (2010) published by Sternberg Press) the book brings together their archive alongside illustrations, photography and special projects. BLESS’s relationship to its archive is pragmatic. Since the start Heiss and Kaag have numbered their projects, so it is easy to follow the thread of each idea and trace how they connect. The rhythm of the fashion cycle and life’s changing moods reveal themselves via BLESS’s interventions. The concerns of today – the climate crisis, the fashion system, consumerism, capitalism, individualism, and collaborative networks – are present throughout their archives. Their work – no matter how strange or fantastic – pulsates with a contented, benevolent rigour whether presented within the halls of an international museum or at a child’s 7th birthday party.

The manifesto composed at the conception of BLESS has changed in meaning and relevance with each passing decade – as they approach a third, their ‘more woman than girl’ has aged. She has in some ways become more formal, more complete. So what are her interests now? Kaag says: ‘it has entirely changed but on the other hand, I am still questioning the same things.’ Perhaps then it is not about how things change but how they evolve. ‘When we did the first book, I can remember that the reactions to our things were not really that great but then, 10-15 years later, people come and say “Oh, it was so fantastic what you did back then!” and like with every year you evolve, of course you can build on that corpus that you created. It gives more density,’ Heiss says. ‘I have the feeling what we do now is more consistent. We can work with stuff retrospectively; we can feel inspired by our own products and do new versions using a vocabulary that we have created. We salute a kind of pragmatic, troubleshooting kind of creativity that has to serve a need.’

This term “creativity” is a contentious one today, splattered liberally across the western world as a kind of big blue pill for happiness. There’s a common misunderstanding that “creativity” stands for freedom and leisure time. ‘It's extremely boring,’ Kaag says. ‘You must be creative to run a business, maybe more than to decide if a jacket should be red or blue or in leather or whatever – that is not the creativity that we need. Creativity is more about how to survive in a world without losing patience.’

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