In 2018, Swedish furniture giant IKEA will make its India entry with its first store in Hyderabad. But back in 2014, they set the ball rolling for their first India-influenced collection, Svärtan, meaning blackness.

Textile designer Martin Bergström worked with the students at the National Institute of Fashion Technology Delhi to explore ideas for the contemporary collection over two months, beginning with a hands-on collaborative workshop in Hauz Khas Village.

The result: a modern and paired-down monochrome collection that the designer insists is “actually quite colourful... just through a black and white filter” and takes inspiration from the country in the least expected way. Svärtan released last month online and in stores worldwide. We had the opportunity to chat with Martin and Akanksha Sharma, then a student at NIFT, now a designer at IKEA about the collection and their experience working together.


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LOVER: Martin, tell me a little bit about yourself? What was the brief IKEA gave you?

Martin: I’m a designer and artist working in the border between fashion and art. I got a brief that was: blackness, NIFT, a modern India. Then I came here and was looking for another India, away from the gold and colours and I found it. It’s there and it’s so beautiful - the concrete, the modernism, the people, the light. 

After that I put together moodboards and started to work, I also went to meet the talented students at NIFT. We had a workshop and we did thousands of drawings!


LOVER: Whose idea was it to work with NIFT students?

Martin: It was Marcus Engman’s idea, the chief designer at IKEA, a really great idea and I’m so happy to have met all of the talents at NIFT.


LOVER: Akanksha, you were studying at NIFT then. What were Martin’s instructions when he conducted the workshop?

Akanksha: After a thorough selection process, around 25 students were selected to be a part of the collection. The workshop was held for four days in which Martins's first instructions were to just explore and play with the existing materials that were provided to us. We loosely knew the Svärtan brief but while experimenting the first day, we were free to go crazy with our expressions.

Martin: And you did!

Akanksha: The other two days, things were narrowed a bit further down. We started to draw and explore in a certain way that was Svärtan-like but yet very wide and free.


LOVER: What were these existing materials provided to you?

Akanksha: Materials like paper, paint, ink, yarns, tapes, pens, textiles.

Martin: Lots of black ink, tons of papers and charcoal. We really filled that big room at Hauz Khas.

Akanksha: It was all about exploring pre-existing textures, surfaces, dimensions and looking at it in a non-conforming way. Also I personally had tonnes of fun with the scanning machine. Martin encouraged all of us to really go closer to what we made and derive new angles to the existing art using the good old scanning machine, which was fabulous.

Martin: I was looking for something raw and strong and I think you really did that! We created so many beautiful and interesting prints during those four days.


LOVER: What were the techniques that you all used to create your drawings?

Akanksha: We went to HKV fort and there we made impressions using everything around us - from the fort pillars, rocks, trees, railings, grass and leaves. There are some of the prints in the collection that came from the walls of Hauz Khas, the brick ones.


LOVER: Do you know why it was to be a monochrome collection?

Martin: It's not a monochrome collection, it's actually quite colourful... just through a black and white filter. I love the light in India. It's so pure and romantic and strong at the same time. I really wanted that also to be shown in the collection. Svärtan, is a poetic and bright collection just in black and shades of grey.


LOVER: You ended up with 2000 prints after the workshop, how did you narrow them down to 15? What stood out to you about those?

Martin: It had to be hard! I really chose the ones that made my heart burst and made me fall in love. They had to be strong and after two years, I still love them. We started working in the spring of 2014 and met NIFT in September 2014.


Akanksha: Coming to which I wanted to ask Martin if I may - how is designing a collection for IKEA different from that of your own? If there were any concerns, what were they?

Martin: For me, it's always the same kind of work what ever I do, designing for my own label or projects or doing designs for another company. But of course it's different when it’s such a big project. I wanted it all to be strong, poetic and the story behind it had to be a beautiful one. And of course, important for me to know that it was produced in a way I liked it to be. Sustainably and ethically, and it was.


LOVER: Tell me more about the prints and products that were finalised. What were some of the inspirations for those that ended up in the final collection? In addition to the printed textiles, there are textured bowls, mouth-blown glassware and more.

Akanksha: The collective vision of the prints were to be very modern, an alternate interpretation of India. The collection was to have subtle textures and abstract patterns inspired from the common findings around us.

Martin: I wanted texture. Lots of texture. India for me is textures. Nothing is smooth and polished. I got inspired by the distressed walls and concrete that had been touched by the monsoon rains. [Telephone] cables, the modernistic buildings, concrete walls, I wanted the roots, the banyan tree. Love the roots! I put various things together. I wanted the structures, I wanted the blackness, I wanted the distressed feel but in a poetic and beautiful way.  I put the textures and patina into the glass and the metal products. My hand shaped the glass and the metal.


LOVER: I read Martin’s nose ring inspired the handle of the bowl.

Akanksha: That's an interesting story. When Martin was with the manufacturers for the bowl, the ring wasn't a part of the design. After the first batch he realised all the bowls had a little hole in them, and he learnt that it needed to be there as the bowls would be hung through those. He added a ring to it later on, as a part of the bowl much similar to the nose piercing he has. So it became kind of a very distinct design. It was one of the improvisations he did during the process


LOVER: What are your favourite products from the collection?

Akanksha: I personally love the handmade rugs.

Martin: The tray table. It really personifies the collection. I like the big bowl with the texture also and the bed linen. Yours?

LOVER: The linen in the darkest print and the decorative bottle.

Akanksha: I love those little stools too! Martin is there any question you maybe have for me?


Martin: YAY! How do you feel about the project and the products now that they are released?

Akanksha: I feel from the time we had been given a brief and the time when we made the first batch of artworks to the final display of the articles in the store, it's come full circle. With the involvement I had in this project, I knew the kinds of things I explored and the products that were going to come out, but there was a surprise element that was there regarding the final outcome. I feel the whole range is very well balanced in terms of form, shape and colour. Also balanced in terms of what inspired it and the market it serves.


LOVER: What about you Martin? How was the experience for you?

Martin: I’m so happy to have met all the amazing people and also being at all of the factories and really working with my bare hands. I really enjoyed working with the Indian craftsmen, I learned so much!


Thanks for your time Martin and Akanksha. Follow them on instagram at @studiomartinbergstrom and @akanksha.sharma.


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