Only the bold are willing to push the boundaries and free themselves from the shackles of the expected. So it is for a select few artists, designers and innovators. Lured by the unique aesthetic of carbon fibre, they are blurring the lines between form and function.
“Design and fashion is about introducing innovative ideas, breaking the rules and stepping beyond the threshold of acceptance,” says designer Zuzana Serbak. Tradition dictates that high-tech footwear is functional, not for the catwalk. Serbak thinks otherwise. By using carbon fibre, she is combining art with advanced technology to create non-conformist and groundbreaking shoes.
For Serbak, carbon fibre’s captivating appearance and extreme strength is “exceptional, exclusive, elegant and timeless”.
Serbak is not alone. “Carbon fibre offers something to both designers and artists. Its uniquely synergistic engineering and visual properties make it hard to ignore,” says furniture designer Kris Lamba, whose RV1 chair is handcrafted from a single 20-metre-long piece of carbon fibre. It is a delicate, yet complex, balance of technical knowledge and aesthetics.
“It allows me to explore and push the boundaries of modern design,” Lamba says. “The freedom of expression it permits gives me a more fluid conceptual process.”
We are fascinated by the unknown. At once modern and minimalist, yet strong and functional, we are captivated by carbon fibre’s black-on-black weave and otherworldly aesthetic.
“Nothing comes close,” Kris Lamba says. “It’s very hard to convey the unique blackness of carbon fibre. Its beauty lies in its simplicity, but also its exclusivity. The depth of its blackness is extremely appealing.”
Carbon fibre’s complicated blend of high-tech function and elegant, minimalist form creates a fascination within us. “Its very purity creates wonder,” says Alastair Gibson, whose innovative sculptures use carbon fibre and Formula 1 parts to visualise the link between the natural world and engineering.
“People are intrigued by it. It has a sense of the mystical. In a world where we hide items with paint, to see something so technical yet so raw is a powerful statement.”
Mario Zeppetzauer, of carbon fibre artisans PURISME, calls this aesthetic ‘the myth of carbon’. “Carbon fibre is more than a simple material – it takes you on a journey to a world of excellence, performance and exclusivity. It is strong and polarising as a means of expression.”
Beyond the aesthetic is where carbon fibre brings form and function to life. Behind its simple beauty lies a strength that allows us to achieve the impossible.
“There are very specific properties behind the elegance and purity,” Zuzana Serbak explains. “It is strong, lightweight and doesn’t perish. It is perfect for the construction of entirely unique contemporary high-heeled shoes.”
By using carbon fibre, Serbak and others can create freely, restricted only by the limits imposed by imagination. She can produce an almost impossibly high and slim heel that is indestructible. Yet she can also mould sculptured large heels that are lightweight.
For Kris Lamba, carbon fibre is the only option. Traditionally furniture design may have been restricted by ergonomic and material constraints, but the same laws don’t always apply to carbon fibre. It is the only material that allows us to bring together the worlds of art and engineering.
To use carbon fibre requires a bold and rare talent. Technological precision is important, perfection the only acceptable result. The artist has become the scientist.
For Serbak, “it is like working with jewels; difficult, precious and expensive”. She likens the process to working in a sterile laboratory. Respect for the technology and its limitations are vital.
“The minute you relax it bites you, and it bites you hard. It is unforgiving in its nature; if you make a mistake there is no going back,” Alastair Gibson says. “Perfection is all you can strive for.”
“Working with carbon fibre is a delicate balance of variables,” Lamba says. “Skill is required to finish it to a high standard. I see carbon fibre as a perfectionist’s dream material. It is a true no-compromise solution.”
Carbon fibre is rare, exceptional and exclusive. By combining understated design with the seduction and aura of exotic materials, designers and artists create an ultimate, darker interpretation of luxury.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rolls-Royce Black Badge. Carbon fibre gives a bolder aesthetic, transforming the very icons of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Painstakingly woven aerospace-grade aluminium-threaded carbon fibre lines Wraith Black Badge and Ghost Black Badge’s cocoon-like interiors. Its wheels – four years in development – consist of 22 layers of hand-crafted carbon fibre.
“It was vital to us that the aesthetic appeal and promise of Black Badge Wraith and Black Badge Ghost be underpinned by superlative engineering,” says Philip Koehn, Director of Engineering at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
In a world where many are satisfied with the normal, carbon fibre provides an alternative. It is the boldest of statements for a new age.
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