⟨ Unexpected Welcome ⟩

Harmlessly beautiful

Jurgen Lehl

Words / Ron Lam
Translation / Iris Heung

 「所謂的進步究竟是甚麼呢?我們須要認真地想想。被說是進步的事物,是否真的是進步呢?實在該冷靜地思考一下。」

“What does it mean by ‘progress’? We have to think carefully. Are things considered as ‘progress’ actually a progress? We need to stop and think about it.”

– Jurgen Lehl

生於波蘭的德國設計師Jurgen Lehl,27歲時來到日本旅行,本來只打算待三四個月,後來卻竟待了43年,直到2014年,在他70歲那年,於沖繩因交通意外逝世。Jurgen Lehl在日本生活的多年裡,成立了同名的時裝品牌,與時裝及家品品牌Babaghuri,最為人稱道的,卻不是他的設計如何美麗、用料如何優質,而是他對環境的關愛,而這份關愛又是怎樣實踐在產品之中。

Born in Poland, the German designer Jürgen Lehl traveled to Japan when he was 27 years old. While his original plan was to stay for three or four months, he ended up staying there for 43 years. In 2014, when the designer turned 70, he died in a car accident in Okinawa. During his years in Japan, Lehl had established a fashion brand Jurgen Lehl, as well as a fashion and homeware brand Babaghuri. His designs were beautiful, the material he used was of high quality, but what Lehl was most known for, was, in fact, his concern for the environment, and how he incorporated this concern into his products.

Jurgen Lehl剛來日本時,是一位布料設計師,後來因為時裝比布料的收益較高,才開始設計及生產服飾。在品牌成立之初,他未以環保作為製作的大原則,常使用尼龍等化學物料,從後來品牌的方向看來似乎有點匪夷所思。Jurgen Lehl某天在雜誌中讀到化學纖維生產方法的詳細報導,才知道化學纖維不管在生產時或丟棄後,都會產生大量的有毒物質。以往人類只使用棉花、麻、羊毛等天然素料造衣服,科技進步了,我們多了選擇,尼龍、樹脂等輕盈而耐用,然而卻對我們生活的環境帶來無盡的傷害,究竟所謂的進步是甚麼?作為時裝設計師,他能做的又是甚麼?Jurgen Lehl決定往後的產品都得由天然物料製作,盡量減少對地球的傷害。

Lehl was a fabric designer when he first arrived in Japan. He later shifted to the fashion industry for its better profile. His environmental concern was yet to be a focus at the beginning of the brand; it would, in fact, surprise many to find out that how often chemical materials like nylon were used in his earlier designs. One day, after reading a detailed analysis of the production of chemical fiber from a magazine, Lehl had learned about the enormous amount of toxic waste generated from manufacturing and disposing of chemical fiber. Back in the days when technology was not as advanced, natural materials like cotton, linen and wool were used in most of the textile production. Along with the advancement in technology, nylon and resin have taken over for their lightness and durability. The offside is, however, the damage they do to our environment. What does it mean by progress? What can he do as a designer? These questions prompted Lehl to use only natural material for his future production, so as to help to protect the world.

Jurgen Lehl在日本是一個很受歡迎的時裝品牌,現時於日本全國有數十家分店,為了維持品牌的經營,Jurgen Lehl發現自己在實踐理念時會遇到很多制肘,於是,在2005年時,他設計了Babaghuri,在世界各地邀請工匠合作,採用全天然物料,以人手製作,小產生產各種產品,包括衣服、餐具、肥皂、家品等等。赤木明登、安藤雅信等現時舉足輕重的生活工藝大師,都曾經為Jurgen Lehl製作作品。Babaghuri是一個對於天然素材及人手製作,不作任何妥協的品牌,在產品設計與工藝之間,Jurgen Lehl難得地取得了良好的平衡。

Jurgen Lehl在1999年時在沖繩設立了另一個生活基地,而這似乎跟品牌後來如此徹底地實踐環保理念有著不可分割的關係。在東京現代美術館為他拍攝的紀錄短片中,Jurgen Lehl赤腳走到沖繩森林裡的湖畔,談到自己對大自然的體會:「在沖繩每天都有很大的變化,只要颱風一來,之前辛苦建立的毁於一旦。在大自然的面前,人類的力量是很渺小的,但在進行破壞時,人類的力量卻很強大。」

Jurgen Lehl is well received in Japan, which is home to tens of the shops located around in the whole country. When maintaining his brand, Lehl was hindered by many obstacles when executing his believes. In 2005, he therefore founded the brand Babaghuri and invited artisans from around the world to create various items, including clothes, tableware, soap and homeware. The items were all manufactured on a small scale with handmade technique with all natural materials. Influential artisans like Akito Akagi and Masanobu Ando also participated in Jurgen Lehl’s projects. Although Babaghuri is a brand that firmly insists on handmade products with natural materials, Jurgen Lehl maintained an unexpectedly good balance between product design and craftsmanship.

In the year 1999, Lehl set up another base in Okinawa, which is one of the milestones for the brand’s ecological friendly approach. In the video shot by the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Jurgen Lehl was walking barefoot along the forest lake while talking about his idea of nature, “Things are always changing in Okinawa. When a typhoon comes, every former effort can easily go in vain. Human beings are helpless in resisting the nature, and yet so powerful when destroying nature.”

Jurgen Lehl很努力於各方各面實踐品牌理念,他不做被他認為浪費人力物力的時裝表演,他的員工食堂只提供有機素食,而使用的稻米,以及Babaghuri中發售的香草茶,更是Jurgen Lehl在沖繩設立的農園生產的。

Lehl’s effort to promote sustainability could be seen in multiple ways: he never did any fashion show since he found it a waste of resources, he provided only organic vegetarian food in the canteen. The rice in the canteen meals and the herb tea for sale in Babaghuri are all grown in Lehl’s farm in Okinawa.

在過世前幾年,Jurgen Lehl花了很多時間於沖繩沙灘上撿垃圾,但這天撿了,明天又堆積如山。他渴望在沙灘上找到被海浪沖刷得平滑美麗的玻璃碎片,找到更多的卻是千百年都無法被分解的大量塑膠廢物。Jurgen Lehl後來將垃圾整理,製作成燈飾與裝置作品。於他過世後的一年,東京現代美術館為其舉行了作品展「On The Beach」。展場內,以塑膠廢料製成的燈飾色彩絢麗,美麗而有傷。我們讚美它們,卻也心痛它們破壞了的;我們驚艷,同時自責。為了所謂的「進步」,我們犠牲了甚麼?Jurgen Lehl在離世後,向世人丟下了這教人深思的問題。

The few years before his death, Lehl spent a lot of his time cleaning the beaches in Okinawa. Regardless of his effort, the beach was still always filled with trash. While hoping to find beautiful pieces of glass that were smoothed out by water movement, he could only find a lot of non-degradable plastic waste. Lehl then tried to organize the waste and turned them into light decorations and installation works. One year after his death, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo hosted an exhibition called On The Beach that showcased these works. The exhibition hall was filled with light decorations that were made from plastic waste, which are beautiful but harmful to the environment. Visitors were on one hand impressed by the beautiful decoration, and on the other hand, saddened by the destruction brought by the material. These splendid works reminded people of their responsibility to the environment. So what did we sacrifice for “progress”? The deceased Lehl has left to us this question to dwell on.