“I became interested in felt because it’s in Swedish folk art tradition,” says Pia Wallén, whose edgy creations have secured her the status of one of Swedish design’s most recognizable names. “It’s an old material people used to make clothing and shoes. I saw it in our folk art and wanted to do it with new techniques, forms, and shapes.” Elegant in an all-black ensemble, the designer is warm and soft-spoken as we meet in her minimalist studio, joined by her daughter, Alva Xi Wallén Keller.
Wallén studied fashion design at the Beckman’s College of Design in Stockholm before venturing to open her namesake line. Pia Wallén Collections include statement jewelry pieces, bags, accessories, interior collections, and the most comfortable footwear you’ll ever wear that combine modern design with the traditional material. Felted wool has starred in her collections for decades, whether to fashion blankets or line the insides of precious-metal cuff bracelets to keep the wrists warm during cold Scandinavian winters.
Humble Yet Versatile Material
“It’s not really about techniques; I want to discover different forms to work with this material,” says Wallén, referring to her line of avant-garde felt capes, a collaboration with textile designer Felix Roll. She demonstrates a vibrant green cape that evokes a vintage vibe with a touch of futurism.
One of the few designers who handles every aspect of business on her own, Wallén is relentless when it comes to ensuring that each detail, from production to distribution, adheres to her uncompromising standards.
“She has so many sketches and ideas,” says Wallén’s daughter, “but they are not released because she can’t find the right production people, and she doesn’t want to compromise, so she just puts it aside.”
Selective Collaborations to Continue Mastering the Craft
Wallén selects her collaborations with the same meticulous approach. While she has worked with big names such as Electrolux appliances, or Asplund, a Swedish furniture brand, she has a special appreciation for small-scale producers and artisans, taking the time to learn the workings of their craft.
“I like to work with small companies with old skills,” says Wallén. “The more I work, the more experience I have, and the more I search for that certain sense.”
Her Bible notebooks collection, for instance, uses a binding technique from an old-school bindery on an island in the Baltic Sea.
“It’s an old gentleman, over 70 now; he makes the notebooks in a barn,” says Wallén’s daughter. “No one knows his old machines other than himself.” A unique feature of the binding is the exposed stitch pattern, which is typically hidden.
“When I asked this gentleman about how to mention him in the collaboration, he said he doesn’t want to become known,” Wallén says. “A lot of craftsmen are just not interested in fame or money.”
A long-established weaving mill in Scotland produces her line of sumptuously soft lambswool-and-cashmere blankets. Originally made in Sweden with an old technique of looping thread around the edge, the blankets went out of production after the former spinnery’s machine broke irreparably. After four years and a long list of customers awaiting the product’s return, Wallén found a manufacturer she could trust with the time-honed process.
A Modern Take on Spiritual Symbolism
Wallén’s blankets and some of her other products are marked with a cross pattern, a symbol of hope in Swedish folk culture, representing the meeting of heaven and earth. Another recurring motif is the circle, which echoes traditional Chinese design in the round golden knobs of the Chinese-inspired Xi Cabinet, a collaboration with Asplund. A smaller version was added in 2018.
“I have a very strong connection with China because of my daughter, who is from Hefei. I named the cabinet after her Chinese name, Xi, which means happiness.”
Whether a piece of furniture or a pair of handmade slippers, each item Wallén creates is imbued with meaning. While she only produces a limited number of products each year, each carries forth a legacy.
“All of my products have stories,” she says. “Especially for the handmade items, it is important to do the design well, so the person who buys it doesn’t do it as a gesture of charity. They should love it for the beauty, and when they use it, they will discover the story within and how it is made.”