The playful performance of a square scarf is brought to the digital realm with Salmagundi

Initially designed ten years ago, designers Adele Jeffs and Simon Elvins take a theatrical approach when presenting these scarves.

5 March 2021


Many creatives have a pet project that takes years to manifest. Perhaps it started out as a sketch or an all-too-animated conversation with a friend after work. The idea sticks around even as you get distracted by other work. And one day, you might find it again when you’re cleaning out your project files and continue to chip away at the idea. Salmagundi, a collaboration between designers Adele Jeffs and Simon Elvins, accompanied by sounds by Tom Joyce, is one such project.

Starting out as a playful joke built around a scarf ten years ago, the pair utilise animation techniques to bring textiles to life and into performing clothes. “I like the fact it’s a really simple thing,” says Adele on the core idea behind the project, “but there are all these options for how it can be seen or used.” Beginning life with Adele, Salmagundi was first a series of silk scarves designed to feature beaming smiles. “With these scarves, when you are wearing them, you just see a pattern. But when you fold it out there is this reveal moment and it’s got a stupid face inside! It’s that endless formula of playing games with hi-low value. So sophisticated and silly.”

Being able to bring these silly details to life is a collaborative effort from the pair, with Adele crediting the act of collaboration as a key catalyst for finishing the project. “It works particularly well when you are working with people who have very different skills to your own, it feels like something people say all the time but it really did give me a fresh perspective on some older work,” she says. At the time of beginning the project, Adele was experimenting with hiding things within textiles, distorting images as a form of a visual in-joke that only she knows about. “I was working on some other stuff at the same time, making a custom wardrobe for myself, designing ginghams out of tiny photos of myself or making figurines out of plasticine and squashing them, blurring images,” she recalls. “I guess it leads on from enjoying the imperfection theme. It’s basic rebellion, like drawing a penis in an exercise book at school,” Adele says. “With the first versions I attempted to hide the face a bit more in the pattern but ended up going a bit more straightforward. Basically it’s an obvious and satisfying joke.”

This approach deviates from how textile design software usually operates. These tools, often sophisticated and based on mathematical formulas, encourage designers to use repeating patterns. The result tends to be precise and symmetrical, but this pattern was exactly what Adele tried to avoid. “I like imperfection and I was consciously trying to bring it into these designs, particularly when designing from start to finish on a computer,” she says. When designing a square scarf, for instance, repetition and symmetry might seem appealing as the scarf needs to be able to be worn and folded in multiple directions. Introducing randomness, she says, makes her work more joyful, akin to creating a drawing.

When it came to animating these scarves, Simon began by heading back to this physical idea of the scarf; the fact that the scarves are meant to be worn, how it could be layered and moved helped him visualise how each garment could take on different characteristics. “Each design had a lot of character that was already inherent in the design, so I was looking at how I could build on this. There's humour to the work and the animation is another way of drawing this out, giving each garment its own personality and space to perform,” Simon says. “Bending the physics and parameters of the environment can create an other-worldly feel to movement, there’s something slightly off-kilter about the motion which I think is reflected in the approach to the original designs.”

More directly highlighting the faces in the animations, Adele reflects on the anthropomorphic connotations that it entails: “With the scarf you can play with it and it becomes a ghost, a puppet, a mask,” she says, noting that the object of the scarf also appears in magic tricks, theatrical in nature. The animation gives movement to the garment, imbuing a performative element and a slightly magical feel when set against the black backdrop. It was these theatrical ideas that she wanted to bring into the digital realm. “Simon talked about the use of a black backdrop and how the black space acts as performance space like a darkened cinema or theatre. I was also looking at images of puppeteers dressed up in all black with black hoods over their heads, so your focus was on the puppet,” she says.

In the near future, Adele is open to the idea of playing with these ideas in the physical space, adding another layer to the playfulness and performance of these scarves. It’s easy to imagine them bopping about in a gallery setting and bringing a sense of joy to those who come into contact with them, with their humorous and unexpected sense of rhythm.

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About the Author

Alif Ibrahim

Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.

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