Public hanging: 'Worshipful' wardrobe, by Paul Helbers and Smallbone

Paul Helbers inspects work in progress on the frame
Left, Helbers' sketches, with samples of the wardrobe's metal handles and rivets, and accessory boxes. Right, menswear designer Paul Helbers inspects work in progress on the frame of his transparent wardrobe at Smallbone's workshop in Wiltshire.
(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

Paul Helbers likes to make daily dressing effortless. He has a fascination with everyday workwear and his eponymous label, launched in January 2016, mixes athleisure and tailored pieces in luxurious fabrics. Now our Handmade brief has allowed the Dutch designer, who has headed up menswear at Maison Margiela and Louis Vuitton, to take his passion further. His see-through closet allows you to take in your wardrobe at a glance, without even opening it, helping you select the perfect outfit every morning.

‘The wardrobe is built on a pedestal and puts your clothes on display, like in a museum,’ says Helbers. Crafted by the British cabinetmaker Smallbone using oxidised English oak and featuring transparent doors in clear polished acrylic, the design subverts the concept of concealed domestic storage, bringing a vision of everyday clothing to the forefront. ‘I like to think of it as a treasure reservoir,’ he adds. ‘The wardrobe’s transparency and serene appearance guides you calmly through your clothing options. Whether your clothes are colourful or minimal, dark or baroque, its simple shape will articulate their display.’

Helbers is used to working with a host of skilled artisans to produce the materials in his own collections, so his collaboration with the West Country-based Smallbone was a pleasing match. Founded in 1978 and now owned by London-based company Canburg, the brand is a leader in fitted British furniture, its joiners working by hand in the small market town of Devizes, where they devoted more than 500 hours to the construction of the wardrobe. ‘Paul’s grasp of the practicalities and challenges of manufacturing was evident,’ says Iain O’Mahony, director of special projects at Canburg.

From mélange wool to pebble-grain leather, fabrics in Helbers’ current, A/W17 collection have a well-worn patina. The oak used to create the wardrobe’s frame has a similar weathered quality, evoking the colours of driftwood. ‘The palette was set by Paul, to capture his fascination with the honesty of driftwood,’ O’Mahony says. ‘The oxidising treatment is a hand-applied process that we developed to capture his aesthetic intent.’

the 'Worshipful' wardrobe's design

A detail of the discreet joinery used in the 'Worshipful' wardrobe's design

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

Adds Helbers, ‘Throughout the design, the grain of the wood is assembled in different directions. It evokes a fabric-like quality.’ The transparent, polished acrylic panels that make up the wardrobe’s doors, along with the linear door handles and shoe-bars crafted in satin-finished stainless steel, offer a smooth contrast to the open-grained frame. ‘We looked to the film industry for guidance on how to use acrylic as a construction material,’ says O’Mahony.

Clean lines were paramount in the wardrobe’s construction. The doors were made using discreet tenons (joints) and a concealed hinge, sourced from Japan. Their mounted acrylic panels were fixed using brushed stainless-steel captures. ‘The doors hold the only element of embellishment, inspired by post-war brutalist church architecture, where mouldings were created in unconventional materials,’ Helbers says.

The wardrobe’s interior is just as considered. Clothing is hung on custom-made timber coat hangers, and accessory boxes come in a combination of dovetailed oak and precision-mitred acrylic, with minimalist rebated lids. A lighting extrusion, developed by Smallbone, sits discreetly within the design and casts tuneable LED lighting back into the piece, illuminating its contents. ‘The concept can be extended, simplified or elaborated,’ Helbers says. ‘But the real remaining question is, are your clothes ready to be exhibited?’

As originally featured in the August 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*221)

The wardrobe's frame is designed to hold clear acrylic panels

The wardrobe's frame is designed to hold clear acrylic panels, leaving the contents on show

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

Helbers and Iain O'Mahony discuss the driftwood-like patina for the oak

Helbers and Iain O'Mahony discuss the driftwood-like patina for the oak, which Smallbone created using an oxidising process

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

Wood supplies at Smallbone's workshop

Wood supplies at Smallbone’s workshop

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)


For more information, visit the Helbers and Smallbone websites