Material Magic of côte&ciel [Review]
Material is not only a practical form for expression of a designer's idea – interesting textile solutions determine the shape of the final product and its functionality. This is the domain of côte&ciel, a French-born brand that produces avant-garde design forms in the shape of bags and backpacks. Exploring the possibilities of materials, their team led by Head of Design Emilie Arnault has created one of the most unique and effective solutions in the world of accessories.
Backpacks and bags have gone through a long evolutionary process: from the waist backpack on one of the oldest ice mummies, Homo Sapiens Etzi, all the way to modular solutions with MOLLE and magnets.

One of the first successful examples of modern rucksack design is attributed to Jerry Cunningham. Unlike older examples (such as Lloyd Nelson's type of backpack), Cunningham's backpack was much lighter and more comfortable. This was due to the lack of sticks or metal struts - yes, there were such things back in the day - in the design of the backpack, and the better protection from the weather was provided by the only recently introduced nylon fabric.
Since then, material influences and innovative solutions have always been at the forefront when it comes to the development of backpacks and bags. People of today and the future want to carry their belongings in both style and comfort.

côte&ciel's Atelier in the Marais, Paris answers this want, developing their latest creations in a 12 to 18-month cycle, basing their designs on applied industrial design that is clearly visible in their most popular designs. Exploring the possibilities of materials and shapes, their design principles are expressed in unusual and unconventional end products. It is from here that the fabrics used in côte&ciel's creations are worth taking a closer look at.
Type: tweel, satin, canvas.
Features: lightweight, abrasion resistant, mixed weave.
Ecoyarn is a water-resistant and abrasion resistant polyester fabric for use in backpacks and bags, resulting in lightweight and durable accessories.
The light weight of the finished fabric and its high performance make it preferable to denser - and therefore heavier - fabrics.

Ecoyarn is produced in Libolon's full cycle production facility in Taiwan, including the polymerisation and spinning processes of the polyester fibres. This creates dyed yarns that can be continuously exposed to sunlight and machine washes (in line with ISO 105-C06 and ISO 105-B02 standards). Ecoyarn's production technology significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption by up to 89%.
The material of the Libolon company is one of the brand's flagship products. Ecoyarn (or Ecoya), for example, is produced in full-cycle facilities that include polymerization, spinning, and dyeing of the finished fibers. These processes, combined with Libolon's decades of experience in the production of polyester, polyamide, and nylon, resulted in an extremely interesting product.

It is also worth mentioning that polyester, being a refinery product, is usually dyed with large amounts of water and chemicals because the nature of the material is extremely hydrophobic. The output is both direct atmospheric emissions and water pollution from oxidized organics left over from dying procedures. The manufacturer of Ecoyarn takes a different path.

First of all, the name contains the prefix eco- for nothing: during the production of Ecoyarn fibers, a special pigment for dyeing is added at an early stage, during the polymerization process and further spinning stage (roughly speaking, melting of the polymer flakes). The reduced water consumption in this process has a positive effect on CO2 emissions and - more importantly - significantly reduces the chemical oxygen demand.
All these complex processes will provide the user with a molecularly dyed fabric that is extremely resistant to fading after years of use and mechanical stress, as well as being able to withstand many cycles in the washing.

The latter is really important, as polyester is the most versatile fabric in the production of bags and backpacks. With the high initial parameters of the yarn itself, it is enough to use less dense weave formats - such as 570D or blends of different densities - to end up with a rugged yet lightweight backpack. The weight of any backpack can be a make-or-break choice for many users.

Ecoyarn, therefore, makes it possible to do away with top-end fabric densities of 1000D or more in favor of lighter yet still highly durable patterns, such as those offered by Libolon.

On top of this, the product and its manufacturing process have a reduced environmental impact.
Type: tanned cowhide leather.
Features: 100% natural, durable, premium touch.
Alias is a tanned cowhide leather.

The choice of this material, in contrast to the also common bull leather or horsehide, results in a finer and yet more resistant canvas.
The distinctive characteristic of Alias is the subtle surface texture that gives it a unique tactile sensation.

Alias is made in accordance with the classic processes of tanning leather, distinguished only by the use of natural acids - from oak, walnut and acorn - that make it possible to obtain leather that is both resistant and soft enough to guarantee excellent performance. The ability of Alias premium leather products to acquire a noble aging effect over time is particularly noteworthy.
Another staple material for côte&ciel is Alias, or cowhide leather. It is an exquisite choice for the production of rucksacks and bags: cowhide leather differs from most common bull and bovine leathers in that it is thinner and has special characteristics that make it suitable for several different treatments and dyes. The end product of cowhide leather is characterized by its suppleness, elasticity, and, at the same time, its extremely high durability, not least due to the tanning process.

The depth of the historical journey that has shaped the fundamentals of leatherwork is immense. It was one of the most vital crafts, alongside the production of tools. For example, leather can not be simply dried and used: the leather canvas would be too stiff and would not last long because of its natural brittleness. The process of tanning cowhide leather imparts several fundamental characteristics for which the Alias material is to be loved: reduced hydrophilicity and resilience, a greatly improved appearance, and vapor permeability.
The tanning process is designed so that the leather is left in various decoctions of natural acids (oak, walnut, and acorn are the most popular) and tannins for a long time - this allows the material to get rid of hair, epidermis, and endodermis. This way the future canvas will not be subject to decomposition and rotting processes, and will receive the necessary level of "breathability". In between soaking in various decoctions, the leather is dried to consolidate the result. This tanning process is eco-friendly, but also a resource- and time-consuming – you are dealing with premium-grade material. The final treatment generally includes varying degrees of polish and waxing.

The end result: tanned cowhide leather is a tough and resistant material, suitable for those who not only prefer practicality, but also seek the unique feel of 'luxury'. Whether or not it should be mentioned that high-grade leather ages beautifully over time is a rhetorical question.
Type: PC/PU-coated polyester.
Features: abrasion resistant, water resistant, memory shaped.
When the user may need some extra protection for his outfit, Cordura's Obsidian is ready to meet the demands of the most extreme situations.
The fabric is an oxford polyester weave with a polycarbonate polyurethane coating, a solution that allows the abrasion and impact resistant fabric to be supplemented with a waterproof layer to protect the contents of bags and rucksacks against the vagaries of the weather.

The coating also helps the finished product retain its shape over time, thanks to the dense composite material. The PC/PU-coated accessories retain their properties even after going through the washing and drying machine more than 100 times.
In some situations, the environment demands an outfit with the highest level of protection, which the Obsidian textile from côte&ciel can offer. This HP Fabric is a polycarbonate polyurethane (PC/PU) coated polyester material – a creation of the renowned Cordura.

The PC/PU coating is a polymer fused onto the fabric – synthetic or cotton. In simple terms, it is a thin layer that protects the base material from external influences. The PC/PU coating may be applied on one or both sides, depending on the wishes and needs of the manufacturer.

The main function of such a sheet, as already mentioned, is to provide protection - for example, against the elements. This option is relevant for those for whom the water resistance of ordinary polyester (or even standard PU coating) may not be enough. We have already talked about what constitutes a PC/PU coating on the fabric. PC/PU-coated accessories will retain their properties even after going through a washing machine and dryer more than 100 times. The material will not get damaged or torn.
Originally, PC/PU-coated fabrics were used in hospitals. Polyurethane is durable and waterproof, and hospitals, in particular, are places where durable and waterproof fabrics are not just a 'must have' - they are a necessity.

It is also worth mentioning that despite the presence of an additional outer layer, PC/PU coating allows the production of fabrics, which are significantly superior in terms of weight/strength formula to their mono-component counterparts. For example, the medium-density (610D) weave methods (plain, carriage, or ripstop) can be used for PC/PU lamination to achieve a lightweight, weatherproof and abrasion-resistant version of a bag or rucksack.

In this way, Obsidian extends côte&ciel's product line, allowing enthusiasts to pick up the most protective versions of their iconic silhouettes, which can be much appreciated in harsher environments.
Type: canvas.
Features: 100% natural fibres, water resistant, tear resistant.
Canvas is one of the most common and ancient forms of weaving. Weft and weave in a canvas form a square, which results in an extremely strong and dense fabric.
This ease of weaving allows a wide variety of fabrics to be used for the warp and outer layer, but in the case of Coated Canvas we are dealing with 100% cotton. The same technology was used as the basis for the first effective sailcloths. However, canvas itself is hygrophobic, which means it can absorb excessive amounts of water vapor. The solution to this problem is the treatment which, in the case of Coated Canvas, is PVC-based. Those make you forget about problems with water permeability. The result is an extremely dense fabric which will last a long time. Coated Canvas is also resistant to mechanical damage and is not prone to abrasion.
Coated Canvas is a material that utilizes a fairly common geometric weaving pattern in the shape of a square. The technique can be used with both synthetic and natural fabrics. The practicality of this geometric pattern is evidenced by the fact that for a long time it was used to weave ship's sailcloth. Originally, sailcloth was made from hemp fibers, yet over time preferences were switched to cotton, due to the latter's increased abrasion resistance.

It is in the material's ratio of abrasion capability per unit density where we find what makes it ideal for making bags. In addition to this, canvas can be coated with a layer of PVC, a rubber-like polymer, which additionally protects the outer layer against rain or mechanical abrasion. This is exactly the kind of material used in côte&ciel bags.
Covering the cotton weave with PVC solves one of the problems inherent to this natural fabric. As cotton is hygroscopic - i.e. it absorbs moisture vapor very well - it is the application of moisture-proof coatings made of polymer, which in turn are impervious to water, that can solve this problem.

This treatment of côte&ciel cotton also prevents the bag from creasing over time: sufficient tensile strength means it will retain its original appearance for many years.
Type: Oxford type.
Features: lightweight, water repellent, unique appearance.
Note: The production of this fabric will be discontinued by côte&ciel.
MemoryTech is a specially treated mixture of polyester and nylon that is thermally treated.
This process produces a fabric that can take quite bizarre forms - crinkles, so to speak. However, there is a function behind the name, which is the ability to retain its original shape even after repeated wrinkling. This is made possible by the aforementioned thermoforming, which gives the fabric its special properties. MemoryTech also has water-repellent properties, is able to withstand mechanical friction and is extremely lightweight, which makes it a suitable base for backpacks and bags.
côte&ciel's close relationship with geometry and architecture is also reflected in the appearance of the materials used. MemoryTech, for example, has a rather unconventional nylon look and feel. All this is made possible by a unique production process, in which the fabric is subjected to heat. This results in a unique pattern that gives the fabric its special properties.

Firstly, the basic principle allows the fabric to "remember" its initial state and return to it during the whole life cycle of the product – this has a direct influence on the ability of the backpack or bag to literally hold its shape.
A similar physical phenomenon is used in other areas of industry, such as memory foam for mattresses. This principle of working with fabric has the same effect as with Coated Canvas: a backpack or bag will always return to its original shape, no matter how much you crumple it.

Secondly, thanks to its polyester-nylon blend backing, it is sufficiently lightweight and resistant to both abrasion and moisture.

This advantage makes it possible to have a backpack or bag which is not susceptible to moisture, without the need for additional treatment.
Presented materials from côte&ciel's product-line showcase the incredible level of the team's involvement in the production cycle. This approach finds mirrors in the functionality of the end product, which provides the user with a vast selection of materials suited to a variety of environmental scenarios and needs.

And this diversity provides a possibility to give each product a unique feel and use-case, showcasing the magic of materials.
Produced by TECHUNTER Media.
Words: Nikita Osaulenko [TECHUNTER, author/researcher].
Ph, cd, edit: Ivan Dzhatiev [THM].
Asst: Ilya Skudar.
Producer, layout, edit: Alex Zabelin [THM].

Stay tuned for more of our work with côte&ciel soon. Until then check out our other related materials via the links below.