A few years ago, a good friend of mine returned from a trip to London raving about a favorite purchase. It wasn’t anything from Habitat or Muji or Dover Street Market. It was tape—specifically, a roll of packing tape printed with a gilt frame and designed by Martí Guixé for Droog. My design-snob acquaintances were intrigued. Packing tape as decorative element? Were we supposed to actually frame things with it and ruin our immaculately painted walls? Well, yes. Wasn’t that fabulous?
Guixé was one of the first designers to explore adhesive as a graphic medium; besides the frame tape, he produced Autoband, a black strip with hash marks meant to resemble a highway lane, as well as another in a soccer ball pattern. But though he loves the idea of tape-as-canvas—“It allows you to appropriate spaces easily, and it requires user interaction,” he says—the Spanish designer claims he’s had it with the stuff. Why? Because, it seems, everybody else has discovered it.
Once purely utilitarian, tape has suddenly been embraced by both the high and low end (with the low represented by rolls printed with sausages, ninjas, cowboys, and pictures of Jesus). Designers Ross Menuez, Stella Bugbee, Richard Shed, and Sam Johnson all admit to addictive relationships with the stuff. “It’s a bizarre and secretive cult,” says London-based Shed, who with fellow countryman Johnson produces rolls printed with images of dovetail joints and Phillips screw heads. “We even have our own tape handshake,” he swears. (Undoubtedly a very sticky one.) “Whenever I’m in Saigon or Mexico City, I love to buy the kind of ornate metallized baroque tape that they sell at party stores,” says Menuez, the designer behind Salvor NYC. Inspired by Japanese stores that create house brands of packing tape, he recently designed a series of non-PVC paper adhesive rolls with hand-drawn images of chains, ropes, and webbing—a cheeky comment on bondage.
Brooklyn-based Bugbee also found a tape mecca in Japan, where she lived as a high school student. “They have a million different versions there,” she says. “I had a huge collection—colors, patterns, hearts, and smiley faces.” Bugbee has dabbled in custom prints over the years, but Lace Tape is her first commercial creation. “Tape is a cheap and therefore democratic object that can be easily mass-produced,” she explains. “Plus, it’s not too intellectual, which can be a nice break from the other projects that designers work on.”
Of course a little nip and tuck doesn’t mean that tape has shed its workhorse roots, as Johnson and Shed proved during 2005’s London Design Week. For their debut, the designers left ribbons of tape as a calling card all over London; aged remnants still glam up phone booths and bus shelters all over town, suggesting that this is one fad that might actually stick around.
Rima Suqi is a Manhattan-based freelance writer and the “Best Bets” editor at New York magazine.
from left Everlasting Adhesive Calendar by Laboratorium; Do Frame by MartI GuixE for Droog; Dovetail Tape by Richard Shed; Stella Bugbeeis Lace Tape, available at Matter; Everlasting Adhesive Calendar by Laboratorium; Atypykis Shut Up tape, available at The Future Perfect; Instant Labeling Tape by Random International; Wood Tape by Atypyk; PixelTape by Random International.