Traditionally, textile designers have been tucked away in studios like busy worker bees, producing library-loads of mostly anonymous designs, for which recognition is rare.
But that’s not the case at the moment. There’s a new crop of textile artists creating vibrant and distinctive prints for homes. Their work is not going unnoticed – every retailer from Ikea to Fortnum & Mason is currently piling interiors sections high with print.
The new breed of designers are tech and marketing savvy as well and, as a result, their work – and their names – are becoming known to a much wider audience.
Most of them run their own businesses, heavily driven by social media. And the process of digital printing has enabled them to produce small batches of experimental work so that they can collaborate with young furniture designers on reputation-making projects.
Textile and furniture production has come on a long way – and these designers are doing it for themselves.
Anglo-French artist and textile designer Emma Neuberg has found herself a new niche. After her degree in plastics at Brighton, a PhD at the RCA and years of teaching, she noticed that “so many graduates seemed to drop off after a few years. The struggle was too much.”
Tapping into an existing community of designers ranging in age from 23-80, she set up the Slow Textiles Group “as a platform of solidarity to carry on a conversation, to show work, to help. I see the potential in what they’re doing,” she adds, “and make it commercially viable with the use of digital technology… It’s me at my computer.”
That might mean altering colours or picking out motifs. New products made with painter Lisa Todd’s work are now stocked at Liberty and recently won an Elle Decoration design award, while a top-secret collaboration with the widow of an Op-artist is about to happen.
Neuberg, who also marks her own paintings and textiles, runs a design studio in London. “We are eight people from all over the world working in different disciplines,” she says, adding mournfully, “Some of the most exciting work comes from the cross-cultural mix you get here. It fuels the powerful textile movement. I can’t imagine an industry here without it.” emmaneubergdesigns.com
“I had John Lennon in my bed for a bit,” says Vicki Murdoch, founder of Silken Favours. Sorry, what? “Sort of. I drew a nice pencil sketch of Lennon’s head above my bed and every morning when I was leaving for school I would stuff my bed so it looked like he was in it. I was 11.”
Murdoch’s love of drawing endures, but her ambitions have changed. Raised in Aberdeen, she did some modelling, a degree at Chelsea College of Arts then pretty much went straight into the scarf hall at Liberty following a successful open day for graduate designers in 2011, when she also launched her company.
Now her scarves, cushions, wallpapers and clothes are stocked at Clerkenwell London, The Conran Shop and Fortnum & Mason, among others.
Her look is unashamedly cute and kitsch, featuring animals, fruit, people and poems, much of it influenced by her love of the outdoors. Her products range from hand-drawn scarves to shaped cushions, shirts and ponchos, and a new wallpaper collection as well as bespoke private commissions.
“I’m not trying to be too serious,” she says. “I want my brand to be luxurious and humorous. There’s enough shit happening in the world so if I can create something that brings joy to people’s houses or wardrobes then that’s great.” silkenfavours.com
Claire de Quénetain
Claire de Quénetain’s designs are reminiscent of a childhood spent on a Normandy farm where her father reared deer. “I was always outside, but then we moved to Paris when I was 11 and I missed that life, so I began to paint.”
After a fine art degree in Switzerland – where she met her Danish husband – she studied textiles at the Royal College of Art, but her roots still show. “People often tell me that my work is quite French. I do love impressionism, and Dufy.”
Like a fashion designer, she works in collections. “I try to produce one or two each year. Each one is a new chapter of my story.”
Following a collaboration with Swoon Editions for a limited-edition fabric, wallpapers for Finnish company Feathr and a three-year deal with Heal’s, de Quénetain is working with French company Thevenon to launch new work in 2017. clairedequenetain.com
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010