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Genevieve Bennett: bespoke contemporary craft
18 October 2012 by Joyce Thornton
We were delighted to note recently that Texprint alumni Genevieve Bennett has been nominated for the second time for an Elle Decoration Design Award. Genevieve runs a bespoke leather design business creating beautifully crafted and individual pieces for interiors. She has an imaginative approach to her craft, using many traditional techniques such as embossing, engraving, sculpting and inlay work, in a refreshingly contemporary way. Genevieve spoke to Texprint about her exciting career path since winning the Texprint ‘Breaking New Ground’ prize in 2000.
Great news about your nomination for the Elle Decoration Design Awards – how does it feel to be included in this prestigious list again? (Genevieve won an award in 2006, and was nominated in 2007).
I was delighted - it’s a fantastic honour! Originally the awards were judged by eminent designers such as Terence Conran - a great opportunity to get their attention. Now they are judged by the public which in some ways seems fairer and makes for a more interesting contest. The awards are useful too for international recognition as there is so much press coverage.
What are the main projects that you are currently working on?
I have just finished two large commissions for an interior design firm in Hong Kong, three very large sculpted panels and 100 relief tiles for private residences. This was a great opportunity to work with established companies and gain international presence. I am currently building a relationship with a distributor in India for my leather tiles, and have just set up a relationship with an agent in New York for the bespoke sculpted panels, which will I hope lead to some interesting projects.
I am also selling and distributing the work I launched last year at the London Design Festival and will start new design work within the coming months for launch next year.
Genevieve Bennett: Damask
What inspires you in your work?
I am inspired both by pattern and 3D forms. The initial inspiration for my sculpted panels came from the wood carving of 17th century master craftsman Grinling Gibbons. Other 3D inspiration comes from paper engineering techniques. Pattern inspiration comes from anywhere - specific loves are ceramics by William De Morgan, Moorish lustreware, Art Deco embroideries, Chinese lattice screens, and patterned tiles of all kinds.
What drew you to working with leather?
I used to create sculptural forms in paper and card, but I really wanted my work to feel more permanent, for it to be longer lasting and not always reliant on framing for protection. I also wanted to move from panels to actual wall coverings thinking these would appeal to a wider audience. I chose leather as it can have similar sculptural qualities while is more durable and flexible in terms of possibilities of application.
Are there other materials/techniques that you like to work with?
Yes, I’m keen to work with a wider variety of materials. At the moment I’m thinking of working in felt - on its own and in combination with leather – and perhaps wood too.
You have been working as a freelance designer for over 10 years now – what are the advantages/drawbacks?
I enjoy being involved in the whole process, so on any new project I work in-house with the manufacturer for several days a week. I find this a more rewarding and collaborative approach. Freelance work offers you the opportunity to get involved with a variety of projects and ultimately to gain a wider experience. I tried selling designs on a one off basis but was not very successful!
The work I did at Habitat was fantastic; I worked freelance on pattern designs for a huge range of products. However, it was the full time design managers who were able to travel abroad, spending time in the factories and developing the products. I missed being involved in this aspect of the process.
Genevieve Bennett: Camellia
You have worked with some prestigious companies as a freelance designer – is there a particular project that has been a favourite?
The work I did for Wedgwood provided a very special opportunity to work with the 250 yr old pattern archive of a heritage British brand. One of their major markets is Japan, and I made regular visits to learn about the Japanese market. This was a very unique and exciting experience.
Can you describe a typical day?
I get to the studio at around 9am and start my day dealing with emails and admin - I find it hard to concentrate until this is under control. With any small business this can really take over, so I try to limit it to an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.
I then focus on the current project, depending on the stage it is at; sculpting the leather shapes, preparing artwork or a layout, ordering leather, getting shipping quotes etc. I then try and spend part of the day creating new designs for my future work or for a new client. I usually leave at 5pm to collect my son but then continue working from home until around 10pm. I almost always have a sketchpad to hand!
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your work?
Creating new designs, drawing, testing out new ideas, and then, seeing a finished product in a shop, or in situ in someone’s home.
And the least enjoyable?
Legal contracts and negotiations. As small business I have to oversee all aspects from design, to sales, to contracts; sometimes these can seem confusing and daunting, but I am learning.
Genevieve Bennett: Deco
What are your plans for the near future?
New designs! New leather tile designs, maybe looking at screens and other applications other than wall. New sculpted designs, looking at introducing new materials into my work, such as felt. I would also like to develop the overseas distribution of the tiles and build on the existing business.
I would love to work with on more projects with interior designers - they always transform your work into something you could have never imagined!
Looking back, is there a significant moment in your career that stands out?
Developing my research and ideas at the RCA where I started to work with leather – and connecting with Spinneybeck, the North American leather specialists, was significant too - they really opened my eyes to the creative possibilities.
You won the Breaking New Ground Prize in 2000 at Texprint – what did this mean to you?
It was a fantastic confidence boost. I sold a lot of work at Indigo in Paris, which enabled me to establish a studio and buy equipment. Winning also encouraged me to believe that experimental ideas are important and can ultimately be developed into something commercial.
Advice for those graduating this year?
I feel I could perhaps have learnt more about manufacturing in a shorter period of time had I worked full time for a year or so with a major brand. Building experience by working freelance took longer, but at the same time working on a variety of projects was invaluable. I would say if you have a product ready to go and which you believe in, then don’t wait around, go for it!
Report from Hong Kong: Lane Crawford HQ visit
14 October 2012 by Editor
The 30th floor of the stunning head office of the highly creative luxury retailer Lane Crawford in Aberdeen, Hong Kong, was the setting for an invaluable mentoring session with fashion director of womenswear and menswear Sarah Rutson, and Ross Urwin, creative director of home& lifestyle.
The six Texprint 2012 prizewinners each presented their work which ranged across all textile disciplines; and drawing on their extensive market knowledge and experience, Sarah and Ross talked with and advised them on application, potential markets for their work, and discussed what the Lane Crawford customer generally looks for.
Of Sarah Burton's work, Sarah commented that there is a "lot of opportunity for added-on accessories – it is the hardest thing to find a niche as a new designer – it can recreate a basic garment, something that talks to a wider audience."
Ying Wu's fine drawn work illustrating the consequences of over-industrialisation on the environment was particularly appreciated – Sarah said her work was "very clever and relevant, as well as having a great sensibility of colour and print – something very special, and very interesting for our market". Ross added: "This is great and I can see it working on rugs and wallpapers too".
Sarah said of Tanya Grace Knuckey's work that she has a "unique standpoint – the new luxury is something that is unique but still approachable and affordable."
She also gave invaluable advice by encouraging the designers to think ‘big picture’ and look at different areas outside fashion.
Sarah said of the Texprint 2012 designers’ work that "usually at Lane Crawford we see finished products, so it was great to see textile ideas in their purest form". The visit was an amazing opportunity for the fledgling designers to receive feedback from the most innovative retailer in Asia Pacific area, and we are extremely grateful to Sarah and Ross for giving their time.
Report from Hong Kong: six 2012 winners exhibit at Interstoff Asia Essential
06 October 2012 by Editor
The six Texprint 2012 prizewinners have just returned from a highly successful visit to Hong Kong, where they showed at Interstoff Asia Essential, 3-5 October. Their visit was made possible through the sponsorship of Messe Frankfurt (HK) and the generous contribution of the Drapers’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Weavers, who gave a one-off donation to build on the momentum of the GREAT creativity week (November 5-9 2012).
Texprint has been sponsored to showcase six prizewinners each year at Interstoff Asia Essential since 2001. Wendy Wen, Director of Trade Fairs for Messe Frankfurt, said that design “is becoming more and more important for trade fairs, with designers playing a major role in exhibitions. Texprint has been positioned near the Trend Forum for many years – trend stories plus unique and innovative designers has been key for this Hong Kong show, where visitors are particularly interested in trends and original design”.
Wendy Wen meeting designers Manri Kishimoto and Sophie Manners
Kate Strutt, Senior Trade Advisor, British Consul-General, visited on the setting up day and spoke to each of the designers about their expectations. Although they had not visited Hong Kong before she found them all very professional in talking about their work - having enjoyed the experience of showcasing their work to buyers and press two weeks before at Indigo, Paris - and open to opportunities that might arise.
Eager to find out more about the market and the major brands and retailers there, the Texprint group spent a day exploring the key retail hubs on HK Island and Kowloon.
They also visited the amazing Lane Crawford head office at Wong Chuk Hang for an invaluable mentoring session with Sarah Rutson, fashion director of Lane Crawford, and Ross Urwin, creative director for home & lifestyle at Lane Crawford. And back at Interstoff Asia Essential they met with Angelia Teo, content director WGSN Asia Pacific, and representatives of The Woolmark Company (both Foundation Sponsors of Texprint).
During the exhibition the designers made many very useful contacts – they found that they were meeting people who could actually produce their designs, helping them to appreciate that they are now professionals with skills understood and wanted by the marketplace. Although they had all sold designs in Paris, the conversations they had in Hong Kong made it all the more real.
Weaver Sophie Manners noted that “at Interstoff Asia Essential the buyers seem to like a strong idea that they can then adapt and commercialise. Buyers here see the designs as a starting point, while in Paris at PV it was more about using the designs in a more literal way, here you have discussions about adapting for production”.
“I have seen a wide range of companies, from those producing for Italian brands to Russian and Hong Kong based companies,” said knitter Carlo Volpi.
Tanya Grace Knuckey, a multi-media designer, said she had also had a very good show, and that “people understood my work more than in Paris – here they like what you do and want to take it into products immediately, as opposed to expecting you to adapt and change your designs completely”.
Ying Wu, print designer, and Manri Kishimoto, print and multi-media designer, agreed: “Here they seem more interested in production rather than buying designs – they want to use the design straightaway, whereas in Paris they want you to develop the idea. It was good to see the Hong Kong market, with visitors China of course, but also from Russia and Australia.”
“It has been a really good experience, learning that British-trained designers have a very good reputation for creativity, and seeing the appreciation of original design here. Being in Hong Kong has been fantastic!” said knitter Sarah Burton, summing up what was undoubtedly an exceptional experience for these young designers to enjoy so early in their careers.
The Texprint 24: Indigo highlights 2012
02 October 2012 by Editor
For the Texprint 24 the textile design show Indigo provided their first experience of exhibiting and selling their work alongside professional, established designers.
This prestigious showcase in Paris, September 19-21, is a fantastic platform for the emerging designers and vital to Texprint’s aim of helping to launch the careers of some of the best British graduates, the experience helping to shape the designers’ individual future plans.
Chairman Barbara Kennington was delighted to host this year’s event. “British creativity has been in the spotlight this year; creativity that comes in large part from encouraging diversity, excellence and high achievement in all design fields, and especially in fashion and textiles. Smart companies are looking to tap into this rich seam of British-trained talent and connecting with Texprint to support new textile talent.”
Overall Indigo 2012 was the best ever in terms of sales and contacts for the Texprint designers.
Sales to North America were particularly good, with Kayser-Roth Corp from North Carolina buying well; Lululemon Athletica (Texprint Foundation Sponsors), Hollister/Abercrombie & Fitch, Rachel Roy, Tracey Reese and Nike among others, also bought strongly.
Asian and European buyers were out in force too. From Europe: Tara Jarmon herself bought for junior line Mademoiselle Tara, and among others Nelly Rodi, H&M, Topshop, Boden, Custo, Desigual, Guy Laroche, White Stuff, and MD Gera, the German fashion prints manufacturer, were noted.
Buyers at Ying Wu stand
Conversations with these buyers gave the Texprint designers a unique opportunity to explain their inspiration and their work. Aside from individual sales, many freelance opportunities arose, as well as firm job offers and commissions.
Print designer David Warner notes: “It was such an invigorating experience to meet with buyers, agents, and industry experts. Getting their insight into what they thought of my designs and explaining who I am as a designer, gaining important contacts along the way. The whole experience will live with me and help to inform my future work.”
Philippa Watkins, journalist and RCA senior tutor, at Sophia Fenlon stand
Guido Tettamanti and Marco Taiana, representing sponsors Confidustria Como and the ComON creativity week, again endorsed their support for the programme. This year they have offered six designers an invaluable opportunity to experience working with Italian companies based in and around Como (up from two last year): Alice Howard-Graham, Manri Kishimoto, Sophie Manners, Israel Parra-Zanabria, Sophie Reeves and Amber Sambrook.
Woolmark Texprint Award judges at Lisa Bloomer stand
The Woolmark Texprint Award in Support of Campaign for Wool was judged at Indigo by James E Sugden OBE, director; James Dracup, group managing director, both of Johnstons of Elgin; and Masahiro Oono, textile design project manager of Japanese specialist wool weaver Nikke, and won by weaver Sophie Manners.
The highlight of the three-day event was the prize presentation. This took place on 19 September within a special section of the Texprint village where Texprint chairman Barbara Kennington welcomed the esteemed fashion and trend forecaster Nelly Rodi as the guest prize presenter.
Nelly reminded the audience of buyers, press and design professionals of her passion for nurturing young talent and her long-held admiration for the British design education system: “British schools seem take a much freer approach to educating their students, mixing different approaches such as photography, art and fashion, leaving the student to express himself, without imposed rule…Freedom gives a lot of energy to fashion.”
Nelly presented the winners of the four Texprint awards with their cheques: Carlo Volpi, winner of the Body Prize; Tania Grace Knuckey, winner of the Space Prize, Manri Kishimoto, winner of the Colour Prize; and Ying Wu, winner of the Pattern Prize.
Also saying a few words at the event were Gilles Lasbordes of Indigo/ Première Vision, and Peter Ackroyd of The Woolmark Company and Sheree Waterson of Lululemon Athletica; both companies Foundation Sponsors of Texprint.
Peter emphasized The Woolmark Company’s focus on “education, education, education” and again reiterated their desire to ensure that young designers are encouraged to work in wool, and to understand both its properties and its potential for fashion and interiors markets.
Peter Ackroyd of The Woolmark Company, Sophie Manners, Rebecca Sharp of The Woolmark Company, and Nelly Rodi
Sheree created a buzz of excitement with her no-nonsense “Texprint rocks!” accolade. Since becoming Foundation Sponsors earlier this year, Lululemon has shown itself to be the most enthusiastic and forward thinking of companies. Sheree’s original plan to employ one intern to work in Vancouver for three months soon became two interns - Manri Kishimoto and Sophie Reeves - as Sheree realized she could not choose between them when making her selection back in July at Texprint London.
Lululemon believe that working with Texprint and its exciting young designers is the very best way of driving innovation into their design process and of giving back and nurturing the next generation. An attitude we strongly applaud.
Buyer at Fergus Dowling stand
Print designer Trinity Mitchell sums up the designers’ appreciation for Texprint and in turn Texprint’s sponsors: “I can't express just how grateful I am to all of you at Texprint. I have had such a wonderful time and I am so thankful to have been part of it all. I never would have made the contacts I did if it weren't for Texprint, and I look forward to those contacts hopefully turning into jobs and work!”