DESIGNER DIARIES | 10 Questions with Jennifer Shorto

 

What is your earliest memory of design? When did you first know that you wanted to become a fabric/wallpaper designer?

I've always been creative so making things, drawing and painting have always been a part of my life. I remember taking enormous pleasure from designing a space station model for school where all four seasons were represented. But it was in my early thirties that I started to feel a visceral need to design things for the home. I started with furniture which is strange because I had been collecting textiles for ages alongside art.

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a fabric designer? Did this start from prior experience as an Interior Designer?

I didn’t have a background in Interior Design, mine was in Fine Arts but I did come across Antique Textiles when I was 18 through a house decorated by Geoffrey Bennison. That really sparked a life-long love which eventually led to designing textiles myself.

Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? What would you say are the main influences on your work?

My first huge influence when making textiles was Africa and it was heavily tied to my interest in 20th-century art. Then Japan and Asia, in general, became very important in terms of craftsmanship. When I lived in Mexico, the beautiful murals were the trigger to design wallpaper. I still draw tremendous inspiration from artists I admire throughout time.

Where is the most surprising place that you’ve found inspiration for your designs?

It’s always surprising to see where inspiration comes from. It can be from the humblest little piece of cloth, a scribble on a wall or even a daydream. Having said that, a major part of my life has been spent travelling and in museums and these experiences really colour the lens of my imagination.

What’s your creative process? Take us through the development of a design from idea conception to the final product.

The development process is very long and from my perspective, it's all about teamwork. Having ideas is great but developing and fleshing them out happens with Julie, my collaborator, and with my manufacturers. I discuss everything with Julie, she is a major part of the work process and a very gifted graphic designer. We've forged really strong relationships with our manufacturers with whom we develop the designs. 

It usually starts with drawings or textile documents and generally, we then start to work on them digitally. We can then go back to them and redraw them, add colour and texture with pastels or whatever other technique, or in the case of weaving, we can change the stitch or threads used. It's a whole series of different tests and can take up to a year until we get the final design. 

What types of materials and production processes do you prefer to use and why?

We work with natural fibres as sustainability is a key factor in our production choices. I love silk bourette which is the humblest silk and am really drawn to fibres that have a lot of texture to them.

What is something that most people don’t understand or appreciate about textile design that you wish they did? 

I love the sensuousness and richness of textiles. When I look at them, I can be love struck. My experience now allows me to read them like exchanges between different communities around the world and I find it very interesting. Textiles can offer fascinating insights into a culture. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to experiment with adding more colour and pattern to their interiors with fabric/wallpaper but is scared of making the wrong choice?

Light to me is the most important element and it will dictate the hues. Certain colours such as night blue, deep emerald, deep reds or golds are wonderful night colours which look great in dining rooms as they sparkle at night time.

My bedroom is quite dark as my windows look out onto trees but the combination of white linen and the gilded Golden Bees wallpaper, even the weak sun rays bring the room to life so it feels vibrant both day and night.

In terms of patterns, I like to mix them up to break the monotony. And to get a sense of the whole room, I throw them on the floor to have them at a distance. 

 Wallpaper in Golden Bees

Is there a particular design in your collection that’s your favourite and if so, why?

I love Midnight Mademoiselle. I wanted to mimic the ribbed texture of horsehair which is so prized by antique dealers We worked on it for ages and I can truly say that I’m proud of it. Its texture and depth of colour exceeded my expectations. I must add that I made it for my husband who needed a textile for one of his precious antiques pieces so it was made as a sort of gift to him.

 Midnight Mademoiselle in Blue, Green & Raspberry

Midnight Mademoiselle in Teal, White & Red

How has the fabric and textile industry evolved since you became a part of it and what do you see and hope for the future of it?

We’ve seen an acceleration in the fields of technology and sustainability and I expect that those areas will only continue to evolve. These changes don't only impact the way that we produce textiles but also the way that we trade. For example, digital printing has greatly expanded possibilities of expressing ideas and online trading influences the way that showrooms function.

On the sustainability side, we see higher expectations from our clients and showrooms to show green standards through the cloth, dyes, packaging and work processes we use. On our end, we exert tremendous pressure on our manufacturers to provide proof of sound work process. Sustainability is a complex subject and in the field of textiles, it isn't always easy to navigate because implications are not always clear. We rely heavily on organisations and certifications such as GOTS and REACH to measure standards. The upside to all of this is that we're all moving in the right direction and are finally seeing that change is possible.

I think sustainability awareness is going to be increasingly present and am interested to see our market evolve. In my view, Europe has the highest standards and it's easier to navigate that world because our manufacturers are pressed into complying with a range of different standards (including GOTS, REACH, OEKO-TEX and CO2 Neutral) which have been established to provide more transparency. 

Sustainability is a key priority for us. We buy and work with organic linen and use the best eco-conscious dyes available. I think it would be very short-sighted to go forward without including this factor into production.

Click to see Jennnifer Shorto's Designer Profile and explore her fabric and wallpaper collections.