Emily Morrow Finkell, DESIGN SPECTATOR:
Do you believe in magic?
Great ideas that come to life are “magic”…
As someone who considers myself “mature”, certainly well beyond believing in mythical creatures, the Easter bunny and magic tricks, I admittedly have become a believer in a kind of “magic”…not the kind that where rabbits come out of hats but a more refined kind of magic, the “magic” that happen when the greatest talents in the design world create something we all see and recognize as something beyond the ordinary. It takes that certain something, je ne sais quoi, to come up with a “winner” and ever more of that certain something to have a successfully selling product.
Over my twenty-something years of meeting and or collaborating with the very best in the design world, there’s one common thread that I have finally deduced that they all share. I’ve met some greats: Kevin Sharkey, as in Senior Vice President and Executive Editorial Director, Decorating, and Executive Creative Director, Merchandising for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.; Alexa Hampton, owner and designer of Mark Hampton Design, LLC and designer of a variety of licensed products under her own name; and those design talents you might not have heard of but certainly know their work in the many items we use daily without even thinking. Each one carry with them an experience and wisdom that comes from working both hard and smart, those who have been born with a natural gift, an ability or an eye, with a passion and a drive to create something beautiful. These are the “magicians” of our world, the artists, interior designers, fashion designers and product designers. They bring beauty out of nothing one can see with the naked eye and make it into something indispensible to us as consumers. Walking through the various expos, furniture and design shows as often as I do, I’ve seen with my own eyes the incredibly brilliant outcomes of the magic from some very talented design minds. Some very great products and designs are licensed under very well known names, assuring the consumers that the credibility and integrity of the designs are at their best ,while others were conceived by unnamed product designers for the licensees, and yet others are the result of companies who mine for design either by outside consultants or their own internal product design teams. Regardless of the method, the outcome is always exciting to see.
During this spring’s High Point Market, I was fortunate enough to meet and talk with Alexander Julian as he spoke about his life’s work and career in designing fashion for menswear, womenswear as well as home furnishings, specifically Universal Furniture. Alex, as he is known by his friends and colleagues, said he always wanted to be an artist but he said his hands could not draw the colors and patterns that were in his head, so he turned to product design to explain it… it is commercial art…”art is my teacher”. The world between fashion and furnishings is interesting from his perspective. He said that he looks at many of the same things for inspiration, nature, art, texture, color, how it feels et cetera, “but the advantages of furniture is that it’s not gender specific, one must appeal to women and men simultaneously… How you feather your nest…fashion is the common denominator, it’s in the simple details, button for example” as he gestures towards the console table with tortoise shell button inspired pulls.
After all the questions and answers were over, I overheard one of the designers say as they were leaving the meeting room, “Wow, he actually didn’t tell us anything tangible about how he does what he does…but he certainly does it well. Do you think he knows, really what it is that he does, what it is that makes him special and sought after?” This question caused me to think about the mystery of the creative process and the genius of great design. It is something that can only be described as “magic”.
What does it take to make magic? It requires years of study, observation, trials as well as failures, and most importantly, it requires successes with the right combinations of people and partners. It also reminded me of the incredibly hardworking and talented design mavens who work for the companies that pay license fees to “celebrity designers”, many of whom I know personally and respect them greatly. Currey and Company as well as Universal Furniture are two that immediately come to mind. Janine Wagers, Creative Director at Universal Furniture, was frequently lauded by Alexander Julian for her amazing design work within their endlessly stunning vignettes and rooms at High Point. Currey and Company’s Brownlee Currey and Curtis Adams, Creative Director also showcased newest looks under the Bunny Williams name. All of their creations, collaboratively with Bunny Williams or solely by their own internal designers, the freshness and inspiration is immediately apparent to anyone who follows design.
Success comes from an idea that has been brought to life by lots of nurturing, endless support that has been reworked, tweaked, financially backed by someone who’s willing to go to bat for it, go the distance for it and most importantly that certain someone who’s willing to buy it, buy enough of it to make sense on a financial level. This seems so simple from afar. If you’ve seen the movie “Joy”, the story of the miracle mop by Joy Mangano, it’s the hollywood version of how someone took their great idea to market. In the floor covering, fashion or furniture industry, one can’t just operate in “onesie-twosie” sized successes, but regularly in bulk, rolls, pallets and truck loads in order to succeed and stay in business. We’re in exciting times with our improving economy, fewer regulations and less red tape for new businesses and entrepreneurs to be able to flourish. It’s hard to believe that the first the first generation of Apple’s iPhone was announced on January 9, 2007. Now we can’t imagine our lives without a smart phone. What new products, new categories will be see come to life in the next few years that we will soon wonder how we could ever live without?