Lamps that unite tradition and wit! We talk to Zoe Darlington
Zoë Darlington has an eye for a great lamp. It takes a special character to create such witty, yet truly beautiful pieces of functional, contemporary furniture – and Zoë has nailed it. It’s been a pleasure to talk to her about her work and early career, including some very insightful advice for creatives that are thinking of starting out on their own journey.
We talk to Zoë Darlington
Lamps seem like a relatively unlikely subject for such a high level of artistic exploration, can you tell us a little about why you’ve come to focus on them?
I’m focusing on lamps precisely because they’re an unlikely object! I love that! I think it’s one of the things that makes the lamps so exciting and fresh. And I believe we should use beautiful objects in our everyday lives, they make every day better.
They certainly do!
Can you tell us a bit about your career beginnings? Where did you study for your BA (Hons) in Fine Art? How important do you feel your degree was toward securing your first position within the fashion industry, and how much relevance does it have to your work today?
I studied in Leeds, which is such a vibrant city and it was a great course to be on. The course taught me an open, creative way of thinking which is just as important in my work today, as it has been throughout my previous work. I’d probably say it was invaluable. My few years in fashion filled in the gaps between artistic creativity and commercial awareness which is vital when starting a business. It also gave me a huge awareness of fabrics – I picked prints and researched fabric qualities for the high street for years.
What attracts you to the process and craft of actually making an object, rather than just conceptualising or designing something?
I love being involved in the full circle of the creative process. You retain ultimate control every step of the way and it’s just an unbeatable feeling to be entirely responsible for creating something from concept to materials, to prototypes, to production. And I am completely uncompromising on quality. Being involved in the craft of making the object as well as designing it means I can uphold the level of workmanship that I consider to be integral to the product.
Can you run us through the typical process involved in creating one of your lamps?
It always begins with the fabrics. They’re a bit of an obsession of mine. When I see something new that I’m excited by, I can’t really rest until I’ve started making something – I’ve been known to transport fabrics back from half way across the world!
When I have my fabrics, the design process continues with shape and trims, often inspired by something unrelated – be it a film or a fashion silhouette or the angles of a chair or jacket. I go on to put my pattern making skills to good use, creating bespoke patterns for each shade before cutting and machine stitching panels for strength. The skin is then hand stitched to the frame before the same process of stretching and stitching is applied to the trims.
There’s an awful lot of hand stitching involved with my lamps and they are very time consuming, but it’s precisely this level of workmanship and attention to detail that really sets my products apart. I feel these lamps have their own history and identity and they deserve the best. I’m trying to create products that are cherished and are bought to be enjoyed and then passed down through generations.
Do you have a favourite product in your current range?
I love Logan. The finest quality heavy British wool, a traditional shape with my witty take on colour, an unexpected weight of fabric and trim… Actually it’s just been snapped up by a London Boutique as a complete lamp with a glossy charcoal base. It looks great with the store’s other products.
What other designers inspire your work?
I love Paul Smith – the man’s a legend! His take on British traditionalism, always with a witty twist is fantastic. I also really admire Melanie Porter for her fine craftsmanship in applying an old craft to upholstery with a clever spin.
Having a background in Fine Art, do you feel that any artists (rather than designers) have influence on your work, or does any particular piece inspire you?
I’ve been interested in Fine Art for as long as I can remember. As an art form it’s always fed into my thinking. I take quite a lot from colour and I love Hockney’s work. (I also love the fact he’s continued to embrace changes and I can’t wait to see the exhibition at the RA – I’m finally going next week!). David Shrigley’s spirit is an inspiration too.
Who’s been buying your products? Who’s been stocking them?
I initially made lamps for myself as I couldn’t find products that embodied the spirit of witty traditionalism and were made really beautifully, with integrity.
Others saw the work and loved them, so I made a few for close friends. Then, friends of friends started requesting commissions and that kept me busy for a couple of years! I only launched my website in November and I’ve since been selling directly to people who love their homes and interior designers who want to commission a really special piece to set off a room.
I’ve just confirmed two London boutiques to become stockists, where stock will arrive this spring.
Where to from here? Will you ever diversify into other household objects, or use different materials for your lamps?
I’ve actually already been designing some cushions to sit with the lamps. I’d been asked so often that I could see the demand was there and it’s really fun creating a little capsule homewares collection. The principle is the same as with the lamps – traditional objects made with a witty eye and beautiful workmanship.
For those people who are either just graduating or just starting out on their own with an idea in mind, do you have any words of advice to building a successful creative business?
Start small – you’d be amazed at how much more productive you can be creatively when you don’t have a huge number of overheads hanging over you and distracting you. Stay inspired, feed yourself with ideas, wait for no one to do something for you, and predictably, don’t give up!
It’s easy to think that when you have a rejection things aren’t going right. Actually, it’s more likely to be that the two of you are just not a good fit together. You can’t – and shouldn’t want to fit with everyone.
Finally, kill your darlings. If you start to obsess about “fixing” something because the idea was great, get rid of it. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Trust your instincts.
Our biggest possible thanks go out to Zoë for her generosity in giving us the time to give us such insightful answers. You can see more of Zoë’s work and find out more about her, on her website, her Facebook Page, her Linkedin Profile, her Tumblr blog, and on Twitter.