The Selection Process 2012 – in conversation with prize judge Neisha Crosland
6 July 2012 by TexSelect in Fashion, Home, Interiors & Auto, Sponsors, Judges & Champions
Neisha Crosland established her textile design label in 1994 and is best known for her wallpaper and fabric designs. She also applies her style to stationary, tiles, scarves, fine china, rugs as well as home and fashion accessories for Hankyu Department Stores in Japan. Her body of work has propelled her to the forefront of UK design, and in 2006 she was honoured with the title of Royal Designer for Industry. Open, frank and passionate about design, Neisha shares with us her route to creating an international design brand and the importance for designers to experience the world first-hand.
What and where did you study before doing an MA in printed textiles at the Royal College of Art? I took a foundation in art at Central and then two terms of graphics at Camberwell. I wanted to paint but my father didn’t understand ‘art school’ and I had to do something that would give me a qualification to get a job. I chose graphics as it was fine art-based. One project was to illustrate a Dylan Thomas story and I made a 3D build up of card. The tutor said it would be printed in 2D and I would need to translate it, think about typefaces… I lost enthusiasm.
Why did you switch to textile design? I went to see an exhibition on William Morris and the Kelmscott Press at the V&A Museum and got lost in the textile department. I saw Ottoman Empire textiles with bold tulips that were abstract and simple and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
The textile design course at Camberwell is fine art-based. Yes, there’s a lot of drawing. You mix your own dyes, crunch up beetles for red, mix up gum Arabic to glue the fabric to the print tables, make your own screens… I learned to understand the alchemy of the process which hasn’t left me. When I went to the RCA I kept experimenting.
Did you launch your own range straight after graduating from the RCA? In the first hour of my degree show I received a commission from Osborne & Little. I had printed on old velvet curtains which gave them a medieval spirit. They invited me in to do a collection with this look. I learned the whole process, from great idea to the marketplace. It’s important to know how a 2D design will translate onto cloth. It’s the step in between that makes it work. I am interested in that end look.
Which led you to create your own scarf brand? Scarves were an experiment in rectangles with cloths that didn’t need rub or colourfastness tests. There were no production minimums. I worked with velvets, playing with the design at the Belford Prints factory. I was asked by Debenhams to do diffusion line; my designs would cost £20 rather than £250 at Harrods. When pashminas came in and I started to work in cashmere but they cost a fortune to sample and were not commercially viable – I still have boxes of the prototypes.
And you decided to diversify into wallpaper and furnishing fabrics? I did not need to borrow money from a bank; my father died and I inherited a bit of money, otherwise I don’t think I could have done it. I built a brand name. Which led to a contract with the Japanese department store Hankyu, and it paid an advance royalty. Then the Rug Company came along. Everything I do now is under licence. But I had to go through that first, painful bit.
And now you design for a multitude of objects. I put 52 designs a year on different products. Some might be the same, but I do a lot of work with the right partners with the right sensitivities to translate and proportion the design for a rug or an espresso cup. It takes a lot of studio time. I just don’t hand out the designs, I mother hen them to the final product.
As a judge, what will you look for in the work of Texprint’s prize winners? I’ll be looking individuality, idiosyncrasies and an aesthetic personal to them. With digital printing you can put anything on a cloth, a million colours doesn’t cost any more. Colour separation is a skill. I’ll be looking for sensitivity, not just taking a cool image and plonking it on a cloth.
What is your advice to new designers? Don’t be influenced by the high street. People are lazy. There’s a big difference between sourcing a mountain scape on Google and going to it. Something happens with your brain when you experience things first hand rather than through a screen, you’ll get that extra something that feeds into your work. I almost want to take computer screens away. When you look at 17th century French Huguenot silks by James Leman or Anna Maria Garthwaite, you can see fantasies and brilliant drawing skills. We will never go back to that nor should we but we must not lose sight of the good things from the past and join them with the new. The act of hand drawing out these fantasies takes time we no longer can afford but the process of drawing and dreaming brings a wonderful meditative process – we must not lose sight of either.