It’s funny, although not altogether inaccurate, to picture a girl like Pascale Gueracague digging around in the trash — she’s all long hair, winning smile, French parents, and Margiela bags, and at just 26 years old, she’s spent the last three years catapulting to the head of textile design at Helmut Lang. But in her prints as well as the paintings she makes in her spare time, she works with some of the most banal materials imaginable — plastic bags, baby powder, rubber cement — and because she sees beauty in them that others tend to miss, that often entails liberating them from the rubbish pile. “That’s how I’ve learned to design since I was a kid,” she explains. “I came from a big family with no money, so I was always drawing on the inside of a cereal box.” Of course, Gueracague’s artistic gifts lay in the alchemy that happens next, when she’s layering and manipulating those materials into rich compositions that evoke her new-age-meets-industrial-chic aesthetic; one of her recent motifs for Helmut Lang involved crinkling, scanning, and Photoshopping some discarded heat-transfer foils she found in a print factory until they looked like some kind of crystallized interstellar scene. “They think I’m a mad scientist at work,” she says. In fact, they encourage it.
Every designer should be so lucky. Gueracague spent two years studying painting at an art high school before attending the textile program at RISD, where she learned dye chemistry and how stick her hand in a bag and blind-identify camel hair from mohair. It only took a few key internships — working under color expert Paul Bloodgood on Martha Stewart’s house paint line, apprenticing for a fashion designer and a celebrity stylist — plus a wayward post-grad year designing dorm bedding for Target before she found her way to Helmut Lang in 2007. After an unsuccessful run with Prada, the company had just been sold to Theory and placed under the care of creative directors Michael and Nicole Colovos; shortly after Gueracague was brought in to assist their director of fabrics, she helped spearhead the first in what would become a successful ongoing series of experimental digital prints.
In a sense, she was getting paid to channel her personal artistic practice into a like-minded commercial one. “I work on a team, so I have to feed off of what everyone else is feeling, but my instincts always lean toward industrial surfaces and textures, something hard mixed with something softer,” Gueracague says. “I love rocks and anything outer-space related. And sometimes I’m just inspired by a material, or a type of ink, or the colors in a photograph.” Now, of course, those interests have become inexorably intertwined with Helmut Lang’s visual identity. It’s certainly made it that much harder for her to draw a line between her professional work and her personal practice; when Sight Unseen visited her apartment and home studio on a stormy day this August, it was filled with work-related experiments. But ultimately, she’s feeling pretty creatively fulfilled these days, and when she does find time to devote to her paintings, they still manage to take on lives of their own. Here’s a closer look at both of her worlds.
It's easy to imagine the backstory of a Prada print: Miuccia has a concept for the season, and either a high-end Italian fabric vendor or her own design team supplies prints just for her. But consider a patterned polyester work shirt from Kmart, and you'd never guess that a RISD textile-design grad like Amy Voloshin might be behind it, translating those runway looks into something that appeals to mainstream Americans. It's an art unto itself: "I have a list of things I roll through in my head when I design for those clients: Is the print pretty? Is it scary, thorny, or edgy? If it is, it's not going to work."
To any reader who went to design school and is, years later, still making student loan payments month after month, you might want to close your eyes for this one: Rodrigo Almeida — the 34-year-old Brazilian furniture designer who's pals with the Campana brothers, has been featured in Wallpaper, and has made pieces for top galleries like Contrasts and FAT — didn't go to university, not even as an undergrad. What you're looking at here is raw talent, and a career that began when Almeida simply picked up the Brazilian magazine Arc Design six years ago and thought, "I want to do that."
As I walked the Tendence gift fair in Frankfurt this summer, Iris Maschek appeared to me like an oasis of glam in a desert of practicality. There she was, surrounded by clocks and soaps and clever ceramic jugs with customizable chalkboard labels, dressed all in black and perched in a cool mid-century rattan chair against this gorgeously baroque Rorschach-like backdrop: A specimen from her very first wallpaper collection.