In some ways, Marc Jacobs is a bit like Oprah. With a flick of his influential magic wand, Posh Spice can suddenly be considered cool, Bleecker Street can become the place you simply must open your New York shop, and a Madrid-based, husband-and-wife graphic-design duo can go from virtual unknowns to the toast of magazines and blogs around the world. That’s what happened two years ago to Julia Vergara and Javier G. Bayo, co-principals of the print and pattern design shop SuTurno, whose Bolsaco tote — a simple canvas bag made from vintage stock found in an old warehouse in Spain — was spied by two of Jacobs’ buyers at the Madrid shop Peseta. “It was the first product we ever made with the SuTurno label on it, and it became our most hyped design to date,” says Bayo. The two were asked to produce a limited edition of bags for the Marc by Marc Jacobs stores in the States, and they promptly sold out within a few days.
Vergara and Bayo, though, are no strangers to the idea of creating covetable fashion basics. After all, half of their studio work is devoted to creating prints on commission for Spanish brands like Hoss and Zara Home — at least it was, until the recession hit and budgets dried up. But the lack of incoming work actually proved to be a boon for their personal projects, which involve creating patterns based their travels and everyday observations and applying them to cushions, ceramics, and scarves. In fact, it’s ironic that SuTurno made its name on the Bolsaco tote, whose only embellishment is a shoulder strap with brightly colored stripes, when most of the pair’s work is defined by a watery, desaturated palette and a signature smudged look.
That palette may have stemmed from the fact that both designers grew up in port towns: Bayo in Santander, in the north, and Vergara in Alicante, in the south. “Both are cities that have similar profiles: around 250,000 people and boring,” says Bayo. “But they are the places that made us become creative. We spent most of our childhoods at home, playing with pencils and watercolors, reading books, and experimenting by ourselves because the outside wasn’t appealing to us.”
What inspired you to be a designer? “Julia always wanted to work in the creative field. She’s been surrounded by artists all her life. But it was tough for her to choose what exactly she wanted to do. When she realized her obsession with repeated patterns could relate to textile prints, the choice was clear. Javi, on the other hand, spent his childhood drawing on everything even before he knew the word graffiti. Schoolbooks, desks, and one of his mum’s lamps sported his first designs. When he realized his love for graphics, he was already studying law at university; he made a U-turn in his career after moving to London and enrolling in a graphic-design course that changed his life.”
Current side projects: “Julia also works for Helena Rohner, a designer whose jewelry and ceramics are well known in Spain. Javi works as a graphic designer for various clients. He’s also involved in the local music scene as a DJ and event promoter.”
What a stranger who saw your work for the first time would say:
“First-time reactions seem to be quite positive so far! They say our work is elegant, strong, and subtle. Another common first reaction is to mix up our name. Every time we hand out our business card, people tend to say, ‘Oh, I see, Saturno’ (Saturn in Spanish). SuTurno actually means ‘your turn,’ but since we write it all together it can be easily mixed up with Saturno. We used to worry in the past but now we sort of expect this comment and have to make an effort to refrain from laughing.”
For Anna Murray and Grace Winteringham, pattern is everywhere — in the flaking paint of street bollards and the crisscrossing beams of scaffolding, in the fashion photography of Mel Bles and the banded stiletto heels of Parisian shoemaker Walter Steiger. Together, Murray and Winteringham run Patternity, a studio and online resource for pattern imagery where each photo is curated, sourced, or taken by the designers themselves. Spend some time on the site, and their obsessions become clear: One week it’s rocks and strata; another it’s the vivid African textiles that line the stalls of the Ridley Road street market that runs daily in Dalston, the East London neighborhood both women call home.
The 28-year-old graphic designer Kostya Sasquatch makes thick, vector-like graphics on a PC, all cartoon colors and geometric shapes, odd logotypes that create iconographies for systems that seem to exist only in the designer’s mind. (He has a whole series called Donut Control.) They’re the kind of designs that could be from anywhere, but they might not have looked anything like they do if Sasquatch wasn’t from Moscow.
Someone like JP Williams has enjoyed plenty of validating moments in his 20-year career as a graphic designer: Getting to study under one of his design heros, Paul Rand, at Yale; winning more than 100 awards for projects like his kraft-paper tea packages for Takashimaya; discovering that his collection of baseball cards from 1909 was worth enough to buy his wife and business partner Allison an engagement ring. All well and good, however none of it really compared, he admits, to the feeling of being validated by Martha Stewart.