’80s Issey Miyake: “My mom was always wearing avant-garde designers like Byblo and Yohji, and she loved Issey Miyake. One of the first pieces of designer clothing she gave me was an Issey skirt. He's amazing for what he was doing in that country at that time: peasant clothes, baggy things, geometric shapes. His clothes were very unisex. You could be any shape and you could wear them. It was always about movement. This was before he started on the pleats, and he was already developing his own fabrics. The designers I work with now are similarly trying to invent something new for this period. Anntian, for example, experiment with form and make bold moves, and Zucca uses amazing textiles. And yet I like that Issey’s clothes aren’t fancy even though they’re well designed. They still function.”

Jade Lai, Owner, Creatures of Comfort

If you ever have the privilege of chatting up Jade Lai, who owns the bicoastal cult fashion emporium Creatures of Comfort, don't be surprised if she tells you that, after returning from a trip to Morocco last year with no less than 15 carpets in tow, she was struck by the notion that she could totally see herself in the rug business. And when this is followed by the revelation that she’s looking to expand the Creatures of Comfort brand to encompass food, or that she’s been taking pottery classes, or that she hopes to run a bed and breakfast sometime soon, resist the urge to raise an eyebrow — these may sound like the ramblings of a dilettante, but make no mistake, Lai is both hyper-creative and legitimately driven. Consider, for example, the year she spent working as a product developer for Esprit in her native Hong Kong: She took the job after having graduated with an architecture degree, freelanced as a graphic designer, and started her own stationery line in L.A., but proceeded to become so good at it that she could eventually identify a fabric’s contents by touch alone — a useful skill for someone who now designs Creatures of Comfort’s in-house fashion line, and one that would certainly come in handy for any aspiring carpet slinger.
More
Free City is located at 1139 N Highland Ave, Hollywood, California.

Nina Garduno, Owner of Sweatpants To The Stars Brand Free City

To a certain kind of customer, it makes sense to drop half a grand on a Proenza Schouler necklace made from climbing rope or a hundred bucks on a T-shirt by Comme des Garçons: You’re paying for the craftsmanship of a couture brand and you’re buying the cachet of a label that normally retails for several times those amounts. But what of a sweatshirt — created by someone with no design training, no seasonal runway presentation, and no global retail empire — that sells for $198? That’s the conundrum that faced former Ron Herman buyer Nina Garduno when she started Free City more than a decade ago.
More
Antique wallpapers purchased from a flea market in Paris.

Kneeland Co

If you’ve ever spent an afternoon gazing out the window, futilely hoping that design inspiration might strike, you’ve probably wished you knew someone like Joanna Williams. As the proprietor of Kneeland Co., a Los Angeles–based, appointment-only studio that sources vintage prints, textiles, garments, and jewelry for the fashion and interiors industries, it’s Williams’s job to scour the globe, bringing back creative inspiration for sale. In Williams’s world, a book of early 20th-century decorative medallions, snagged from Pasadena’s legendary Rose Bowl Flea Market, might serve as inspiration for a new tile pattern, and the striped detail from a Moroccan wedding blanket might one day mutate into a maxidress for Anthropologie. As glamorous a life as that might sound, Williams concedes that it’s still a lot of hard work: “You’re definitely always searching and looking, trying to meet the right people, and making sure you don’t get ripped off,” she told me when I visited her new Atwater Village studio earlier this month.
More
IA_teepee2

Irene Alvarez, Artist

Antwerp’s Irene Alvarez was a sculptor and recent Royal Academy art grad when she got the call from the cult concept shop Ra — the city’s version of Opening Ceremony — asking her to design a custom installation. But it was the far less glamorous moment that came next that has since marked a pivotal moment in her nascent career: She discovered the Netherlands' Textile Museum Tilburg, which is not only a museum but also an experimental production lab where creatives can apply for technical assistance on machines capable of knitting, embroidering, lasering, printing, tufting, dyeing, and weaving almost anything the mind can conceive. Despite having no previous experience with textiles, she collaborated with the museum on the half-woven Inti Altar sculpture that’s held court on Ra’s second floor for the last two years, and she’s been addicted to the furry medium ever since. Today marks the opening of her first solo show, at Belgium’s other hallowed retail emporium, Hunting and Collecting, and it demonstrates just how far Alvarez has come in her obsession with knits — it contains no traditional sculpture at all, only a textile teepee (above), a line of t-shirts, and a series of three tapestries woven with a psychedelic clash of pop-culture icons and op-art patterning. Sight Unseen recently spoke with the artist about her work with the museum and the ethnic influences behind her imagery.
More
In the beginning, Menuez kept a silkscreening studio in a 2nd-floor space crammed behind Kiosk, the New York design shop owned by his friends Alisa Grifo and Marco Romeny. Now, on the 6th floor of an old pillow factory on the Lower East Side, he has room to spread out. Shown here are paint supplies, garment racks filled with samples from current and past seasons, and tests for new prints.

Ross Menuez of Salvor Projects

There’s no real way to put this delicately: It can be somewhat difficult getting Ross Menuez to focus. Talk to the designer of the fashion label Salvor Projects for an hour, and your conversation might touch upon everything from the migratory patterns of birds to the intricacies of intarsia; ask him about his process, and he’s apt to fret instead about what to do with the signage for his first retail shop, which opened last week on a sleepy stretch of New York’s Lower East Side. His career has been equally hopscotched: He’d built houses for the Sandinista in Nicaragua, designed under Tom Dixon at Habitat, and run a metal shop in Brooklyn before finally, a few years back, committing himself fully to the world of fashion, complete with seasonal presentations and showroom representation. But as with any talent whose creativity flows faster than the mind can apprehend, it’s the unscripted aspect of Menuez’s work that makes it so compelling — you never know quite what to expect.
More
Baggu’s team now works out of large, sunlit studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but when the brand began it was more of a family affair. “To order bags from China, you have to order a lot,” says Sugihara. “It’s not like you can get 100 bags. It was suddenly like, ‘Okay, we have to order 40,000 bags.’ We put them in my parents’ garage and my 15-year-old brother did fulfillment. We got really lucky and had almost a full-page editorial in Teen Vogue before we launched, so we enabled our website to take pre-orders. The factory rushed those to my teeny tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and I stayed up for three days packing and shipping orders to get them out.”

Baggu

“Always listen to your mother” isn’t exactly the kind of central tenet they teach you at Harvard Business School. But for Emily Sugihara, the California-raised, Brooklyn-based designer behind the reusable bag line Baggu, it’s a piece of advice that’s been invaluable to the brand’s runaway success since its founding in 2007. Back then Sugihara was a Parsons grad working as an assistant designer at J. Crew, just coming to realize that a corporate job wasn’t her calling. “As a kid, I was very entrepreneurial, and I always knew I wanted to have my own company,” she says. At home over Christmas break one year, Sugihara and her mother began talking about making a line of reusable shopping bags. Her mom was “sort of a treehugger” and an artist in her own right — an expert seamstress who learned to sew making her own clothes as a kid in rural Michigan — and Sugihara was a die-hard New Yorker-in-training, sporting fingers turned purple each week as she lugged home bags full of groceries. Together they came up with a bag that’s almost exactly like the original ripstop nylon Baggu that sells today: long handles that fit comfortably over the shoulder, gussets along the bottom that allow things like milk and eggs to stack, and a single, double-reinforced seam that’s the result, Sugihara says, of her mother’s “sewing genius.”
More
hunter-animal-speakers

Objects USA on YHBHS

Sighted on the interiors and art blog You Have Been Here Sometime, a chat with the three collectors behind Objects USA, an L.A.-based online and pop-up gallery dedicated to mid-century California design and crafts (and San Diego in particular). Ron Kerner, Steve Aldana, and Dave Hampton banded together to start Objects USA in 2005, after discovering they were all pretty much after the same stuff, and they've since expanded their repertoire to include hosting bi-annual "Mod Swap" trading events for other collectors. But though they were fortunate enough to find each other, they're aware that not everyone shares their taste: "Most people have gotten used to basic mid-century modern, and that's certainly where we all started," they write in the interview. "But for someone with visions of Pierre Koenig-style antiseptic interiors dancing in their head, our crazy hippie-modern fiber-art and funk movement meltdowns can seem unsettling." We think you'll like it just fine, which is why we’ve excerpted part of the interview here, where each partner tells the story behind his favorite object from his own collection, like these hand-carved wooden speakers from 1972.
More
A collection of Artecnica's TranSglass vessels.

Tahmineh Javanbahkt, Creative Director at Artecnica

For a company that’s become known over the past decade for its ethically responsible products and its work with indigenous artisan communities, it’s surprising to learn that Artecnica’s first product was made from a relatively noxious material like resin. A small, egg-like alarm whose ovoid shape magnified its face, the Dada clock was designed by Tahmineh Javanbahkt, who co-founded the company in 1987 with her husband, the architect Enrico Bressan. “In the beginning, we started out doing mostly architecture,” Javanbahkt told me one day earlier this winter when I visited her home in Los Angeles. “We did Gianni Versace’s office and store; we would do set design for companies like Sebastian. In some of the buildings, we would do panels or dividers in resin, and eventually we made the Dada clock, which is what successfully started us in product design. But now we make it in glass!"
More
Another friend of Thomas’s, Kevin Beer, created this assemblage of found Italian pipes in briarwood. “He’s like an artist/picker/interior decorator, and he does a lot of collections of things like this. For years he’s been doing weird little bell jar dioramas, like dolls with birds heads. He’ll take things he found and sell them as they are, or he’ll do something like this, where he puts it on a wire armature. I like the texture, it looks like faux bois,” Thomas laughs.

Brooks Hudson Thomas of Specific Merchandise

I’d known about the Los Angeles design shop Specific Merchandise for nearly a year before I figured out that its name was a play on the idea of the general store. “I wanted to have a huge range of things, but when I started thinking about it, I liked the idea of flipping that and being specific rather than general,” says Brooks Hudson Thomas, the former Blackman Cruz manager who set out his own shingle at the beginning of last year on a stretch of Beverly Boulevard that includes Lawson-Fenning, L.A. Eyeworks, and the former digs of TenOverSix. “One model I had in mind was a museum shop, but sort of trying to kick its ass. The other was stores like Moss, Matter, and The Future Perfect, which also have that blurry store/gallery vibe.”
More
Geodes: Yes, geodes are trendy right now, but this is one instance where I’ve liked them since I was a child more because I was a nerd than a trendsetter. When I was young I collected rocks, and I had a purple geode I loved to just pick up and stare at. (I also had a rock tumbler, and I tried to grow crystals from a box a few times, too.) Now I have new geodes, and one set into a pendant that I found in a crappy rock shop in Barcelona for 3 Euros. I highly endorse decorating with them — plants are not the only things that can bring a natural element indoors.

Monica Khemsurov, Co-Editor

In honor of Sight Unseen's first anniversary, we, the editors, decided to turn the lens on ourselves, revealing what inspires us as writers about and champions of design and art. If you're an especially devoted reader of Sight Unseen, you might have noticed that Monica — who spent her childhood putting bugs under a kiddie microscope and was at the head of her high-school calculus class — often tends towards subjects inspired by geometry and science, while Jill — whose love for color and pattern likely began with an uncommonly large novelty earring collection — favors maximalist, throw-every-color-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks types. We were interested to see how those formative experiences would play out in a documention of our own reference points. Here's a closer look at eight of Monica's editor's picks.
More
From left, on an IKO WAKA big dot paper print: Rattan Takraw ball, nabeshiki trivet, vintage pink streamer, glazed dish from Hagi, IKO IKO hand-cast bronze bangle, nabeshiki trivet. “I had been looking for something everyone in Japan used, the kind of thing you’d see on everyone’s table. All the houses we went to had these woven trivets, which are only made in Okinawa. I saw them at department stores, so I don’t think they’re seen as these highly prized craft objects. It’s more that people use them, and they happen to be a cool design. But everyone does recognize that they always come from Okinawa, which is an idea we’ve lost in America. While our objects may be designed here, we always know they’re from another place, which takes away that regional or local feel.”

Kristin Dickson of L.A.’s Iko Iko

Inside Kristin Dickson’s store Iko Iko in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, there are polka dot shirts and wooden knitting needles, zig-zag coathooks and Mexican moccasins, ceramic urns and jars of jam. There are selections from Dickson’s crystal and vintage-book collections — the latter with titles like “On Weaving” or “On Fiberworks” — plus pieces from her boyfriend Shin Okuda’s furniture line Waka Waka. And as of this month, these items were joined by a haul of objects from a three-week trip the couple took to Okuda’s native Japan, where the fare spanned vintage textiles to traditional trivets to novelties like toothpaste and black Q-tips. It’s a credit to the pair’s curating talents that the shop nevertheless feels like the product of a coherent vision. “I focus on work that balances high design with craft and traditional processes,” says Dickson. “I want it to be a fun exploration of textures, cultural artifacts, utilitarian objects, and beautiful curiosities.”
More
Root, for example, costs $32 a bottle. “It’s just as expensive as Grey Goose, but people are willing to pay because it’s organic and because there’s authenticity in the story,” says Grasse.

Art in the Age

When Philadelphia adman Steven Grasse talks about his 20 years at the helm of Gyro Worldwide, the successful agency he shuttered in 2008, his assessment is as blunt as you might expect from the man who invented Bikini Bandits, a video series about strippers, guns, and hot rods: “I was the asshole who did the Camel ads,” he says. “At Gyro, we had this ‘I’ll fuck anything that moves’ philosophy.” That all changed in 2008, when he sold Sailor Jerry — the rum brand he created before going on to help develop Hendrick's Gin — to William Grant & Sons for “more money than I ever made in advertising,” he says. Grasse quickly changed the name of his agency to Quaker City Mercantile, and transformed its mission completely. “Now we only work on brands that we create and own or with clients I truly like personally,” he says. The most personal of those projects is Art in the Age, the Old City store and liquor brand Grasse began working on the day he sold Sailor Jerry.
More