At New York Design Week 2012, Part II: Hotel California

How could we have possibly known, when we first decided to host an exhibition of California design during our third annual Noho Design District, that we would be blessed with four straight days of glorious, Los Angeles–style sunshine? (Followed, of course, by a day of downpours, but more on that tomorrow.) Springtime in New York is a fickle beast, and when we first began to plan how best to use the gorgeous second-floor terrace space we’d been given at the new Standard, East Village hotel, we said a prayer for mild climes but also engaged in fretful what-ifs with our hotel ambassadors, talking of contingencies like awnings, tarps, and the possibility of moving everything — save for a nearly 50 square foot teak and rubber fort constructed on-site by Matt Gagnon — inside.
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At the 2012 Milan Furniture Fair

While nothing will ever compare to the Great Ash Cloud of 2010 in terms of strange events surrounding the Milan Furniture Fair, there seems to be a fair amount of juju going on with this year's festivities — or at least with the members of our hand-picked street team, who were meant to upload photos from their bases around the Italian metropolis all this week. Pin-Up editor Felix Burrichter reported a suddenly collapsed eardrum, which stranded him in Berlin and prevented him from attending the fair entirely, while designer Sam Baron confessed his attempts to take photos at a dinner for Fiat's Lapo Eklann were sadly thwarted by bodyguards. Lucky for us, then, that we've been able to follow along on Instagram, Twitter, blogs, and a steady stream of photos arriving in our inbox from The Future Perfect's Dave Alhadeff, who's been firing off everything from potential products for his store to OMG moments to jealousy-inducing images of gelato. We'll be bringing you more photos as they roll in, but for now, here's a sampling of the first few days from one of our favorite fairgoers.
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The Sight Unseen Shape Shop at Creatures of Comfort

By the close of Sight Unseen's four-day pop-up during the Noho Design District last year, we'd come to realize a few things. One: that we quite enjoy being shopkeepers — the merchandising of objects, the banter with the public, the satisfying swipe of each credit card through our handy Square readers. And two: that four days was not nearly enough. As we watched the objects we'd put so much effort into procuring move on to more permanent retail homes, we felt a vague sense of deflation, almost like a break-up, and we immediately began plotting for pop-up number two. Never, though, did we dream what would happen next: We were approached by Jade Lai, owner of the impeccably curated Creatures of Comfort store in New York and Los Angeles, to create a Sight Unseen pop-up in the gallery space of her New York store, which had previously played host to temporary outposts from the likes of Confettisystem, Textfield, and the Japanese housewares shop Playmountain. After months of planning, we finally debuted the Sight Unseen Shape Shop this Tuesday at a blowout party.
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Jacob Gleeson of The Tent Shop

It would be easy to assume a lot about The Tent Shop, a new online store run by the Vancouver-based artist Jacob Gleeson — namely, that it might be in the business of selling tents. Or, with its deadpan write-ups and roster of vintage ephemera, amateur art, and back-catalog pieces by artist friends, that the shop might be some Canadian version of Partners & Spade, and Gleeson a hyper-aware collector engaging in an art-world prank, à la Claes Oldenburg’s The Store (1961). In fact, neither is quite true. The shop’s name stems from its planned incarnation in the physical world: Gleeson intends to purchase a heavy-duty canvas tent in which he can randomly host events around Vancouver. And as for Gleeson, though he did a stint at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art + Design, he tends to view his new venture through the lens of an anthropologist more so than an artist or even a shopkeeper. “I started with the intention of showing these things together as much as wanting to sell them,” he says. “I’m drawn to the individual objects but something about putting them next to each other makes them even more interesting to me, which is why I leave things up on the site even after they’ve sold. The record of an object’s existence has as much value to me as the object itself.”
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Jason Miller’s Big Fade Dishes

If you haven’t been on the hunt lately for info about his iconic Antler Chandelier or Duct Tape Chair — or the trio of designs he’s contributed to his own lighting label, Roll & Hill — you might not have noticed that Jason Miller quietly updated his personal website last week, adding e-commerce and setting the stage for what he calls “Jason Miller Studio 2.0.” It’s been two years since Roll & Hill’s splashy New York launch, after all, and while Miller is still tethered to his growing company, he’s slowly begun finding the time to get back to his own independent projects. Hence the new site: “The idea was to take the emphasis off some things I thought were either dated or that I changed my opinion of slightly, and to refocus it on what I’m currently doing and plan on doing for next three or four or five years,” Miller says. One of those current projects is a new series of plates inspired by his recent trip to an airbrushing stand in Miami, where he bought his daughter a t-shirt featuring palm trees and rainbows. Miller told us the full story behind his Big Fade dishes here.
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Miranda July’s Resale Shop at Partners & Spade

For It Chooses You, a resale shop popping up at Partners & Spade in New York, Miranda July scoured the New York classifieds, buying up other people’s discards — like a collection of stolen oil paints or a pair of taxidermied deer hooves — and interviewing the sellers to discern the original meaning of those once-cherished objects.
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Uglycute, Furniture and Interior Designers

For Uglycute, it all began with a Bruno Matthson knockoff. It was 1999 and Swedish design was having a moment, but not, it seemed to the group’s four fledgling members, for the kinds of edgy experimental crafts and artistic hybrids being made by the emerging scene at the time — Wallpaper magazine and its ilk were still peering into the long shadows of Sweden’s old modernist icons. And so architecture grad Fredrik Stenberg and artists Jonas Nobel, Andreas Nobel, and Markus Degerman vented their frustration in the only way they knew how: by mounting a show around a sarcastic simulacrum of Matthson’s Eva chair made from a clunky particle-board box and cheap nylon straps. Complemented by a set of primitive clay pinch pots and a crude plywood table, the installation served as a launch pad for the group, and its subject matter — elevating cheap materials in order to question traditional norms of beauty and value — lent their firm its distinctive name. “It was meant as a new take on formalistic values,” says Nobel, who with the other three partners has since built a thriving practice known for its work with museums and clients like Cheap Monday.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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