Interview with Designer Sophie Clarke

I'm English born and raised in Arizona. My English grandparents lived all around the world because my grandfather was in the army. I think I was exposed at an early age to a worldly perspective. Aesthetically, I find great pleasure in the visual 'mash-up' of old English style, Far-Eastern influences, and Latin and Native American influences.  

I studied Visual Communication at the University of Arizona, which led me to my first job in the Art Department at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. I essentially stumbled into my job at Barbara Barry's Interior Design studio which was literally 100 yards down the street of my former apartment in the Beverlywood area of Los Angeles. 

I am now Director of Design, Home Textiles, at Kelly Wearstler where I've been for the last four years. I like to think I bring a good balance of rationale and creative instinct to my work. I'm a colorist at heart, my Epson printer is my mixing palette. I obsess over microscopic details in my work, but then can also see the bird's eye view of the company and compose a plan of attack to problem-solve. But I'm truly at my happiest when I'm working on building pattern repeats and then trialing the best color combinations for a stunning textile. I often say I have the best job in the office. 

 

What got you started into product design?

I fell into product design working at Barbara Barry's atelier in Los Angeles. I was hired to help with graphics and the first project I worked on was tableware designs for the Barbara Barry for Wedgwood collection. I ended up spending an 11 incredibly fruitful years with Barbara who was a very warm and inclusive leader. I ultimately ended up running her Home Decor department which included bed and bath, upholstery and wallpaper, area rugs and broadloom carpet, home organizers, home fragrance and more. I absolutely LOVE product design, much more so than graphic design. It's satisfying to know you could be designing an heirloom piece for someone's home –– something beautiful and lasting, and something to (hopefully) be loved for years.

 

 

What is one of your favorite pieces you have designed? Could you share an image as well? 

It's so very challenging to pick out one piece or project. I spent a great deal of time working on bedding designs while at Barbara Barry. There were a couple bedding patterns that really struck a chord with our customers –– one of them being Poetical, which was a best-seller at Bloomingdales and Bed Bath & Beyond for years to come. That was highly satisfying. There was a pattern called Adrift and another called Florette that I really adored –– they were both delicate floral designs. I sleep on both of these and there is something that still delights me about sleeping on a pattern I helped to "birth" into reality.

At Kelly's office the latest residential fabric collection which launches in Spring 2021, is truly a beautiful collection of wovens. I'm really proud of the quality choices and the colorwork that I massaged with Kelly and our team at Lee Jofa in New York. It's going to be a hit!

 

You mentioned you love ethical sourcing, can you share a bit about that story? 

I feel genuinely connected to the idea of helping people to support themselves. I was first inspired by the work Donna Karan did in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. Through the Clinton Global Initiative, which worked to develop and support sustainable artisan opportunities, Karan ended up founding Urban Zen and began working with local artisans to design and craft the most beautiful pieces, including woven bags and hand-crafted jewelry. When I saw her work and learned the story of how it came to be, my heart skipped a beat, and I said that that was something I wanted to be a part of in my lifetime. It's a powerful gift to give someone in need –– the ability to make a living and to support one's own family. A creative pursuit to boot –– what could be more wonderful?! I especially feel inspired to help women. Women helping women in this world is the future of global success, both economically and socially.

 

 

Where do you look for inspiration?

In normal, non-Covid years, I take an annual trip with girlfriends to a far-away place.  I like to collect inspiration while I'm abroad. I especially love pieces that feel hand-touched, and less 'polished' than what you might find at a high end boutique.

 A few years after I saw the Urban Zen story, I ventured to Guatemala with a group of friends. We traveled to Lake Atitlan, which is not only geographically interesting (it's the deepest lake in Central America), but a mystical place, flanked on all sides by picture-perfect dormant volcanos and little towns all the way around. Throughout our trip we met merchants at every corner selling their colorful wares. But none of them captured my interest quite like the textiles I saw in the lakeside town of San Juan de la Laguna. The ladies we met were creating fine textiles, different than anything else I'd seen in the rest of the country. They had a modern aesthetic and a sophisticated color palette. For years after that trip, I dreamt of going back to that town to work with those ladies to design a line of products.

Day-to-day, I'd say I find most of my inspiration from a carefully curated feed on Instagram. I really can lose myself in my feed of gorgeous interiors and patterns. I save inspiration in files for future reference. While it can feel like a guilty pleasure, I chalk up the time spent as an investment in my career and my visual memory-bank.

 

Some trends that you think will be relevant in 2021? 

Warm, natural tones. I think the cold grey phase is finally on it's way out. It's time to embrace warm woods, earthy textures, and hand-made furniture and textiles.

 

Favorite place to travel to? 

Of all the places I've been, I'd like to return to Cartagena, Columbia and Marrakech, Morocco. Cartagena is a symphony of colors, cobblestone streets, and lush botanicals. My New Years Eve experience was one I will never forget. The families pour out into the streets which become lined with white tablecloth covered tables and their finest china. From the babies to the grandparents, it's a family affair –– with incredible music and festivities, it's one for the memory books.

Marrakech is a miracle –– a whole city committing to one single color for every building! That is truly a mystifying phenomenon! I also just adore the food, the markets, the textiles, the tile lined courtyards, and the lovely people I met there. It's probably been the best for treasure hunting of all my adventures.

 

Your favorite color?

It's like choosing your favorite child...! It really depends what it's for. For cars (and most of my wardrobe), it's black, navy or white. But if I could build a house around one single color, it would be something in the terracotta family. A neutral color –– you can't go wrong with that. Marrakech was definitely on to something...

 

A piece in your home that you love (with maybe an image)? 

I bought a suede hand-woven rug in Morocco that I use as a piece of wall-art. It was a multi-day hunt through the souks to find something perfect for my walls, and this is what I found. I shall never tire of it!