Monday, 18 June 2012

Gods and Other Animals

In February my little brother got engaged to his lovely beau, Emma, and I went out to purchase a congratulations pressie for them. Now, bearing in mind they had just purchased and moved into their first home together as well (I know – two life changing events in one week!), I wanted to find them a gift which was unique (read: not your average champagne flutes), special and ‘homey’. Discounting Next and bemoaning the fact that Habitat closed its doors before Xmas I ventured into Manchester’s Northern Quarter and I came across Gods and Other Animals by Lorna Lucas tucked at the back of Ryan Vintage (48-50 Oldham Street). Ticking all the boxes delineating my gift buying parameters, I was literally spoilt for choice: cushions, prints, cards, individual fabric pieces, printed fabric in frames, furniture and bags. WOW. Prolific doesn’t even begin to cover this talented designer. Needless to say I picked up her business card and hounded her for a chat. Emma and Dave got engaged in February so it just shows how busy she is that I am now posting this in June.

When we had synchronised diaries we finally say down at the end of May. Well, I say ‘chat’ but it was more a show and tell on a grand scale. Breaking off conversation so she could dash off into her ‘shop’ in Ryan’s, Lorna brought back armloads of her creations for me to see. Talking ten to the dozen and effervescing with pride for her work, Lorna took me on a blink and you’ll miss it tour of her potted history: born in Wilmslow, lived in Italy, loved France, was a chef, is very academic, speaks Italian, got a 1st from Manchester Metropolitan in 3D Design, has had Gods for 6 years, been designing ‘forever’. Then we got into the detail of her prolific work,

 “When I am in the creative process I start thinking about a design then I draw it until I am happy with it. At the moment I really love swallows. Then I hand print each design onto whatever piece of fabric I have chosen. If the end article is going to be a cushion it will be hand stuffed and hand stitched.”

Everything is a one off. Everything. Talk about the ideal gift – no danger that you will see the same cushion haunting you on the sofas and chairs of friends and family. No, Lorna’s goods are truly original.  And if that isn’t unique enough, she also does bespoke commissions.

Lorna is obsessed by animals (which is obvious – her prints are all of animals) and her business card is a picture of her as a young’un with a deer at Belle Vue Zoo. So where did her company name come from? Now me being a bit of a swot I thought it was literary based and started researching Gerald Durrel’s book ‘My Family and Other Animals’ before I met Lorna and envisaged us chatting about themes, characters and imagery in the book. Lorna laughed her head off at my suggestion,

“No! It really is simpler than that! The name is purely based in my love of animals, especially dogs.”

The juxtaposition of animals in a household setting is oddly workable and more creative than your average offering from Next Home. Indeed her strapline is “Fearless Ideas for Original Interiors.” So why  soft  furnishings?

“I am a massive collector of fabrics – I have a wealth of great suppliers and a household full of vintage rolls. Plus I can design the cushions any size I want and utilise smaller cherished pieces on smaller cushions so they still get their glory.”

I could’ve sat and talked to Lorna all afternoon; she is fascinating. Already growing her customer base by selling her beautifully designed pieces in London and Manchester, she also has interior design shops contacting her on a regular basis to apply to stock her work. My advice? I would get your hands on her stuff sooner rather than later. I just commissioned her to produce a bespoke cushion for the still gift-less Dave and Emma. With Lorna’s original designs and beautifully sourced material, another few months until the cushion arrives doesn’t bother me one bit: it will be worth the wait and something that Dave and Emma can cherish forever. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012


I went to get a Father’s Day card for my Dad last week. I obviously didn’t look at it closely enough in the shop (I was in a rush on my way to the Scarlet Souk fashion show but more on that later…) because when I got home I realised it had glitter on it. GLITTER. Totally unnecessary, twee and just a little bit annoying. I regaled this story to Karen over tea at Teacup during the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend and she started laughing “bet you wished you’d bought one of mine!” Damn straight!

I met Karen at a networking event in April. It was the usual ‘stand up, say your name and your business’ type affair where she introduced herself as the business development manager for The National Football Museum. The networking meeting rumbled on until its close and we all filed out but as we were leaving she gave me her second business card and my blog-ears instantly picked up: Karen designs her own cards. And after a bit of investigation I discovered that they are endearing, innovative and cool as hell.

 “I have always made cards for friends and family and then one year I made a Christmas card for my boyfriend with Christmas themed robots on it: Santa, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman. He loves robots and needless to say he loved the card!”

So the seed was planted. All it took then was the herculean life of her boyfriend, Mark, to inspire her to get her arse in gear, “he is always busy. Always. He works fulltime but designs websites, DJ’s and produces music in his spare time. There were only so many nights I could watch Eastenders whilst he was …”
“Taking over the universe?!” I interject.
“Exactly! So I started doodling with people in mind and that’s when I realised that I had the beginnings of a business.”

Taking inspiration from people she knows and everyday objects such as speakers, phones and kitchenware she creates robot characters for her cards. Her passion for art has always been evident; Karen did A-level art and has a B-Tech in jewellery design but getting to grips with a computer illustration programme was a whole different ball game,

“I taught myself to use Illustrator: some nights there was a lot of shouting at the computer!”

But despite the techno rage, she succeeded and her creations are heavily design lead: clean lines and block colour,

“I wanted them to feel hand drawn but still have a slick and professional feel.”

And they do. There isn’t a whiff of glitter about them yet they are suitable for all ages and the detail in each design is amazing. She designed her own branding, sourced a printer and set about wrapping the cards in cellophane herself. As well as working on a new line of characters (including a garden inspired robot!) and contacting independent retailers with a view to them stocking her work, she has her first commission,

“As soon as my friend started talking about what she wanted I just knew what I would draw – a bee robot! She now has the character on her blog.”

Her contacts on the Museum circuit have helped launch a capsule collection of her cards into local museums and galleries in Salford, Bury and Oldham. She also has an Etsy shop and a Folksy shop. Next on the already packed agenda?

“I am looking at a range of other products on which to place my designs: Mugs, tea towels, bags, prints, badges and wrapping paper. And my boyfriend is currently designing my website.”
As we venture out into the rain Mark is waiting and greets me with a handshake. I feel as though I am in the presence of one of Manchester’s next power couples…watch this space…