I recently did a Q&A with one of my favorite designers of bold, graphic prints: Thomas Paul. Rarely a day goes by when a few of us at Design Public don’t talk about which pillows or rugs we want most. Unfortunately, the conversations tend to be pretty lengthy simply because we can’t narrow down our favorites from his overwhelming array of options…
I know you have a very extensive background in the fashion industry which I feel is very evident in your pillows. What was the turning point that led you to transition into the home?
I was bored. I was mainly working in designing and coloring prints and patterns for neckwear. It is very limiting after a while when men basically only want to wear navy, red, or yellow ties with dots or stripes. I started with pillows because I could never find any throw pillows that I liked that were not going to cost more than the sofa itself. My original concept was to make cool pillows that were design driven, somewhat affordable, but not “cheap.”
You have such a range of designs – from the Apollo portrait to Matryoska dolls to Barnwood to Mosaics or Goldfinch graphics, etc. I know you probably get this question a lot, how do you come up with your designs?
It really just depends on what I am feeling at the time, or what catches my eye. The original collection was just this mix of different geometric graphics, very sixties influenced. This has just evolved over the collections to include things that are more iconic. I am just interested in a lot of different things, and I like mixing all of those elements together, but trying to make them my own through the style they are drawn in, or the color, or the scale.
What has been the craziest source of inspiration for a particular design?
It usually is never really a direct inspiration of something, it is more of a feeling that is in the air that I am seeing in a lot of different mediums from fashion and art to popular culture. For example, the Matryoska Dolls were not really directly influenced by the actual dolls themselves; I was having a Russian moment-thinking about all of the Russians who are now all over the world, or all of the Russian and Eastern European models in the fashion world. When I was growing up, you never met or heard about anybody Russian, it was like these people did not exist as they were so cut off from the rest of the world, then suddenly, they are everywhere and having a huge influence on society. I was thinking, how can I express a Russian theme in my style?
Becky asks this question a lot and I have the same struggles – how do you get out of a creative rut / designer’s block?
Usually the best thing to do is to get out of the office or studio. I get most of my ideas when I am just walking around going to shops and museums or galleries. Also, traveling helps too. Even if it is a business trip, there is something about being on a train or plane that gets the ideas flowing.
This is tough, because I just made this decision a few weeks ago to never discontinue anything. Let me explain. Having been trained in the fashion world, you are taught that something is “good” for one season, then it is no longer good when it is out of fashion. Being in the home world, I have had designs that have been selling well for a number of years, and still prove to be as popular as new designs. I think there is a new thinking even in the fashion world. I am looking at what Prada has been doing, which is to bring back some of their signature prints from past seasons, which is saying, “Hey, this was a good print 5 years ago, why is this not good now?” It is the same idea with vintage, how the window of what is considered vintage is shortened, now to say something from four or five seasons ago is vintage. There are designs that I love that I always said, “Oh, ok this is done, I can’t use this anymore,” but now I am saying, “Ok, maybe I won’t use it for a few seasons, but there will always be the window for that image to come back in a few years, and maybe in a different item, like a rug or a plate.” There is this layer of designs from throughout the years, so looking back you can never say-oh that is Spring 2005, for example. There is no definite date on anything.
That said, I love silhouettes, and I have always used them, and then they became this huge trend, and now everyone is probably sick of them, but I will always have them somewhere in my line.
I know this is going to sound cheesy, but if you were a crayon, what color would you be?
What is your workspace/studio like?
It is my lap top. I have one in my office and one at home and all of my design work is done on these two computers. My studio can be wherever I am.
Do you collect anything?
I used to collect CDâ’s, now I am all digital. Less clutter. I sort of collect clothes, but they actually all look the same. I don’t know, as I get older I don’t really collect anymore. I buy stuff, but I use it and then get rid of it when I am done with it. I am trying to have less stuff in my life. When you design and make products to sell, you can end up with a lot of possessions, so I am constantly getting rid of things, but then something new always comes in to fill the void. It is a never ending thing.
What advice would you give aspiring designers?
Stick to your vision and listen to your feelings. If something does not seem right to you, listen to that voice because it will probably be a failure if you go forward with it. This is something you really just learn from experience, and I still make the mistake sometimes. You create something, or somebody asks you to do something a certain way, and you are not that into it, but everyone else says oh this is going to sell and be great, but you have this nagging feeling that it just is not right, and usually it ends up not working out. So, my best advice is to really stick to your guns and trust your instincts. You have to try to get other people to accept your ideas and to go with them. This gets easier as you gain more experience and get older because people begin to think that you must know something. It is harder when you are younger, but you can’t let yourself get bossed around in design meetings just because you are 22 and fresh out of college and there is some art director who has been doing the same thing for 20 years and has no new ideas. Looking back, I realize that a lot of that is just insecurity on the part of those art directors or senior designers. Everyone is always afraid of someone younger because they usually have the freshest ideas. So you just have to think “one day I am going to do my own thing and not have to deal with any of this corporate BS.”
I know your collection goes beyond pillows, such as the rugs we just added to our site. What’s next for Thomas Paul?
Well, I am most excited about my next licensed collection, which will be a fabrics collection for interiors. From the start I have always had people calling and asking if they could buy yardage to upholster something or other, and I couldn’t do it because all of my patterns are block printed to the size of the pillow, which means the pattern does not continue and my pillow fabrics are not upholstery grade. I am partnering with a major fabric house on this and it is exciting because now I can actually have upholstered furniture in my patterns!