With the rise of independent brands in the last decade, coupled with the introduction of social media, we’ve been inundated with images and messages of what products to buy. I often feel like many things start to look the same, which makes sense considering how quickly trends become absorbed via Instagram and Pinterest, not to mention design publications and websites. The benefit to ‘sameness’, is that you really start to develop a filter and take notice of which brands stand out - whether it’s through design, using a strong brand message, or even positive manufacturing principles. Gregory Parkinson has always stood out, using his artistic vision to create artful products with personality and beauty. His aesthetic is singular and is not dictated by trends, but rather by his eye and design sensibility. Gregory has been designing and creating for 27 years, first with his eponymous line of women’s clothing and accessories (which have become collector’s pieces), and now with his recent launch of textiles and soft goods for the home – GP Surround. I asked Gregory a few questions about his creative process, his love for India where the collection is developed, and who/what is inspiring to him.
1. You recently launched a home collection, Gregory Parkinson Surround, focused on textiles that you create and have made in India. I know you have always been interested in fabric, but what was the inspiration in starting your brand?
As a fashion brand, I felt the most distinctive thing about the clothing was the use of special textiles - the manipulation or treatments that I applied to make them interesting and unique. It was always this love of textiles and their re-working that was the starting point with each collection and the source of inspiration. Over my career, I realized that the usage of textiles was what kept me in business and helped me develop a pretty loyal following in really amazing stores around the world and helped develop my reputation. Once I realized that this was my thing, I stuck to it and it really became my signature. In both my work and home life, I have always loved textiles - not especially fancy ones, but even simple cottons. I love rough cotton bed sheets that have been boil washed and then line dried because the texture and the smell are incredible. Growing up in northern England (which was a cotton producing area) there were plenty of stalls in the gorgeous Victorian covered market that sold fabric. I always felt that the potential from an uncut piece of cloth was so exciting.
It was really about 18 years ago, when I first started going to Peru, that I really became addicted to textiles and amazing rugs. Items from remote rural areas were easily available and not too expensive (alas no longer) and were also easy to transport, so I always brought things back with me and these became my treasured possessions. I used everything – I cared about them but I was never too precious with them. It’s nice to be surround by things you love (which is why the brand is called GP Surround). I started to think more and more about the textiles we use in our daily lives and I wanted to expand the business, or evolve it into something that I really loved. I loved our clothing company, and when the business was good it was amazing, selling in the best stores in the world. But, fashion changes and so does the industry, and I knew that it would not be forever. Over the course of a few years, I started to make things for myself, but once we stopped making collections and got out of the fashion cycle, I really devoted more time to making textile-based products that I felt could be used in the home by many, other than just my existing customers. It’s still an ongoing process; I’m not sure about business and the idea of making some sort of living from a product I make (makes me want to vomit)! However, when I’m in India, making what I make, there is absolutely nothing I can think of that I love more.
2. You work with a community in India to produce your collection, and I know India is a place you are very fond of. What in particular draws you to the country, and why did you choose it as a location to make GP Surround?
It’s not really a community that I work with, although I would love to work in that way. It takes a long time to develop a productive working relationship and any overseas production is challenging, whether you are working in Italy or Peru or India or even on a different coast, so I really want to avoid those potential disasters. I’ve spent a huge amount of money in Peru and India, not all wisely, but you learn to work in the way that suits the facility you are working in. The woman I work with is amazing. She is very sophisticated and has beautiful refined taste, which is very important to me. Her workers have great manual dexterity, and because I can sew and use my hands, I have very easy face-to-face communication with them. I needed a facility that was multi-disciplinary, not just sewing or embroidery. It is almost 3 years that I have been working with the same facility and it is now becoming a really great working relationship.
3. There is so much beauty to absorb in your collection, from pattern to color to actual fabric. Your textiles are bold, happy, and very optimistic! There is a tendency to go towards minimalism these days, but is it important for you to stay away from that particular style?
I think in this day and age as a designer you need to be versatile. I can do minimal very easily. Material, proportion, detail, and color (even no color is a color) are the most important things. Color and pattern and decoration are my signature and I have to stick to that for my own brand, as that is what people come to me for. I think focus is key in today’s design world. If I can, I will just make one item and sell that in a variety of colors and configurations. There is A LOT of merchandise out there and a lot of it is very simple and generic. I don’t confuse minimal with simple; a beautiful minimal anything has just the same amount of design if it is good. I think good design is about consideration and thought. There is a lot of bad decorative design out there, and there are customers who want that. I spent the last 20 years thinking about business and growth, but nobody knows anymore - some brands work, and big brands that were successful no longer work. It’s good if you love what you make, and I do.
4. When designing each piece, are you thinking about certain influences or inspiration? Or is it more of an intuition that you go by, designing as you go?
Materials, process, and technique are always one of the starting points. I am constantly looking for materials. I can (and I do) develop my own, but right now I really like the element of ‘found items’ and working with and on them. I try out new or old techniques I have developed, which can look different in different applications. I am always thinking about practicality or comfort and feel, because the items I make are meant to be used.
5. Who or what is inspiring you right now?
Well, we are not living in inspirational times. I think this administration is the worst most of us have experienced in our lives, far worse than the Thatcher years (I am English), so the people who are not politicians and who are out there organizing, mobilizing, and resisting this Fascist Not My President - they are the ones who I really look up to. When I am organized, I feel inspired to work. I am not an organized person, and it really takes a lot for me to feel that I am in control, so the fleeting moments where calmness reigns are pretty productive. I work by myself when I am here in Los Angeles, and when I am in India I truly love working very closely with all the crafts people. I am working with their techniques, and whether it is a subtle change in color or positioning, or a fabric combination that is needed to make the pieces look like a GP product, they really enjoy that I am right beside them through the whole process. It is a great pleasure and truly inspiring to live and work in this way. Even here, working on my e-commerce (which is quite daunting), can be made exciting and inspirational because of the people I work with.
GregoryP.com will be launching in fall 2017