Wallace⌗Sewell: a winning duo

Emma SewellEmma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones are the winning team behind the eponymous textile design studio, but neither their partnership nor their success happened overnight. Emma and Harriet met while studying at the Royal College of Art. They decided to share an office for convenience when they first launched themselves in the real world. In those days, Emma wanted to sell fabrics to fashion designers, worked a lot with printed textiles and was interested in structures; Harriet focused on proportions and compositions and was keen to work with interior designers.

Tate - Gaugin LambswoolWhat turned out to be a transitional period in their partnership enabled each of them to experiment without financial consequences for the other. For a while, they explored new avenues, worked individually on projects involving small scale productions of their own designs and honed their skills along the way. After 18 months of happily sharing a studio together a partnership was still not in order. The Chelsea Crafts Fair gave them the opportunity to present their work for the first time together and that is when they realised that united they stood. At the Chelsea Crafts Fair (now called Origin) in 1992, they produced a first collection of scarves and cushions which was snatched up by Barneys in New York. This could all have been a fluke but when Barneys came back asking what they had in mind for the next season, they knew it was high time to sit down and seriously start talking about launching their brand. Thus, Wallace⌗Sewell, the textile design studio was born in 1993.

SFMOMA. Red.300Far from the madding crowd of the high streets, they set up their studio in Islington, in the Clerkenwell Workshops, alongside a wide range of artisans and designers, ranging from animators to lute makers. There, they conjured tricky patterns on the loom. From the simplest to the most intricate designs, trying out along the way the best possible combination of silk vs cotton, chenille vs wool and so on.

For the first ten years of their partnership, the duo worked quietly, fine tuning the Wallace Sewell patte on their design. They also provided bespoke services for stores such as Habitat and soon enough were stocked by high-end retailers (Browns and Liberty to name just two) but their ambition was always to weave for industry and if possible for the public. Emma had always liked the idea of working with a limited set of colours and within certain parameters: constraints that are often associated with industry. So when a possibility arose to put forward a design for the 2008 London Overground train, they seized the opportunity to show the spectrum of their talent. Their pattern was their winning ticket and started a fruitful collaboration with TfL (Transport for London). They went on to reupholster the Croydon tram and were again the winning Design in 2010 for the new design for the Underground that was then put onto the trains of the Central, Jubilee, and Waterloo and City lines. Their uncluttered design to the purest point of simplification is an ode to London and its landmarks (St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Big Ben and the Tower Bridge).

TFL 2010designFrom bespoke products for high-end retailers such as Anthropologie, to collaborations with a chain of small boutique hotels, and from the commission of one of a kind works of art to special museum-related products (The Tate, San Francisco MOMA, The British Museum), small and large scale projects have flourished over the years. No project they undertake is challenging enough. Be it from a design firm or coming from the industry, they welcome them all. In their own words, their success was slow coming but these last ten years, the pace has definitely quickened and they are now at an exciting time in their business. Did they imagine such success when they first started? They had no set picture in mind. Did they work hard at it? Certainly. And the commercial collaborations they formed along the way have blossomed into real partnerships that enabled their business to expand steadily and healthily.

Martinhall Bed spreads.smlThe Royal College of Art offered the possibility to learn the trade hands-on by working with a commission weaver (a very small father & son business) in Yorkshire. After graduation, Emma and Harriet continued to use the facilities but when Emma and Harriet who often came up with particularly intricate pattern, would go up and work with them to make it happen putting to the test the beautiful and colourful designs they had imagined.  For the first few years, Emma and Harriet worked with 4 or 5 different weavers, sadly witnessing them going out of business one after the other. So they decided to go on the road in Lancashire and Yorkshire in search of the perfect weaver and one fine day, they came upon Mitchell Interflex Ltd. Mitchell Interflex, a mill in Lancashire was making very plain and simple patterns but had come to realise that in order to survive they had to diversify. The timing was right. Mitchell Interflex was ready to experiment with more colourful and sophisticated designs and Harriet, who often came up with particularly intricate warps, would come down and work with them to make it happen, putting to the test the beautiful and colourful designs they had imagined. This working relationship grew harmoniously over the years. Season after season, Mitchell Interflex weaves a changing range of natural yarns to respond to the fickle need of the fashion world. The initial design is always weaved in situ down in the London studio then the warps are sent to Mitchell Interflex to be weaved on large scale looms. Over the years, the weaver has also offered to buy and stock their fabrics and held on to their warps until needed.

Canonteign Landscape 1As well as working well together, Emma and Harriet have remained great friends through thick and thin. It is always with great joy that they meet once a fortnight now that Harriet has settled back in Dorset. Emma stayed put in the Design studio/ boutique in Islington. She particularly enjoys the community of people and the artisan boutiques that pave the way around the studio. Fellow creative minds and friends, the team behind Timorous Beasts, are round the corner and her graphic designer husband is just a stepping stone from there. Life feels good and there is no doubt that with the cold that shrouds London these days, the Wallace⌗Sewell woven textile design studio has great days ahead of it.

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