Interview by Mia Kingsley
This week I will be talking to Charlotte Lloyd the creator of new home-ware brand ‘Charles Of Lloyd’, her designs are exactly what we all need in this patch of grey windy weather. The tropical prints bursting with bold and beautiful colours designed by Charlotte herself are a instant teleport forward into the summer we are all waiting for. Charlotte the descendant of French resistance spies (yes spies) gave up her 9 – 5 job to satisfy her craving for creativity and most importantly fun. We talk about her move to London, her years pushing through mosh pits to capture the moment of a rising star, making pasta necklaces as a child and why exactly she choose home-ware over fashion. Meet the charming Charlotte and her exotic brand ‘Charles Of Lloyd’…
First things first. Descendant of French resistance spies?! We must know..
Well… my grandmother and her four sisters were all in the French resistance. It’s probably the most significant part of my family history that I really know about but it’s enough to feel like there is a torch to carry. They were all tough French gals who went to war in their own way with all of them winning the Kings Medal of honor for their Duties. My grandmother in particular was so modest she didn’t want to go to the ceremony to collect it and opted to receive it in the post!
You moved to London from Guildford in 2003, tell us about that transition.. Did London change you?
Because Guildford is pretty close to London I was always up and down from a young age. Around 16. I used to take a spare set of clothes in my bag, get changed in the school toilets after school and be straight on a train to London to see some grubby punk rock show in a scuzzy venue. I was pretty immersed in that world, taking photos of bands, and contributing to friend’s fanzine projects so I already had a four year induction into London before I finally did the move. Because of that I already had it pretty well mapped out and had made a close group of friends who shared the same compulsion for sniffing out gigs and fun times. When I moved to London I think the change was not so much the place but the freedom. I was living with my best friend, meeting new people through university and doing all the classic early 20’s disasters…
You came to London to study typography at LCC, have you always been creative?
Yes I can remember from a very young age I was always making things be it pasta necklaces or big dens out of hay in the farmer’s fields at my friend’s house. We would always find a way to take things to a new weird level. I’d always be doing collages or finding creative ways to cover my school books. I was just always open to exploring new things. I was also quite musical as a kid but could not read music and played by ear. I guess I just never did things the easy way. I played piano and drums for many years which I loved. I then had to do the theory to do exams which sort of killed it a little. For what ever reason life tends to throw things at you and i guess some habbits stick and some don’t. I was always told I’d regret giving up Piano, and I do!
After dropping out, you got into photography, why photography? How did it make you feel running around London photographing bands?
Well to be honest I was taking photos quite a few years before then from about 17 I would say. At the time it was like second nature. For what ever reason that was my kick. Getting all involved in the smaller gigs and having to hold your own a little to get the pictures you wanted. It was exactly like my piano playing through where I was not the most technical of photographers, but more enjoyed feeling it, sensing the way people moved and capturing that. I did a lot of long exposure stuff (like every pre art school recruit) and being fairly young and inexperienced, that for me felt like my little trademark. At least in my little mind and getting pictures into a few magazines and fanzines was enough for me!
Tell us why you then dropped your photography and your job, all to learn something new, make a company from scratch?
I can remember hitting a turning point at Uni where I tried to change from typographic to photography after a year and there was no room on the course. At that point I in sync got offered a job at a distribution company who had just brought over a Californian brand called Atticus, which was founded by the band Blink 182. It was as good an opportunity as any to get into the real world as Uni just felt like I was stalling on life. So I ended up going to work for Atticus for 6 years. I started shooting bands wearing the product and helping on product placement and endorsement and then gradually it evolved into a UK Marketing role. We had a lot of fun with that brand in the hay day.
That then led into another 4 1/2 years at a music merchandiser doing all their licensing into the fashion high street. Once I got down the line working in this area I realised id moved miles away from the creativity that got me up in the morning. My day to day had become spreadsheets and bloody band politics about why they didn’t want a particular shade of Grey going into Topshop etc. It was soul destroying. I just felt super hollow inside. So, I took a big old risk! By far the biggest risk I have ever taken but I negotiated with my employer to go freelance so I could free up some time to try something new. I decided that printmaking was something id been particularly keen on and had done a bunch of courses. So Christmas 2012 I got a bunch of books and set to work learning a new trade and how to do pattern work! It’s been a really gradual process but I didn’t want to be dependent on it to make an income. I wanted to enjoy learning a new process and creating again. There is a great part in the Bill Cunningham documentary where he talks about never taking a payment for his work as it kills his purpose for doing it. At this point in time for me it’s about exactly that feeling and wanting a creative outlet really more then anything.
It must have been really exciting to just stop everything to focus all your energy into a new project…
Absolutely, and bloody scary too. For me the brand (which has become the inevitable outlet given my background is in brand building) has never been about making bags of cash. It’s currently just a really enjoyable exercise in creating again. I think anyone creative really struggles with the balance of making money and being creatively rewarded. So for now that is the balance I’m trying to sustain like everyone else. I had a good 4 months of just working on making patterns every day which was good but I also do a lot of consultancy stuff too so its a constant struggle to get a good balance of time on all projects. The big dream for anyone creative is to get paid to do what you love, so here’s hoping one day the balance starts to tip in favour of making patterns!
I was pretty bruised by fashion having seen well inside the belly of the beast. I know how the really commercial end works and have seen the whole independent market disappear. I chose homeware as for me it seemed a far friendlier industry, but also I think a little ignorance can go along way in kidding yourself to keep going. I think sometimes when you know a lot about a thing, it can make it daunting. I’d also seen what brands like Marimekko have done and there is no reason a pattern can’t evolve into a million product types and industries. So for me it was not really too relevant where I started, as the ultimate goal is to be able to be quite free with where the patterns can land. Home-wares was just my entry point, but I’d like to get crazy with it for sure!
You design your own prints too, what inspires you?
At the moment I have been doing a lot of mark making. Like all the creative things I have ever dabbled in its all gut instinct. I don’t subscribe to colour theory books or things like this. I’d say a good comparative is cooking. It’s not until you start to load up all your marks and doodles into the computer you really start to get a feel for what it will become. I like to be quite instinctive with pulling bits together and adding in or editing. I’m pretty adamant about everything being hand rendered so you can really see where marks come from. People like Lucien Day, Henri Matisse for his tactile approach and Picasso for his colour palettes are good mile markers for me. Also people like Yayoi Kusama more for the scale of the art she did then anything, I find it so much fun and that is the single most important thing to this whole project. To have fun. I feel the same comes through on all the new Kenzo work I’m seeing which it really inspiring, oh and Gorman as well. Rad brand.
If you could describe ‘Charles Of Lloyd’ in 5 words…
Fun, Genuine, British, Eccentric, Friendly
Your prints are extremely colourful, tropical and fun, tell us about that…
It’s all pretty instinctive. Of the current styles they were developed throughout the height of last summer in a time where id just reclaimed a little freedom. I suspect a lot of that was coming through without realising. Some of the prints include marks from over a year ago where I began this learning curve so it truly is an irrational bag of tricks. This first line really was an explosion of fun, a sort of exorcism of all the things I had been holding in whist starting at spreadsheets! The next line will be a little more refined in its story as there is inevitably less learning to do, but no less fun I can assure you! I really like to just experiment with things, research really weird crafts from yesteryear and test them with the intent of making new patterns. It’s as much about learning new process for me, as it is the final result. A sort of Journey if you like.
When designing a piece what do you always have in mind, what factors are essential for it be a Charles of Lloyd product?
Oh that is a tough one! I’d say I always have a sort of vision of what the range may look like pallet wise, but really the end result is part of a whole journey. Any given day something can be added in or taken away, or you will see something on the street that makes you go back and give something a tweak. Really if I am making patterns in a good head space, then I know what comes out the other end will give someone the same pleasure.
When designing prints, what mediums do you use?
Everything I can get my hands on, messier the better! I’m an absolute sucker for an art supply store and tend to just buy random stuff to try it. I use paint, pens, inks, collage, stickers, you name it I will give it a go!
What do you do when your in need of inspiration?
I like to take my bike and camera for a ride, go to galleries, I read a lot of blogs like design sponge, design files and are always looking for new ones. I also follow a fair bit on Instagram and I am constantly screen-grabbing things for palette ideas. I literally don’t know what i did before Instagram its the first thing I check in the morning and last thing I look at before bed. I’m sure there will be a clinical diagnosis for that in the future. I also quite like picking up second hand books in charity shops for ideas or things I can cut apart and reuse. I’m a proud magpie 🙂
How does Charles of Lloyd compare to your previous jobs, being your own boss must be thrilling!
I can’t tell you how much being the captain of your own day changes everything. Although I do still do a lot of licensing work to balance my creative projects its different. Getting up each day knowing you can walk to work, hang out in an environment that you have tailored to your taste and still do the little things like a few errands a day makes all the difference. Strangely being your own boss does seem to mean I do far more hours then I would have in full time employment but when its on your terms and its for you, its worth it.
What’s next Charlotte? Where would you like to see Charles of Lloyd in a years time?
Well…This years been a slow start due to a family bereavement so I’m just getting cranking! If we are talking Tax year (Dirty word) I’d love to have a list as long as my arm of stockists, and a nice bit of press under my belt. I’d also like a new line out by Oct ahead of Xmas which I am about to get cracking on so no pressure!
Thanks so much Charlotte, and good luck to you and ‘Charles Of Lloyd’!! If your interested in the brand and would like to see more check out this link:
The next ‘Mia Meets…’ will be out next week but until then for more Mia Kingsley: