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22.12.21 | People

Q&A: Get to know our head of textile design Imogen Tunnicliffe

We’re going behind the scenes at Città and introducing you to our talented team. This week, we chat with Imogen Tunnicliffe about her role as head of textile design.

Imogen studied at Elam at Auckland University, majoring in print. In 2004, she joined Città part time starting with hand drawn illustration work. Today she’s head of textile design, working alongside Sophie Clapson to bring our textiles to life.

In our latest journal post, we speak to Imogen about drawing inspiration for her work, get behind her creative process and discover her most-loved design piece at home.

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I studied printmaking at art school, and having graduated, tried exhibiting here and there for a few years. In lots of ways I loved it, but financially it was challenging, and an opportunity came up at Città to do some part time illustration work. I started hand drawing everything, there wasn’t a computer in sight; the process was so manual. We even used to send our original artworks to suppliers to copy.

Fairly quickly, the work load increased and over the years my role has evolved out of sight. Now, I head up the textile department at Città. I work alongside my colleague Sophie to design the majority of the textiles Città offers, as well as help with the general creative direction for the brand.

When did you first realise you wanted to pursue a career in design?

I didn’t set out to be a textile designer, I was pretty determined to be a practicing artist actually.  I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up if the opportunity at Città hadn’t arisen, but I have always felt that it doesn’t matter too much what you end up specialising in, as long as it is fulfils you creatively. I’ve always been drawn to a diverse range of art forms, including design. I used to do quite a bit of illustration, and colour and pattern have always been important to me. I love objects too, and if I hadn’t done print, I would’ve studied sculpture - I guess all these things inevitably led me to design.

Where do you get inspiration for your designs?

Like most creative people, inspiration can come from absolutely anywhere. It can be as simple as a grouping of colours and textures you see somewhere, or more complex, like our recent designs which were inspired by the Colour Field art genre and theories around interaction of colour.

Architecture has always been a big source of inspiration too. Textile design and architecture might seem pretty disparate disciplines, but often a genre, a feature, a house or space will be the starting point for designing a series of designs. It might not be the structure itself; but the details - the textures, geometry, forms, colours, materials and location can, and often do, all inform a direction.

Other creative people are constantly inspiring as well, and it is a really important part of what we do; looking at other artists and designers, both current and from the past.

Tell us a bit about your creative process.

The creative process is the best bit. It’s where you can think most broadly about a project or a design, and not limit your ideas in any way. If you start a project with too much of a defined outcome in mind it can be stifling, letting your mind run at the beginning of the process is always how you end up with the most interesting results.

I really enjoy the process of making, and am most comfortable when creating in an elementary, tactile sort of way. Recently we have been thinking about creating without thinking about the end result – experimenting, playing…and have been using collage as a means to experiment and explore ideas for our designs. How something is going to be made is as important as the design itself. One thing informs the other equally. The limitations, or the unexpected possibilities, can completely change the end result. 

Do you have a design you’re most proud of?

The Cabin range of designs has been a really satisfying project to work on. We started the process with very few design parameters, but from the beginning we had a strong sense of the story we wanted to tell. We have reconfigured the design across several different items, each form requiring a slightly different approach technically, but it was important to us to retain a balance between the bold bright colour combinations and the structured check pattern.

What’s the best part about what you do at Città?

Most of what we design has a story behind it, and it’s the process of researching the story or the idea that I love. It means I am constantly learning about something or someone new, and broadening my horizons creatively. Parts of my role are still very hands on creatively. We are constantly knee deep in fabric swatches, design prototypes, colour palettes, paintings and drawings. It’s still very exciting to see your ideas turning into something tactile.

Which upcoming design or project are you most excited for?

In 2022 we are planning on designing some woven fabric to upholster the Daily armchair and sofa. The Daily chair is a modern take on a classic mid-century style armchair, and so we want to design a fabric that is sympathetic to this era, whilst also being relevant today. I love having a project like this to work on – the fabric (although potentially will be used on other items in the future) is specifically being designed for the Daily armchair, so our consideration will not only be about the fabric, but the marrying of the two items.

We haven’t collaborated at this level across the two sides of the design department, and I’m excited that we will be producing an item that will be 100% designed by our design team.

Tell us about one thing you love in your home and why?

I do love my Japanese folding chairs. They were designed by Takeshi Nii in 1958 and are so beautifully balanced, in all ways, including the combination of materials. The legs are chromed metal, the arms long cylinders of dark wood, and the body of the chair is a heavy cream canvas. The belonged to Mum and Dad, and somehow over the years, they ended up at my house! Lucky me.

How do you enjoy spending time outside of Città?

I have a big garden (by Auckland standards), and I love being in it! Parts of it are pretty unruly - it’s one of those things that will never be perfect and never be finished, but that is kind of the joy of it. There are moments when I look at sections of it and think, “that’s perfect”, but then a few days later that moment is gone, and you have to re think the whole thing. It’s also incredibly satisfying getting vegetables and fruit, or picking a bunch of flowers from your own garden, and I can already see the kids loving the process too, and that makes me really happy.