Inspired by life

By Zoe Walker

Two Kiwi icons from the fashion and music worlds share how they came to express their creativity in a whole new medium.

Kate Sylvester (left) in front of her 'Cosmo' rug and Boh Runga in front of her designer rug based on the monarch butterfly. Photo / Babiche Martens
Kate Sylvester (left) in front of her 'Cosmo' rug and Boh Runga in front of her designer rug based on the monarch butterfly. Photo / Babiche Martens

Who is your Kiwi icon? Designer Rugs has collaborated with eight inspiring local creatives to create its new Kiwi Icon rug collection. The impressive list includesartists Dick Frizzell and Max Gimblett, design company Codi Design, advertising guru Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi, fashion label Zambesi, singer and jewellery designer Boh Runga and designer Kate Sylvester. Each has designed a large-scale, handmade floor rug, which will be unveiled at a launch on Friday night and on display at Designer Rugs in Parnell as part of Urbis Design Day this Saturday.

We talked to Sylvester and Runga about the story behind their designs and their own Kiwi icons.

KATE SYLVESTER

Where did your love of fashion and design come from?
From my mum, grandmother and uber-stylish great-aunts. They all made their own clothes and created beautiful homes and gardens.

How do you think your work has evolved since you began in fashion?
I was selling dresses at Cook St market when I was 16, before I learned to pattern-make. It fascinates me that in an industry obsessed with youth, the most powerful, boldly creative people are quite "mature" i.e. Karl and Miuccia. I believe the more you learn, the better you get.

What has been your proudest achievement?
Sustaining my passion.

You're one of our most well-known designers, a "Kiwi icon". What do you think has been the secret to success?
My partner, Wayne. And the strength of our shared vision.

Who is your Kiwi icon?
Wayne. Ingenuity, independence, understated determination and a good sense of humour. That's what makes a true Kiwi icon.

Tell us about the rug you have designed.
The design started as a sketch by our 8-year-old son. Wayne liked it so much he turned it into a mural on our Sydney store wall and seeing it on that scale, we knew it would make a great rug.

What is the story behind the name of the rug?
Cosmo - our son's name.

Have you ever designed homewares or interiors before?
Wayne and I designed our beautiful Sydney store and have always been very involved in all our store fitouts.

How did you find working in rug format in comparison to designing garments?
Scale. Those rugs are big.

What is your home like? What is your most prized object there?
My rug would fit perfectly in my home. It's a very contemporary interpretation of mid-century design. A low-key mix of designer pieces and found treasure. One of my most treasured possessions is a patchwork tapestry throw my grandmother made in the 70s.

BOH RUNGA

Where did your love of fashion and design come from?
In part, I'm very influenced by my mother. She had the most wonderful stage clothes from when she was a singer in Malaysia during the 50s and 60s. All beaded, fishtailed gowns handmade by my grandmother and fitted to her perfectly. Bespoke shoes, too. So glamorous.

How do you think your work has evolved since you began in fashion?
With my Birdland and Messenger Stories jewellery I wanted to design tributes to New Zealand. As I add more ranges, I get more adventurous. I'm working on a new co-design project called A Different Animal with a friend of mine, Nina Savill, who designs and makes jewellery in Los Angeles. We are creating handmade pieces in sterling silver and gold. No two will be exactly alike, that's the beauty of something made by hand. We will be working with diamonds and exotic stones. Very, very fun.

What has been your proudest achievement?
One achievement I'm very proud of is to have my jewellery featured on display in Air NZ's Koru Lounge.

You're one of our most well-known designers, a "Kiwi icon". What do you think has been the secret to success?
I am a musician who now designs too and I think I'm an accessible and recognisable person for people. I owe my success to my life in the public eye through my music and through the band Stellar*. New Zealanders were interested to see me start designing and they have shown their support by wearing my collections. It's thrilling for me to see that.

Who is your Kiwi icon?
That's tough. Someone I always admired for their smarts, dedication and humour was David Lange. You know that question "who would you love to have at your dream dinner party?" He'll be sitting next to me.

Tell us about your collaboration with Designer Rugs - how did it come about?
Laura from Designer Rugs has told me that she wanted an eclectic group of people that were all in different fields. I think she has definitely achieved a good mix. I'm in extremely good company.

Tell us about the rug you have designed.
I wanted to do an untraditional animal print of sorts. My design is based on the monarch butterfly. I created the design by cutting up and collaging butterfly wing patterns. My apartment in LA looked like a tornado had gone through and savaged all the National Geographics. The final result is staggeringly good. When I first saw the rug I was shocked at how beautiful it is. I'm so pleased with how it has great texture and is compelling to look at.

What is the story behind the name of the rug?
The rug is called Monarch and of course relates to the monarch butterfly but I also love the way the word is grand in itself.

Have you ever designed homewares or interiors before?
This rug is my first foray into homewares/interiors and I hope to do more. The experience has given me many ideas. The thought that something I have dreamed up and designed could be part of someone's home - that gives someone comfort and joy - is a wonderful feeling.

How did you find working in rug format?
I was given free rein. Lia and Laura from Designer Rugs were brilliant at guiding me through what could be achieved with New Zealand Wool, what could be created through carving the pile and so on. The beauty of the rug owes much to their knowledge.

What is your own home like? What is your most prized object there?
I live in two cities in two different hemispheres and my homes are radically different. In New Zealand, the bungalow is crammed full of objects dragged back from all over the world - cowhide rugs from Texas, crazy papier mache masks from Buenos Aires, ceramics from all over the place. There isn't an empty wall anywhere - there's art shouldering paintings and more waiting patiently to be framed or hung. It's not for the faint-hearted or the minimalist.

Hard to say what the most prized object is - maybe my DLT painting of a handsome fighting Shao Lin monk. It was one of the first paintings I ever bought. Or my mother's vintage vinyl record picture discs, they are amazing. In LA, my duplex apartment walls are very bare. They are concrete and old, so everything leans on spaces or hangs from light fixtures. It looks like Ikea exploded with sprinklings of treasures collected from thrift stores and eBay and travelling. My Fender Mustang shortscale bass guitar is definitely my most prized possession there. Running close would be my toy guitars, especially my plastic Western one. My crocheted dissected Frog and Mouse artworks may be top-of-the-list too. Someone lovingly created the gruesome innards out of fluffy pink and blue wool. Makes me smile every time I look at them.

- NZ Herald

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