I first met Mary Bledsoe, senior associate and studio director at Gensler in Austin, Texas, while celebrating the launch of her collaboration with Mannington Commercial, entitled STYLIST, in March. Inspired by fashion, the collection harkened back to Bledsoe’s days working in the industry. “Every designer is a stylist at heart,” declares the collection’s brochure.
Bledsoe is delightfully down-to-earth, even as I interrupt her summer vacation with follow-up questions. She’s the type of person who gets you
to let down your guard within minutes, and that strength enables her to create personalities for each project based on the individual client. “For me, the approach for each project is understanding and really digging into what we can solve and what we can create for that particular client,” she explained. “The fascinating thing about the human experience is that everyone is different. There are some things that are universal, but there are so many things that are so beautifully unique. Every time we come to a project, we talk a lot about that whole discovery phase.”
This discovery process and the work that comes out of it are parts of an intellectual understanding of the project and people involved; it creates an experience.
It’s that attraction to experience that lead Bledsoe to where she is now. Having started her career as a stylist, she was able to parlay the skills she honed in fashion toward her interior design work. “Really for the most part, what made me interested in fashion was brand,” Bledsoe told me. “Certainly that was solidified in my first design job. I worked for Creative Services for the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation. That is such an amazing brand, and it’s an experience people are buying. I think, even in projects now, whether we’re doing a hedge fund or a tech company, the common thread between all of those things are, what is the experience? I think the thing that attracted me to retail is what I focus on now, but with a different lens.”
For Bledsoe, the blending of fashion and interior design continues to take inspiration from each other beyond the brand experience. Fashion has always been a DIY means of expression for an individual, a theme we’re seeing now as spaces attempt to break out of the cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all mold and sites like Etsy and Pinterest take off. Bledsoe and Gensler’s latest project with Yeti Coolers in Austin, Texas, is indicative of this, opting to use their headquarters as an extension of their outdoor culture. But doing so intelligently takes a keen understanding of the personality and needs of the user.
“I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking design is sort of this kooky, fun thing that just happens; a gestalt idea,” Bledsoe said. “The concept part is only 10 percent of the whole project. It’s more than having the idea and working with interesting materials, fabrics, and products. It’s what you do with it that makes all the difference.”