interiors+sources’ 2017 designer of the year, Elodie Blanchard, has had a love of creating designs and bringing them to life since she was a teenager in France. Her love for making has delivered a number of notable projects and collaborations, most recently her specialized collections for HBF Textiles, in addition to launching Elodie Blanchard Studio, just a bike ride away from her Brooklyn home.
However her plan wasn’t always to create goods for interiors. “I have always loved making things,” Blanchard told i+s. “As a teenager, I used to organize fashion shows and then sell the clothes. I loved the whole production: designing, sewing, picking the music, the decoration of the space, the choreography, the selling. I really wanted to be a fashion designer.”
With that, Blanchard moved from Grenoble, France, to Paris to enroll in the fashion program at the Ecole des Arts appliqués Duperré. In addition to fashion, she had an interest in art history and a desire to network with people working in different forms of media. “So I applied for the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts de Paris in the sculpture department. It was an amazing place, in the center of Paris, with beautiful architecture. I worked in a spacious shared sculpture studio and we had so much freedom. There, I always worked with fabric and met my mentor Martha, a costume designer who taught me how to make patterns, and I started my own fashion line.”
Blanchard did, in fact, find success in clothing design, which helped guide her on a path of varied opportunities. Her fashion collection won the public prize at the Festival of Hyeres and sold in La Redoute, “the French Target,” she noted. “It gave me a lot of opportunities and I started working freelance for different fashion brands. With a grant to study at Cal Arts, I moved to Los Angeles. I was [becoming] more interested in performance art. With opera singer and musicologist Nina Eidsheim I created the project ‘Noisy Clothes.’ The costumes themselves were designed to contain different ‘soundmakers,’ with playing an instrument redefined as ‘moving in what you are wearing.’”
While working on Noisy Clothes, an unexpected connection presented a twist of fate that changed Blanchard’s plans: she met Jonathan, her now-husband, who
was moving to New York City. “I followed him there,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘What are the odds of finding a nice guy? You can always find a good job.’ I am still with Jonathan so it was a good choice but the transition was not that smooth.”
Upon relocating to New York in 2001, Blanchard continued working on her art and took on a variety jobs to keep busy. During that time, she attended the International
Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) where she would buy accessories for Jonathan’s parents who own a kitchen design showroom in Southern California. At the show, she took in the work of other designers and it inspired her to move in the direction of product design. “I thought [this kind of] design was slower than fashion and still creative, so maybe this is what I should do.” She contacted some of the companies she saw at the show and began as an intern, making prototypes
or the likes of David Weeks, Stephen Burks, and Lindsey Adelman.
After being commissioned to design curtains for a friend of Weeks, in 2004 Blanchard continued to design drapes for other architects through Work Architecture Company, better know as Work AC. “One of the first clients [I worked with] was an art collector who gave me carte blanche. In this project, curtains were seen as part of the architecture. I loved collaborating with architects; there is a need and you [fulfill] it the best you can. I actually like boundaries, making something practical but funky at the same time. Problem solving and dealing with contractors for large-scale textile installations was a big part of the job. We collaborated on more projects and from word of mouth I became a drapery designer/maker.” Gaining recognition for her craft, Blanchard put together her own operation, Elodie Blanchard Studio, in 2005.
Years later, ICFF provided a stepping-stone to Blanchard’s prominence in textile design, this time when she was exhibiting. She met Mary Jo Miller, vice president of HBF Textiles, who asked Blanchard to design a collection for the company for 2014. “She took a risk as I did not have a traditional textile background but she liked my whimsical, functional, artistic aesthetic,” the designer said. Because Miller wanted the collection for NeoCon, Blanchard had six months to deliver the designs. However, the short timelines didn’t stifle the line’s success: the Elodie Blanchard Collection for HBF Textiles captured Best of NeoCon Gold.
From there, HBF proposed a two-year exclusive contract for three more collections. “It was really interesting and fun to work for a contract company that can invest in a larger-scale production,” Blanchard said. “I always loved fabric so to visit mills and get samples—it’s Christmas every day. I felt a responsibility to make a product that would last and sold well for [everyone] involved in that project.”
Blanchard’s approach for designing textiles starts with jotting down the basics: the company’s wants and needs, elements missing in its existing products, and how she can improve upon what it already offers. “Then, I love to tell a story or think about the lifestyle of the end user and what would improve [their daily life],” she continued. “I do some research and I always keep pieces of clothes, pictures, etc. [to start making vision boards] for the collection. And then I design. One pattern can comefrom a conceptual idea or a wool jacket I own or a textile texture from a mill that I like and can be transformed. I can use paint or draw on the computer—it really depends. I like to be effective and not give extra work to the mill, so I usually print all the patterns in different scales and piece it together on a piece of furniture to see what works best. The color work is what takes the longest. You have a thousand different colors and you have to pick seven; it’s the most stressful part.”
HBF’s relationship with Blanchard continues to flourish. Since her first collection in 2014, she has designed four lines for the textile producer in addition to styling photography and doing color consulting. “I am pretty specific and [the way my product is shown] is really important to me, so styling the photographs of textiles to fit the concept is as important as the [actual] product. [With HBF] I am involved through the entire process. [The team is] down to earth. Dan Chong [HBF president] expects greatness and is really excited about growing HBF and making it progressive. It’s a chance to be part of that family.”
Reflecting on some of her most beloved work throughout her career, Blanchard noted that she considers the element of timelessness in commercial textiles, keeping product relevant for years to come. In addition to a statement piece in every collection, the bulk “would be elegant and simple. When I design textile drapes or fiber art, I think about the space and its special needs like privacy, acoustics, etc.”
Her original art projects, on the other hand, are more creative, with less regard of how people will see or utilize a creation. “I just have fun,” she said. “I don’t think
about what people are going to think, if it should be beautiful or fit somewhere—I just make stuff. I will decide to create a forest and make the trees with no plan. It’s dream time. It’s more about feeling. Sometimes when I look at [what I’m creating] I wonder why I am even doing this. I just need to do it. It’s pretty much an egotistical practice.”
For those seeking a career in design, Blanchard encourages up-and-comers to experience as much as possible and to take advantage of different opportunities that
may come up, much like she did. “Do different things, don’t think too much, work with your friends, be active. As early as you can, intern and work for a variety of
designers. You can learn from them and in the future collaborate. I did not choose a job; I chose a lifestyle. I think what’s really important to be happy is to know in which environment you want to work and what kind of life you want: a small studio, hands on, large-scale architecture firms, a demanding job that is fast paced—everybody is different. Just listen to yourself. Designers can have all kinds of jobs that fit various personalities and if you are happy doing your job you will likely do better work.”
On the horizon for Blanchard is a partnership with NappaTile, a Concertex company, and an upholstery collection for Fil Doux Textiles. In addition, her original designs will be featured on pillows in guest rooms in the new MOXY hotel in Downtown Manhattan, which is set to open in May 2018. She also hopes to do some work in rug, carpet, or wallpaper design in the near future. “I love to discover new techniques and collaborate with new companies. For me, keeping a balance between [different] kinds of work is the best, as they all inform each other and I don’t get bored.”