This is the third and final feature in this series focuses on another design duo and members of Drake General Store’s Modern Makers, Ladies & Gentlemen, which is the clever, talented team of Dylan Davis & Jean Lee who live and work in Seattle, WA. We’ve featured them a few times here and we were excited to have the change to talk to them more about their work.
To celebrate the launch of Modern Makers, you can win a mini chime by Ladies & Gentlemen (pictured above; retail value: $78 CAN/$71 USD!) – just follow this link to enter (giveaway ends 5/5/14). We spoke with Jean and Dylan about working as a team, their inspiration and creative process as well as what lies ahead. Read the interview:
How did you two meet and what about each other made you decide you wanted to work together?
Dylan and I met during college studying industrial design in Seattle. Through late nights in the studio working and collaborating on group projects we found out we really admired each other’s style, sensibilities, and work ethic. Our studies took us to Italy for several months where we were exposed to completely new concepts of design, art, and living. Following school, we both found creative/design jobs, but at the end of the day we found ourselves yearning for a freer, more creative way to practice design.
We dreamt of starting a small independent design studio inspired by the artisans we met in Italy. A studio that values and nurtures creative flexibility while creating good products. With this vision in mind, we started to design and produce objects in our free time as Ladies & Gentlemen Studio. In 2010 we officially launched our own collection as L&G Studio and became a real business.
Your main interest seems to be in minimalism and geometry – what inspires you most and why?
Our main interest is in the explorative process of mixing materials and shapes in elemental, functional ways. A sizable chunk of our design process happens on and around the shelves that line every room in our home studio [see picture below]. Everything on our shelves, obviously usable or not, serves as our 3D inspiration board. We experiment in real-time composing these scrap pieces and basic shapes of materials and composing like building blocks to build products. Because we’re starting with very basic shapes, we’ve built this appreciation for the materiality and form of them, which becomes a very important part of our design vocabulary.
You have had great success in just a few short years – to what do you attribute it and how has your company grown?
We first started dabbling with designing things for fun because of our friends (Jamie & Brian of Iacoli & McAllister) started a design collective in Seattle called JOIN Design back in 2008 when there wasn’t much of an independent design scene in Seattle. We participated in some local group shows as an excuse to create something and meet like-minded people. Around that same time, JOIN and other design collectives like American Design Club, started getting lots of press attention. We weren’t necessary aware of this at that time, but I think that people started to identify these design collectives as part of a resurgence of independent design and a cultural value shift in America. This was further bolstered by the emergence of blogs, social media, and Pinterest which helped bring us more exposure than we had ever imagined.
Some of your designs like the serving pieces and doily rugs are modern updates on traditional heirloom pieces. Did any of these projects start as inspired by an antique or family heirloom?
When we first started making those items, we had a vintage shop on Etsy for about a year in 2008, so we were surrounded and fascinated by the history and charm of vintage/antique things. Our work has since evolved and shifted away from the vintage look, but our explorative process has stayed the same.
Your chimes are like modern, geometric dreamcatchers… Why did you decide to make chimes of all things?
I was wondering about that myself! It seems totally random, but I think it traces back to my childhood of growing up in a hippy town in Oregon where wind chimes, dream catchers, and even hippy swirls were everywhere. Luckily I haven’t had the desire to make hacky sacks…yet!
It seems like lately you might have a lot of inspiration from the Memphis movement, but you’ve toned it down with a more Scandinavian feel… how do you describe your recent work?
Our latest work seeks to use shapes, materials, and effects in ways that express an object’s elemental function and meaning. It’s strives to be expressionistic (a Memphis trait), but in the most minimal honest way possible (which is much more Scandinavian and Japanese).
We have always been inspired by Scandinavian design: the understated simplicity and honesty of it. We actually live in an Scandinavian neighborhood in Seattle and see a lot of similarities between Seattleites and the Scandinavians in culture, the scenery, the lifestyle, and even similar in ways that people are more reserved and shy. I think that’s why we feel such a strong connection.
There’s also a big Japanese history in Seattle, which is another major reason we’re drawn to the less is more philosophy and looking at things in a more elemental way.
While we don’t necessarily subscribe to the “loudness” of the Memphis approach, we do appreciate their creativity and courage to completely up-end the status quo. It taught the design world that “function” isn’t always obvious, formulaic, or serious. We believe that some level of playfulness is an important part of making people connect with what they buy and use.
What are the benefits and challenges of working as a team? Who does what?
Dylan and I have really similar beliefs about design and life in general. However, we’re pretty divergent in terms of our core competencies and workstyles. The benefit of this is that we can use each others different skills to support our goals. If we were working independently there wouldn’t be that same mix that makes for a diverse yet cohesive body of work. The challenge of this is that we don’t always agree and have to work constructively to come up with the best collective approach. It’s not always easy, but we always come together on the shared belief that we make the best decisions together.
On a day to day basis I do more of the admin work, general creative direction, marketing, and shipping. Dylan on the other hand, deals with production, product development, sourcing and engineering side of things. He has the ability to figure out a lot of hardware and construction details, whereas I’m better at looking at the general form and ideas. We have a production manager who helps us achieve our production and shipping goals and keep our focus on the business and design. When we’re designing new products, we work collaboratively to come up with new ideas and directions.
What is your studio space like?
Currently our studio is in our mid-century home, which as you can imagine has it’s pluses and minuses. In almost every room there are open shelves, on which we display things we love from housewares, books, objects, prototypes, to material swatches and samples. They function like a three-dimensional inspirational board, which we often find ourselves grabbing things off the shelf to reference or play with when we’re working on ideas. A lot of our production/assembly takes place in the shop space, which is our garage. It’s not the most ideal, since there’s not much separation between work and personal space. We’ve made it work with the space we have and our own resourcefulness, but we’re also looking forward to having a separate studio space soon!
Do you have a particular routine or creative process?
We work and live at our studio/home…and because of this set up, our average day can be quite unpredictable or ridiculously LONG. It’s very easy to work late into the nights depending on how much is on our plate at the same time. This is definitely the downfall of not having good separation of space. But when there’s not too much going on, we get to go on field trips, research new ideas, or network with other designers and interesting people. Nothing like a mid-week lunch date or happy hour with fellow creatives to get us inspired.
In the morning, we usually refer to a shared calendar and task lists that we each are responsible to check off. So we can easily see the status on certain projects or pending orders.
I (Jean) do more administrative work corresponding with wholesalers, press, updating our blog or Facebook in the morning. Dylan typically runs errands to pick up/drop off materials or does production work for our orders. Late afternoons and evenings are usually times to develop products we have ideas for. After taking care of business during the workday, we typically talk about new ideas during down time either during lunch, dinner, or when we go on walks.
Once we have an idea we like to pursue, we either set a deadline or have existing deadlines for design shows we’re part of. Then our house gets taken over with mock ups we make and things we’re inspired by. It’s a messy way to work, but it allows us to be immersive in the design process.
What are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on new things gearing up for NY Design Week this mid-May. We’ll be showing our work at Sight Unseen’s event called OFFSITE from May 16-20th.
Each year for design week, we choose to focus on new work that is done in collaboration with an artist we’re fascinated by. This allows us to explore a new material, approach, or working method we haven’t tried before. This year we’ll be debuting a new lighting series in collaboration with a Seattle-based glass artist, John Hogan. We’ve never worked with blown glass before and collaborating with John is such an inspiring way to explore the material. He’s amazingly talented.