London Design Week came and went in a flash, there was just so much going on!
As part of the festivities, the lovely people over at Design Junction gave me some time with textile designer Suki Cheema.
A traveller, an explorer and a fabulous designer – after studying printmaking at London’s Central St Martins, Suki spent a year travelling the world, a year that would cement his passion for travel. During this time he took hundreds of photos which provided the basis for a selection of prints that caught the eye of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. In 2002 Suki met Diane von Furstenberg and joined her design team creating prints for the international brand. After eight years there, and inspired by Diane’s passion and belief in pursuing one’s dreams, Suki stepped out on his own and ‘SUKI CHEEMA’ the brand was born.
The Suki Cheema range includes hand silk-screened prints and centuries old embroidery techniques. By interpreting the cultures and sights he come across in his travels, Suki pays homage to the places that inspire him and brings them to life in his pieces.
Me: Where’s your favourite place in the world?
Suki: I’ve been extensively travelling to Asia a lot and I’ve been as far as New Zealand and Australia as well, but I’m quite fascinated by Asia. It’s so rich in culture and history, so are we in the west, but they still carry on their traditions even today and I really get inspired by that.
Me: How do you interpret your travels and experiences into your work?
Suki: Normally when I travel I tend to look at different regions of the world and I’m mostly really inspired by that country’s heritage, their culture, looking at their use of colour, use of textiles and their way of life. I pull inspiration from those elements and then create my own version of a modern day textile that can fit into the Suki Cheema handwriting. It’s pulling certain elements from what I see. When I’m looking at the Masai tribes in Africa and the way they paint their houses – I tend to look at their use of colour but not necessarily the pattern on the building. Or where they paint a hut black and white I’m just pulling certain elements from that and blocking it together to form my own pattern. You can tell it’s from that region or that part but not identical because it’s my interpretation and my own handwriting. It’s also about geometric shapes and colour and how I can combine the two. Then I look at the country in terms of their history – if they use embroidery or thread work and after I’ve done the design it’s about how can I bring a bit of an heirloom, heritage piece to the collection by adding thread work or embroidery on top of the design to give it something different. It’s a love affair between art, travel and textiles.
Me: How do you want people to feel about your collections? How do you hope they view them?
Suki: When they’re buying a cushion or a rug I’d like them to feel like they’re buying a piece of history and culture, but a design as well. Something modern and something that will last. When they’ve got a Suki Cheema cushion at home, there’s a story behind that cushion – the textiles behind it, the thread work and the inspiration. Like, you don’t buy rugs every day you, so if you buy one and that rug can tell a story and will last, that’s my concept of design – giving something back as well.
Me: If you had to pick between art or travel as a source of inspiration, which would you choose?
Suki: Travelling broadens the mind and when you travel you see art. Travel gives me the option of seeing the world, art, people, the way they live and their culture. All that becomes a part of art so I would pick travel.
Me: What have been the highlights of your time in the industry?
Suki: It was great to get my first job, any first job is a learning curve and I’ve learnt so much from the industry. It’s made me a stronger person and a stronger designer. I’ve gained an understanding of the commercial side of the industry which you don’t tend to get when you’ve gradated and that comes with experience, like how to develop and run a business or how to turn your vision into an actual reality. That’s due to working in the industry and definitely working for Diane von Furstenberg in New York for eight years was amazing and she’s been a great inspiration to me. She’s about passion and colour and it was a great opportunity to spend time working with her.
Me: What is design to you?
Suki: Design is – a vision. It’s about developing something new, it’s about opportunity, it’s moving forward, creating something new for the next generation and giving back as well. I think design is always evolving and it’s about communities, exciting people and it’s about conversation.
left to right: rozen orange pillow | agra orange pillow | indonesia quilt | bark cloth rug | pondo pillow by Suki Cheema
Suki is working with John Lewis and a SS15 rug collection will be available in store next year.