Friday, July 17, 2009

Interview with Annette Tatum

Tell us a little about your background and how your 'creative spark' started.
I attended UCLA and studied Product Design and Architecture. After years of working with wood, metal and other hard materials I ended up working for a fashion company called Tocca out of NY. It was there that I really became inspired by fashion. I found that color, details and pattern were really exciting and began to integrate textiles into my work as a designer. When I started printing my own line of fabrics in 2000 and saw how the prints could be translated into so many different looks depending on the color ways, I was hooked. Printing fabric opened up a whole new world for me in which I discovered that there are many uses for fabric. Clothing, bedding, furniture, and more. Today I continue to work in the world of color and pattern and have even expanded into stationary, rugs and lighting.

Where do you live? What is the textile/crafty scene like there?
I live in Santa Monica, California which is very beachy and very casual. I also have 4 children ages 6-18 so I am super easy and flexible with my own home. I have a home studio where I surround myself with lots of things I love. Vintage textiles, old trims, wallpaper samples, and color chips. All inspiration for my next collection or just things I love. In LA there is a great source of craft and textile shows, flea markets and pattern libraries that I visit. I also collect old documents and fabric samples that I have found from traveling. Since I am a big fan of "collaging" I often check out some of the scrapbook stores in my area. They offer a great connection to all of the people out there who want to do unique projects on their own. Growing up my mother was a home sewer who made most of my clothes as well as taught me how to macrame, needlepoint and make all kinds of home projects. So my roots are from a very crafty home. I love anything home made and often check out blogs to find inspiration.

How and when did you start designing fabric? I started designing fabric in 1989 when I started my own business. I did not have a clue on how this all was done but learned as I went. I had never had any formal training on fabric design but I think my training in color while working with Tocca helped. I started my first collection with a line of pajamas that included special one of kind embroidery borders. To this day, I have people asking me if I still sell pajamas. I love embroidery and took motifs from all over the world, which I translated into prints for my first line of bedding. I did not start designing baby fabrics until around 2000... when of course my own life began to fill with small children. Since then I have continued to print my fabric collection twice a year and sometimes have to control myself. If it were up to me I would have a million prints. I love taking a pattern and plugging into different color combinations to see how each color way has a different effect and look. A flower in hot pink might be great for a modern or child look, yet when it is re colored to a softer palette suddenly it is sophisticated and subtle. Often times I am pleasantly surprised when I discover a new combination by just playing around with color.

Is there a story behind each of your collections?
There is often a story behind each collection that I try to reference as a point of inspiration. My Lifestyle collection was inspired by my trips to Paris and the couture elements of French design and architecture. The color palette was influenced by a fashion show I watched from a 2008 Dior collection in which the colors and the grandeur of Marie Antoinette was at the core of the show. It also helps me as a designer to have an idea that has roots and history. By this I mean, that for me good design has to have some elements that are classic and iconic. In the Lifestyle collection you will find French brocades and tapestry patterns combined with swirl patterns similar to those found in vintage French clothing. The color palettes are rich and contain metallic accents making them fun inspiration for a fabric collection today as they were ages ago.

Can you tell us a little about your design process - do you sketch? Paint? Strictly computer?
My design process is pretty simple. I am not a painter by trade and I am not that great with all the updated computer programs. So... I collaborate. I often start with an idea in my head and let it percolate a while. When I am ready to start to try and put it into conception I usually have a very good idea about what I like and how I want a pattern or fabric to look. I can see in my mind the scale, color way and look I am going for. The harder part is to get it out of my head and into a format that can then go into production. In the early days I came with my scribbles and scraps of what I wanted to put together. Today I have help from my in house graphic designer and the printers where I print. Over time I have learned that I jump into a new idea and others see my passion. People step forward to help me figure how to get to the next step. Most of my skill has come from on the job and in the process.. not from formal training.

What inspires your work?
Whenever I am asked this question I often do not have an answer. I am inspired by everything. I find lots of things interesting. Usually I find that when I take a closer look at objects, architecture and vintage textiles...there is always something that I can find inspiring. Even if it inspires me "not" to try something it is still valuable. For the most part I am inspired by vintage trims, velvet ribbons, notions, old tile patterns and clothing. I recently went to a hat millinery and had a great time. The store was old and the person who ran the shop had spent years collecting old odds and ends. It was fantastic. I also had to visit lots of costume houses this year for information on my new book - The Well Dressed Home out in September. I could have stayed for days. Old prom dresses from the 50's in amazing colors and shapes. Just being in the prop house and walking the aisles made me feel nostalgic and curious about who might have worn the dress. Which designer took time to sew on all the details and if it was a one of a kind dress. The history of fashion and how different colors, materials and shapes have passed through the ages is really fascinating.

What is your personal stash of fabric like?
I have a room in my house that is my workroom/studio. I also have storage with old archives that I have collected or collections from the years past for my companies house and little house.
When this is not enough I go visit a friend of mine who has a crazy stash that fills up a two room house and garage. She has been collecting for years and has scouts all over the world sending her fabric documents. Between the two of us and the flea markets there is quite a library to choose from. Still, depending upon what I am into every year and what is happening on the fashion front there are still places and style to discover. I would love to spend time in India and now that my children are getting a little older, I will hopefully be able to go soon. I do find that when I am in a country and see how the lifestyle influences peoples color choices for their clothing, architecture, etc. I am drawn more to the style. For instance in Mexico where I have spent a lot of time, I find that the clean crisp whites with the colorful embroidery that occur in clothing also appear in home decor and architecture. It is a lifestyle look that is unique to Mexico. I find this type of connection inspiring. I often find myself looking differently at fabrics from around the world once I understand the culture from which they originate.

What can we look forward to in the near future from you?
Well I like to keep re inventing to stay creative. This year ahead I have a whole new world opening with my first book. " The Well Dressed Home" published by Clarkson Potter. This will be a new experience for me and the making of the book was a great opportunity for me to work with a team. The collaboration process was new to me since I am often designing on my own. Over the years I have found that working with others can be really rewarding so I hope that the future holds more opportunity to collaborate with more creative people. We have more licensing partners on the horizon and a new collection under the "Annette Tatum' label. I also plan to collaborate with Free Spirit on a line of baby bedding. The future looks great and full of opportunity despite our current economics. I have to say for me, when the nature of my business began to change in early 2009 I had to do some soul searching. I have found that what is important is to focus on what is working and try and surround yourself with the positive. There is always something or someone that says you can't do this and you should not do that. I have found that whenever I follow my heart I am successful. So for the next year, I am going to follow my heart and be happy!

Annette's new book The Well Dressed Home will be released Sept 29 2009
and you can check out a sneak peek here. You will find pages filled with fashion inspired décor for your home. To preorder the book send us an email at and ask how to order your signed copy today.

Thanks Annette for a great interview! If you want to see Annette's collections, click HERE and you can read her profile that is on our FreeSpirit website and have direct access to her great collections! Also, visit her blog for updates on what she is doing and lots of inspiration!

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