Have you heard of Christine Van Der Hurd? the design cognoscenti have …from Yves Saint Laurent and Biba, to Bergdorf Goodman and Liberty her designs have intermingled in the chicest spaces. Walked through Claridges? stayed at Kit Kemp’s? zoomed down to Babington House? then you have experienced Vanderhurd’s creative power. I caught up with her in the studio surrounded by her Vanderbirds in Portobello Road: a space brimful of antique textiles, samples in rainbow colours and new rugs waiting to ‘wow’ the interior design crowd at Decorex.
I am fascinated by the well spring of creativity that has propelled Christine through decades of design, intrigued to know what inspires her distinctive patterns and vibrant colour palette. Aren’t you? she is a woman at the helm and the heart of her own visionary enterprise.
ADA (that’s me … from now on): I love how pioneers of the past and the best of classic design continue to inspire us today, in your work I feel echoes of your childhood as the daughter of antique dealers and the ‘epic’ annual summer trip you made with them to Southern Spain and Morocco … could tell us a little more about your influences growing up? CH (Christine Van Der Hurd): My father had two antiques shops in the Portobello road, I was always always rummaging there and travelling with him. I was at school at the French Lycée, it was cosmopolitan, chic! and culturally intense… with Cocteau movie screenings on Friday evenings.
Morocco and Southern Spain were extraordinary, I can still see the flea markets and bazaars.
the infinite variety of Christine’s structured design ‘Cordoba’ in different scales and mediums.
CH: As a teenager in the 60’s I loved Art Nouveau and the beginnings of Art Deco, I used to collect enamel pieces, maybe because of the colour? The geometrics were just starting to come through in these pieces, of course my father would dismiss them as tat, I suppose I was rebelling against antiques and my classical heritage, I was so ready for modernism! But now I am drawn back…exploring this heritage through classical paintings at the National Gallery: the composition, colours, costumes, the details. ADA: You seem to have had these quite profound ‘damascene’ moments which have completed re-charted your course as an artist and an individual. Could we re-visit the ‘Bauhuas Exhibiton’ you saw in 1968? its impact then and how influential it still is for you … and of course the first time you ‘scaled up’ one of your detailed drawings and experienced a similar revelation and ‘conversion’ to the altar of rug design?
CH: You know I still have the catalogue? (top image) it’s almost falling to pieces… I have looked at it so much. It opened up my visual world, showing the power of paring back design and art to essential geometric forms, the simplest lines and compositions: Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Josef Albers. Heroes.
That exhibition made me so curious to explore… I discovered Eileen Grey and became fascinated with Sonia Delauney’s rainbow modernism, its saturated colour still inspires my aesthetic.
I know we shouldn’t end a colour-rich Dealuney montage with a black and white image, but isn’t she fabulous, click into it… It’s clear that Christine’s college years at Winchester were a personal and artistic journey, she must have worked so hard, been so passionate. How do I know this? we got out the archive boxes and her work spilt over the table: reams of gorgeous designs and copious sketch books still vibrant, fresh and incredibly detailed. looking at Christine’s intensely drawn work decades down the line it is still infinitely arresting.
Her sketch books pages full of Sonia-saturated colour studies – which pulse off the page – make me want to flash a bit of ‘2014 neon’ RIGHT NOW.
CH: At art school I was terrified of a large sheet of paper, I would make endless ‘small’ designs but very colourful. I wrote my thesis on Symbolism, exploring its journey from the Enlightenment and the Romantics to the 20th century modernists. I was fascinated by the idea of art expressing emotion through form and symbols rather than art as a pictorial representation. I was constantly evolving and discovering things: A ‘Navahoe’ vintage book, on the Portobello Road, about Red Indian tribal design became the basis for a whole collection based on geometrics.
The first rug I designed forced me into this large scale which transformed the way I saw my work and inspired me into a new dimension, Vanderhurd is primarily a rug collection from which fabrics have again evolved (after art school Christine designed fabrics).
I could order this bespoke design from 2004 … anytime… now?
Fast forward to 2014 and 1 week before Decorex … ADA: I love your quote, my problem is never what shall I do next, but when to draw the line (interview: A-GENT of STYLE) Could you tell me a little about what’s inspiring you now? How you translate this onto paper and how you refine or evolve these designs for commercial use? CH: It’s an AZULE world currently, a flow of blues and a flash of pink neon. I am increasingly drawn to texture as part of structure and how to combine this with paring back the design itself. The ‘strié’ stripes in our new Navahoe style azule carpet took months for our Indian suppliers to perfect and we’re happy, it will be pride of place at Decorex with its neon pink flashes! (shall we look at this next week? after I have been to Decorex…possibly dressed to match the stand… I know, But SO difficult not too). So then naturally we rifle through some of the new samples, I am of course neon pink ready and always shaded in blue (probably navy), and fall in love with paravento below combined with new crisp dark blue ‘bleached-out’ discharge print behind.
CH: I have a picture in my mind and I follow its trajectory, as limitations appear eg. manufacturing, fabrics, I think again. I love changing things, all my designs are infinitely evolvable – scale, texture, embroidery, colour. I jump ahead and then the reality of seeing them into production and commercial use forces me to think again, to be inventive and pragmatic.
ADA: Where do you draw the line as you work on a collection or a design?
CH: There is no line…. it’s infinite. (I infinitely LOVE this quote).
We have an organic process, we are constantly developing things and it takes as long as it takes, Decorex is not our deadline: the creation is, our machine embroidery took 2 years to develop and now it is a core part of our permanent collection.
ADA: So as you show your collection next week, what makes a Vanderhurd design do you think? CH: Vanderhurd designs always express a tension between a rhythmic pattern (be it geometrics or florals) and the power of colour and texture. Together these create an energy and synergy, I am always looking for the flow, with this comes an attention to detail in design and process. Colour wise … I don’t do primary, except Klein Blue, I love Klein Blue, but apart from that my colours are always ‘off’ they are shades and tones. Listening to Christine, glimpsing into her creative world, I love the purity of her vision: she found her timeless inspiration early on in a cultured, eclectic world and has rigorously designed her own universe. In her hands this expands infinitely as she balances opposing elements to create dynamic designs of yin and yang duality : The collection resonates a HAPPY forcefield in its rainbow vibrancy yet is also powerfully soothing in its rhythmic patterns. Simultaneously sophisticated and elegant it also has a boho-chic. Patterns which appear graphically simple become complex through colour and texture. In Christine’s pioneering world timeless geometric structures and natural forms – are rendered completely fresh – making me see them anew, isn’t that the hallmark of great design? All images of Vanderhurd product are either from their website or supplied by them to A Decorative Affair from Christine’s archive, except the final 2 images which are from A-gent of Style. Bauhaus and Sonia Delauney images from exhibition posters and museum websites. Interested in the interior world and style of designers? check our Chanel: The Inner Sanctum, Brandolini:Haute Bohemia, Celia Birtwell and Cecil Beaton.