Patti Carpenter once rubbed elbows on Seventh Avenue with fashion world moguls. She now sits knee to knee with indigenous artistans working in cinder block buildings off dirt roads in Tozeur and El Kef in rural Tunisia, or in thatched huts in Bolivia and Guatemala.
Patti Carpenter’s design-influenced and artisan-made collaborations are finding their way to stores right alongside the fashionistas she used to work for, and you won’t want to miss them.
Carpenter’s unique path to artisan-based work began with a traditional design education and over twenty years of work with top fashion designers. Money and power were fine and dandy, but she felt corporate life chipping away at her creativity. Carpenter’s days were more focused on “numbers and best-sellers” than on inspiration and design. After a New Year’s Eve in Brazil, where she threw flowers into the ocean as a gift to the mermaid goddess Orisha Yemanja
, counted her blessings, and asked for guidance…she quit. And dedicated her time and talents to organizations helping indigenous artisans.
Eventually, her perambulations led her to create Carpenter + Company, born in 2006 with a mission to produce inspired, hand made, decorative items that support cultural and artisanal sustainability. Carpenter fervently believes in the positive exchange between high design and the brilliant artisans with whom she collaborates.
During her first trip to Mali in 2001 she had the opportunity to work with women who weave and dye traditional batik mud cloth for fine, custom made apparel. Carpenter’s genius came through in adapting the talent of the dyers so that their time-honed skills could garner a broader audience. She took fine white damask and over-laid the already textured fabric with modern designs she had drawn up in her hotel room. Then she asked the dyers to work in a vibrant color palette of orange and pink. The result was a stunning tabletop collection that morphs modern but echoes ethnic -- a phrase that describes her outlook on design and her recent home collection, Continuum
Carpenter chose the name Continuum to pay homage to the free ebb and flow of ideas, which move from artisan to her modern design palate and back again. It is Carpenter’s confluence of naïve and new geometric graphics which make traditional, culturally-rooted products much more saleable in Western markets. Dyers, embroiders and weavers from Mali to Tunisia, Guatemala to Bolivia, all seem to thrive working in their collaborations with Carpenter. “ I am always reverent and referential to all the original work. I am looking to maintain their art form by giving it a more modern look – just by tweaking the colors or scale to make it more appealing to a contemporary customer. When one walks down the street of Bamako, the capital of Mali, you see men and women strutting in Djbella or BuBu of crisp cotton. In Mali they beat the starch into the fabric so the stiffness dissipates very slowly, just like glazed chintzes. The effect is stunning. The textiles are opulent as they explode in colors and patterns on city or rural streets, but how can we honor this in a Western home? Well I thought pillows, napkins and all things table top. And it worked.”
Her approach to design in developing countries does not stop with the visual. During one of her trips to Bolivia she noticed that the men in the families sewed all the Carnival costumes and were wizards with needles and embroidering, but these talents had to be shelved as the men left their villages to follow work as migrant farmers. Carpenter’s idea was to unite the men and women of villages into a team that could sustain the family and the artwork. The result is alpaca pillows and scarves, expertly embroidered by the men and then hand finished by the women. The work is adorned with designs Carpenter has gleaned from tribal, traditional, and modern images. Her current patterns include one called ‘Mod Medallion’ and it graces baby soft pillows in crimson, gray, and chocolate.
The results of Carpenter’s uniting of sustainable families, farming, and cutting edge design can be found in ABC Home Furnishings, Bloomingdales, Mxyplyzyk, Wave Hill Gift Shop, Pan American Phoenix, and numerous other lifestyle stores across the country, and on line at www.carpentercompany.fv2b.com