Textile Messages: Looking for Inspiration with the Nordstrom Print Design Team
While you’re shopping floral dresses and gingham shirts this spring, pause for a minute to linger over the subtleties of the hues, the composition of the lines, how the pattern interplays with the material. Someone lovingly researched and designed that print. A team translated it into a fabrication. Chances are that pattern was devised with this garment in mind. In other words, when you wear a print you wear an artistic collaboration—the last contributor being you and how you style it.
A pattern might initially attract our eye, but after that first blush, we’re often quickly distracted by the cut, the fit, the price. Our consumer mind wonders about how that print would suit us, not its provenance. But then we met the Print Design Team at Nordstrom. Their cumulative experiences and passions make them a unique group of women in the industry. So we asked to spend the day with them! They obliged our (maybe weird, but well-meaning) request.
Two Nordstrom print designers as well as the director of print and color took us into their studio to see how they work, and then to some of their favorite inspirational Seattle places. Here’s a glimpse into their world. It’s pretty lovely.
Senior print designer Marion Chereau
Paris-trained Marion Chereau, a senior print designer at Nordstrom who previously worked at Hermès and Jean Paul Gaultier, designs for almost 20 different labels under the larger umbrella of Nordstrom brands. “Because of my Hermès experience, I’m specialized in soft accessories. But I’m also known for being a painter,” Marion explained to us in the studio, where on the table she displayed her own artwork resembling petaled clouds in a bleached sky. “I’m an artist before all, and love painting gouache, acrylic or watercolor exploding florals.”
Marion originally intended to pursue advertising following her graduation from ESAG Penninghen in Paris, but was wooed by the art director of Hermès. “I started first by working on Hermès silk scarves but quickly turned to collaborating and helping other departments with print needs. I ended up working for Jean Paul Gaultier on the women’s ready-to-wear runway collections. That’s how I fell in love with fashion and print design!”
Kim Chin, director of print and color
“What I’m drawn to right now is abstract expressionism, collage and distorted interpretations of florals,” said Kim Chin. “I love color combinations of plaids and stripes and Africana design.” As the director of print and color, Kim helps construct the identities of many Nordstrom labels, of which there are more than 50. Her responsibilities are varied but her primary role is to steward the brands’ teams. “Mainly, I’m supporting my team,” she told us, “their workload, resources and environment, trying to open creative avenues so their point of view is articulated to the best of their ability.”
Before coming to Nordstrom, Kim was at oki-ni, H&M, Urban Outfitters and then Aritzia. A graduate of the Chelsea College of Arts—now part of the University of Arts London—she credits her instructors as a continual source of guidance. “My tutors are still leading and active mentors in their field—such an inspiration,” Kim said, reflecting on the chain of artistic influence.
Print designer Emily Walker painting in the studio
Print designer Emily Walker works on the Treasure&Bond, Caslon and Hinge labels at Nordstrom. “My favorite print I did recently was actually this really moody floral that has a lot of larger-scale motifs and interesting spacing,” Emily said. “The idea for it came from one of the chintz books we have here. We have an amazing book collection!” Emily worked at Madewell and Mara Hoffman before arriving at Nordstrom. “I like being right above the store because it gives you the chance to see what things are looking like on the floor,” she said about the location of the studio. “You literally have a direct connection to the customer.”
Marion agreed, “I love to work above the store because we can see the ‘live’ results of our work—plus I love shopping!”
Watch the video: Inside the Studio with the Nordstrom Print Design Team
But getting out of the studio is an important part of the design process, and the Print Design Team frequently makes trips both within Seattle and around the globe. “I just went to Art Basel Miami,” Marion told us about a recent team excursion. “It was such an inspiring trip. I fell in love with the work of an artist named Andrew Kuo. He expresses his feelings and thoughts through colorful geometric big-scale charts. It was a great interpretation of what is happening with the Internet and big data.”
Locally the team often visits stores and flea markets to collect vintage fabric samples. “We had a mini team outing to Georgetown [in Seattle] recently and found a market that apparently only happens twice a year here,” Emily said. “It was filled with vintage kimono fabrics and everyone was so excited. I am actually most inspired when I least expect it,” she told us.
In the afternoon Kim Chin took us shopping at KOBO at Higo in Seattle’s International District. The store is also a gallery featuring artists and ceramicists from around the world, highlighting Japanese and local Pacific Northwest artisans. When we visited, the Simple Cup Show was on display, giving us the opportunity to check out some interesting variations of drinking vessels.
When asked what inspires her, Kim told us: “Vintage fabrics, ceramics and decorative craftsmanship from the era I’m delving into. If there are modern interpretations already surfacing in the creative form, then you know you’re on the right track.”
Kim Chin at KOBO at Higo in Seattle’s International District
Other places that Kim and her team frequent to find print influences necessarily include museums and galleries. “I’m an art exhibition junkie—and on top of catching up with friends and family, that is the second most important thing I do when I return to London or New York,” Kim said. In Seattle, she often frequents the Asian Art Museum, located in a beautiful Art Deco building in the center of Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park. “I prefer to go to more intimate spaces; the architecture of the building and the light are such integral parts of the experience.”
But working in retail means that other retailers and designers are constantly influential as well. “Music and intimate shops with a particular point of view or curation also play an important role, not only in product but in people-watching,” said Kim. “What draws someone to a certain place, how people wear or put together pieces for certain events, or day to day.”
Kim, Marion and Emily meet up at RIZOM, a boutique in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, where they view the clothes, jewelry and ceramics. Upstairs is Pacific Standard Books, a small bookshop featuring a collection of photography and fashion tomes curated by Nordstrom Creative Director Strath Shepard.
“Camaraderie is something that has impressed me since joining the print studio,” said Kim. “One thing that has been consistent is the avenues of support and advice from not only team members but design director colleagues, the VP of Creative even through to the president.”
Marion Chereau, Kim Chin and Emily Walker at RIZOM
After some shopping we head for drinks at Belltown’s Rob Roy, a cocktail lounge decorated in mid-century art and furniture. It’s a mellow but happening watering hole on weekends. Marion met her boyfriend there. “Seattle is a very foodie city with some amazing restaurants,” said Marion in her charming French lilt.
“Seattle is the new Silicon Valley. There are so many exciting things going on around us,” she continued. “It is very motivating and encourages us to innovate in our field as well.”
Emily Walker, Kim Chin and Marion Chereau at Rob Roy
Video and photography by Matthew Sumi
Photography assistance by Christopher Burrows
Video editing by Kirstin Small
Production assistance by Karin Lee and Robbin Woodruff
Hair and makeup by Zoe Hoffman
Styling by Destiny Flores
Copy and art direction by Britt Burritt