Nature Nurture

Textile designer Virginia Johnson's quirky meditations on the world outside. By Erin Wylie
Though she's partial to jubilant geometrics and meditations on flora and fauna, Canadian textile designer and illustrator, Virginia Johnson, isn't all sweetness and light. "I think I wore black all the time," Johnson says of her seven years living in New York, first as a student at Parsons School of Design and then as a footwear and accessories designer for Helmut Lang. Johnson's eponymous line of nature-inspired textiles seems out of character for someone who once had a hand in Lang's edgy take on beauty. But Johnson shrugs it off explaining, "It didn't seem like it at the time; the '90s were more minimalist anyway."
Enter the more decadent noughties: In 2000 Johnson decided to exit Lang and was inducted into the Spade family empire, illustrating for Kate's paper goods and a trio of delightful Kate Spade etiquette books. While the Spades make some of the best bosses around, Johnson now relishes the peace she finds in creating for her own line. "There's more freedom to experiment with the textiles." The result—Matisse-like illustrations of birds, flowers, and animals—take on new meaning when they are printed on cloth. Blown up and grouped en masse, orchids appear as teetering pod people abducted from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!; a carpet of heavily veined leaves resembles a nervous school of wriggly eels; and row upon row of camels look like a symphony of sloppy music notes.
Citing multidisciplinary artists such as Sonia Delaunay as inspiration, Johnson doesn't want to make just another pretty object. "I love the combination of art that's not pristine but that is used for different things; Delaunay used her textiles for clothing and cars. "There's something that's interesting in using [art] everyday and tying it to commerce," she says. "It interacts with people." To that end, Johnson plans to expand into housewares and accessories: She's developing a line of ceramics a
Textile designer Virginia Johnson's quirky meditations on the world outside.

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