Nathalie Lété is the designer de jor and we can’t get enough of her fabulously unique designs. Born and residing in Paris, Nathalie works in many ways, mixing different techniques and mediums, illustration, ceramics, textile and painting. Her work is renowned for its colorful, naive and poetic, sometimes strange, style and is influenced by German and Chinese folk art (thanks to her Chinese father and her German mother). Creating children’s and graphic books, knitted and stuffed toys, glass pictures, patterned dishes, to postcards, ceramic sculptures, and more, she works on designs for herself as well as commissions and across many well-known brands. Nathalie talks to us below about how it all began and why she doesn’t see herself as a designer…
Have you always wanted to be a designer and how did you get your first break in the industry?
I don’t think of myself as a designer, I would say I am an artist who applied my art on some products, perhaps because I liked to be surrounded with my world, and also because I didn’t want at first to sell my originals. So adding my art to product collections was a way for people to have my art in their home without buying some original art, which is not the same intention…
I began really to work with brands on some products collection about ten years ago with stationery collections.
Who or what inspires you most?
I’m inspired by nature, flowers, animals, insects… and also a lot by vintage toys…
I also love textiles, folk art… all the applied art in fact. When I was student, I once saw a book about the Bloomsbury Group (The Bloomsbury Group was an influential group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, including Virginia Woolf & E.M. Forester) and I fell in love with this atmosphere.
What has been your career highlight to date?
After I studied fashion at applied school in Paris, and lithograpie at Beaux Arts in Paris; I worked during ten years in collaboration with my then boyfriend under artist name “Mathias and Nathalie”. We did painted sculpted cardboard, and had a lot of success very quick.
Then when I turned 30, I met my husband at Beaux Arts we had two kids, and I began to work alone by myself… step by step I found brands who were interested in collaborating with me… it took time, because at that period the style was more classic, and everybody thought I was a bit too unusual. But now I think I’m really traditional and classic, and my style is about the same, perhaps a bit more precise and realistic with the time.
Can you talk us through your design process, how do you take an idea to conception?
I draw, I draw, I draw, and then I scan all my drawings and paintings, and construct my bank of images years after years… with all these images I can work, and construct new things… it is a bit like playing with pieces of images to create new puzzles.
Can you talk us through what a typical day looks like for you?
I come to my studio around 8.30 in the morning. I live two minutes from my studio, my way through the garden is the walk for my dog. Then I answer emails, send images by request, prepare some parcels to ship to customers; open books, sit and paint, and then scan the painting’s. Once it is 6pm and my assistant leaves the studio, and I have the place free on my laptop, I can send some more images to some other customers in another part of the world (in fact I work with Asia and Australia in the morning, and with America in the afternoon… with Europe all the day long).
I usually get home about 6.30pm, cook, and watch a movie… that is it!
How would you describe your own home style and what is your favorite room in your home and why?
My home is a mix between the minimalist style of my husband, and my style… we like wood, the furniture of the ‘60s and ‘70s along with black, gold shades.
We have a lovely wool blanket on the sofa (which helps to avoid our dachshund Spike destroy the sofa)… and the sofa is my favorite place to be in the evening to watch movies with my husband… a time to relax.
I also love my bedroom, which has a beautiful light coming from the big window, and a green flowered balcony for which I’m very thankful each day of my life.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Keep my style and do my own business…when I tried to work for other brands, but all the brands considered that my style was too strong for them to be used…
If you weren’t a designer what would you be?
I think I could be a good fashion stylist for magazines…
I would also love to work with architects… in fact I would love to have another life to try to work in collaboration with other people.
And I would love to live in the mountains and keep sheep.
What is your most treasured possession?
My freedom, my hands, my health.
You’ve just discovered a time machine that can take you to either the past or the future, what year do you go to and why?
I would go in the past, just at the beginning of the 20th century. To be there when they discovered electricity and all of the other magic we now have in the world. I like the atmosphere of this period, the costumes, the architecture, no idea why really but I feel there was something like an explosion of new emotions. I like the beginning of movies also very much… I like also the effect of the time… now time is running too much and even if I don’t like it, I have to follow…
But I’m a very nostalgic woman, and I just bought an old house which is in an impressionist village not far from Fontainebleau… and I would love to live there in that time…