Sarah Swash and Toshio Yamanka are the celebrated duo behind cool East London based design brand SWASH London. First meeting at fashion mecca Central Saint Martins in 2001, they went on to work in Sarah’s hometown of Penzance in Cornwall before working in Toshio’s home of Japan for a year. Cementing their inspirations and working style, the brand emerged after the creative duo won the prestigious Hyères prize in 2004. Since then SWASH London have worked on many impressive projects from creating anniversary scarves for Barneys, fashioning a special drawing and scarf to cover The New York Times “T Magazine”, and last year launching an exclusive collection with Puma. To celebrate the arrival of SWASH London at Amara, The LuxPad caught up with Sarah to find out more about how they both got started in fashion and how they maintain a healthy working relationship…
As alumni of Central Saint Martins, why or how do you think it continues to provide so much talent in the creative industry?
The creative freedom at Saint Martins is what sets it apart. You have a dynamic where you are allowed to express your creative viewpoint very freely but at the same time you have the pressure of always getting it right, of who has gone before you and as you progress in your course an increasing awareness of the reality of the fashion industry. At CSM you have to reflect and really work out what your stand point and your opinion will be, no one does it for you which is an early taste of the real world!
What inspired you to pursue a career in the fashion and design industry?
I think for Toshio it was a lot about being in London and music during the ’90s, both of which meant fashion was such a natural thing for him to be interested in. For me (being a tiny bit younger!) it was more about reading iD magazine, THE FACE from my bedroom in Cornwall in the ’90s! I was desperate to get to London and see what it was all about.
When did you decide that working together would be a good idea and do you have any tips on how to maintain a good working relationship?
Well it’s not always easy but a good team helps. Once you have a good team in place it is no longer about the dynamic between just two people and more about strategic decisions and being as productive and creative as you can for the company. We decided to work together straight out of college as it just seemed like the most natural thing to do.
If you could see your designs on any iconic object what would it be and why?
Interiors! Not one object but a full SWASH universe! We intend to start working more on commission based interiors projects and at the moment a dream would be design a full interior for say a beautiful residential property or a luxurious hotel.
What do you think is currently the biggest threat to the creative industry and how would you solve the issue?
In terms of fashion I think it’s the constant need to deliver product. Obviously that is what retail demands which we understand but the changes over the last ten years have been massive and it has left designers needing to design endless collection every year to keep up. However at the moment it feels like it’s all about to change again with designers completely rethinking how and when they sell and show so I think even in another couple of years – for better or worse – it could all have changed again.
How would you describe your own interior style and what is your favorite room in your home and why?
At the moment our favorite room is definitely our kitchen which we recently completely redesigned. We live in a Victorian villa and having been determined that we would keep the small Victorian kitchen a year later we had already started work on a very large and quite modern extension because as a family we needed an open, positive space and it’s where we spend all our time. We worked tirelessly on the kitchen and are very proud of the result, we had the space crafted in birch ply with a ‘parquet patchwork’ floor in reclaimed oak and Italian marble and in place of external brickwork full steal framed grey windows opening to the garden. For the other rooms (not yet done!) the feeling will be more traditional but still fresh, playful and tactile. Think floor length curtains, triptych textile panels, antique upholstered beds, modular cushions combined with a classic club sofa. We plan on hand drawing on the walls combined with wallpaper and framed drawings from our archive – all SWASH of course!
Can you talk us through the process of initial idea to finished product?
We begin by finding the theme or the objects that we will work with to create the collection. This doesn’t have to be one single theme but can also be a collection or grouping of ideas, themes and inspirations. From then we start the drawings and paintings, this part of the process takes some months to complete and all the drawings are done by Toshio. We then have them printed and paint all of the drawings with watercolor creating numerous versions to fill the prints with color and texture. The paintings then become repeat prints, scarves and placement prints for our collection with each little detail planned around the drawings. Whilst the prints are a work-in-progress we are also researching and developing silhouettes, forms & shapes for the collection. We work on both simultaneously but the season’s print story is always the starting point.
What’s your favorite place in the world and why?
Weekend mornings in our giant emperor SWASH bed with our two children and whippet Candy!
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?
That’s hard but perhaps Regency London for the decadence and transformation of the city. The sheer opulence and extravagance of that period is incredible and within such a short space of time so many iconic central London buildings took shape.
What does 2016 hold for your brand?
We have so much planned for 2016, we intend to tell the story of the SWASH process and inspirations via our social media as we find people are always fascinated to see the detail and technique that goes into the product. We also have some exciting collaborations underway and hope to launch e-com mid-way through 2016.