London-based product designer Bethan Laura Wood has just created a colourful textile collection for Italian brand Moroso that’s as head-turning as her outfits. Home & Design editor Charlotte Luxford spoke to Wood during Milan Design Week 2018 about her inspiration, from the 1970s architecture and Otomi fabrics of New Mexico to her ‘bonkers’ flea-market finds.
Culture Trip: Your latest textile collection for Moroso was inspired by a trip to Mexico City, is that right?
Bethan Laura Wood: I did an intense 10-day artist’s residency there and then I went back by myself for three weeks last year to visit good friend and designer Fabien Cappello who moved over there. The collection is heavily inspired by the New Basilica of the Lady of Guadalupe – it’s the most amazing 1970s building. The angled windows are beautiful, so I spent a lot of my time just walking around the church and looking at the way the light changes the colour of the glass.
There’s also a particular type of textile called Otomi embroidery that mainly comes from the south of Mexico and is predominantly done by women, which was also a key reference for me. It’s very figurative, with lots of animals and these fantastic rainbow colours that are bright but sophisticated.
CT: What was it about the culture of 1960s and 1970s Mexico that particularly interests you?
BLW: Mexico held the Olympics in 1968 so there was this big explosion of crossover; when I was in the city I came across a flea market where there was a load of ’60s and ’70s op art and pop art from that time – it was amazing for digesting what’s filtered in and out of Mexico over the years through objects that people were getting rid of or collecting. I found these amazing milky green resin heads with pre-hispanic-type faces, they’re really bonkers. That kind of stuff is like gold dust to me for inspiration – the materiality is really nice. I also love the aztec-inspired architecture from the art deco movement that came through after the revolution when they were looking for more of a pre-hispanic identity.
CT: Where was the most interesting place you visited on your trip to Mexico?
BLW: On the last trip over I went to Oaxaca and they had a festival of embroidery – it was amazing to see all these women sitting, weaving and really celebrating and sharing their particular craft. I also went to a village that only weaves carpets, and there’s another that just does this green glazed ceramic – there’s a load of them like it that focus purely on one craft.
Also, in Mexico City a lot of families habitually take boats down the canals on the Sunday, a bit like we go to the pub for Sunday lunch, and this was a crazy experience. I was a little hungover from going salsa dancing the night before, wearing this big, vintage hand-painted sombrero that was decorated with all the presidents, and I was on this boat with all these incredible colours reflecting off the water and then there were these mariachis singing at me, while someone else was offering me food that was really spicy and sweet… it was a crazy assault on the senses but full of joy.
CT: You regularly work with Italian artisans too – how did that collaboration transpire?
BLW: My RCA tutor Martino Gamper invited me and some other graduates to apply for a residency at Fondazione Claudio Buziol, which is based in Venice, and we got accepted. We started to make connections off the back of that and I ended up on the AAA Wanted New Artisans residency programme in Vicenza, working with their local artisans. It’s also where I met Pietro Viero, who I designed my first collection of chandeliers with for Nilufar gallery. I try and collaborate with him at least once a year – it’s such a joy to meet people who have strong passions about a material or technique and to share in that.
CT: Which is your favourite material to work with?
BLW: I guess right now because I’ve been really into the textiles, I’m like, give me more, give me more! I’d definitely like the opportunity to develop and get a deeper understanding of the techniques and possibilities of textiles, but I’d also like to experiment further with different types of glass. I’ve worked a lot with Pyrex as that’s what Pietro specialises in, but it behaves quite differently to kiln glass, for example. I enjoy playing with ceramics, love a bit of lucite and beautiful resin work… Don’t make me choose, I want them all!
CT: What would be your dream project?
BLW: I love the London Underground and especially the tiles at Tottenham Court Road tube station by Eduardo Paolozzi. I adore these kind of immersive spaces and that Paolozzi took all these cultural signifiers of the local area and incorporated them into the details, even down to the tiny incidental curve of an escalator. I’d love to design a public space like that.
CT: Which other artists and designers have inspired you?
BLW: Obviously my tutor Martino, I also really like Ettore Sottsass, the show that was just on at the Triennale here in Milan was really inspiring – you really saw the depth of his use of materials and the way he crossed over from one-off crafts to the heavily industrial, such as the Olivetti typewriter. I also love Nathalie Du Pasquier and George Sowden – they have a great show at the Post Design Gallery in Milan during design week. Bertjan Pot’s woven masks are great – I did a swapsie with him because I love these pieces so much. He has a great sensibility towards handcrafting and making of one-off objects that explore a technique, but he also does amazing productions with companies like Moooi.
CT: How would you describe your own style?
BLW: Buckaroo meets Russian dolls?
CT: What inspires you fashion-wise?
BLW: I love vintage fashion – I’m currently wearing a kimono I found in a flea market in Kyoto, I love Zandra Rhodes [tugging at her scarf], she’s an amazing woman and her patterns are crazy. Also Missoni, I have a little bit on now, and Peter Pilotto who my earrings are by – he has a great fashion house in London and I’ve worked with him before on the installations for his townhouse takeover during last year’s London Design Festival. It’s been really exciting to be able to do some crossovers with fashion, such as these handles for Valextra’s Toothpaste collection [points to her handbag], which are now in the stores. It was a real pleasure to come to Milan and see all my babies now available for other people to buy!
CT: You live and work in London – where are your go-to spots?
BLW: I like Spitafields on a Thursday, they have a vintage flea that I’ve been going to for many years. I’ve always found good things there, the dealers are so sweet and always up for a natter and the energy of the market is great. I also love the intensity of the Columbia Road flower market on a Sunday, you have to be ready for it, but as long as you’re prepared it’s a lot of fun. Duro Olowu has this incredible little shop in Mason’s Yard that’s worth visiting – I love the cut of his kimonos and his sensitivity to mixing patterns and colour palettes. The Barbican is also a stunning space. London’s a really exciting place to live, there’s a lot to explore.
CT: If you could change one thing about London what would it be?
BLW: Cheaper for studio rent please. Just a little bit, would go a long way!
Find out more about Bethan Laura Wood’s work here. For more stories on products launched at Milan Design Week 2018, check out the latest PET Lamp by Spanish designer Alvaro Catalan de Ocon, made by aboriginal weavers using waste plastic bottles.