Creative women at work: designer Charlene Mullen
Textile and home accessories designer Charlene Mullen has a shop in Shoreditch and a new ceramics collection for Royal Doulton to go with her beautiful hand-embroidered cushions (we have a couple bought at sample sales, at That’s Not My Age Mansions). After training in illustration and print at Middlesex and the Royal College of Art and spending time in the fashion industry, she’s been working in textiles for over 15 years and is an expert when it comes to combining colour and pattern. I popped over to meet Charlene at her shop, for a quick chat about life and style and her new Royal Doulton collection.
TNMA: Tell me about your new ceramics collection
CM: It’s an exciting collaboration. Royal Doulton liked my black and white cushions, the geometrics and the accents of colour in the shop and asked if I would be interested in to translating that to ceramics. I thought it was a great idea, putting my patterns onto different surfaces. Their idea is that gifting is a big thing and people don’t buy a whole dinner service, they’re more likely to buy a set of cups. It’s fun for everyday, the geometric plates work on a table but also on the wall as a piece of art.
TNMA: And how does the creative process work?
CM: I realise that in my head when I look for inspiration, I’m looking for stuff that could be printed; how I can adapt a pattern to fit. A custom-made carpet or cushion can be different from a ceramic mug, so you’re learning the restrictions. Inspiration comes from lots of different places: The illustrations of Edward Bawden and Saul Steinberg are a big influence. Ceramicist Stig Lindberg for his amazing pots with gorgeous patterns, in great colours. I love folk art, Swiss paper cut work and Blackwork – an embroidery technique dated back to Elizabethan times (the V&A has a wonderful collection). There’s always so much to get ideas from. I do like drawing but I think embroidery can make a drawn line important. I draw the patterns out by hand, then scan and digitise them, a workshop in India does the hand embroidery. The Royal Doulton collection is just my work translated into ceramics, the colours match my wool samples.
TNMA: Is there such a thing as Peak Cushion? And how many have you got at home?
CM: There is if you can’t get on the sofa! Decluttering a house and emptying out is a very nice feeling. At our age we should know what we like, we should keep and buy good stuff. I inherited a sofa from a neighbour and didn’t have a cushion on it for three months. But then I put some out for a sample sale and liked them there, so kept them. I’m not selling my family of cushions. Though I do change them around according to my mood.
TNMA: And what about your personal style?
CM: I have a bit of a uniform. I tend to wear a white shirt and a skirt, a lot. I tend not to wear all black. I love bright jumpers and cardigans from Sunspel. I love clothes but I am on a budget. My advice is to buy something you really love and wear it all the time. Don’t save things for best. The shop is good in that respect because I have to look reasonably smart.
TNMA: Do you ever wear pattern?
CM: I do look at patterns and I am drawn to jolly clothes but I’m more accepting of my shape now. Maybe when you’re younger you fight it, but now, even if I love something, if I know it’s not right for me, I’m not seduced by it anymore.
TNMA: And because you’ve had your long grey hair cut, I’m going to ask about your beauty regime…
CM: I did it because it’s naturally curly and I like the idea of having it long but I had to keep blow-drying it straight, which is not good for your hair. It’s so much better having it short. I feel like I probably didn’t spend enough time on myself when I was young but now I have more of a proper beauty regime. I get my nails done, will buy a nice bottle of perfume, go for a massage – that’s heaven, making time for yourself. It’s just accepting that we are women now and we need to take more care of ourselves. When I was young, I didn’t realise why there are so many hairdressers and opticians, but now I know.