Jan Milne is carving a big name for herself in the States with her signature fruity and fragrant designs, as Caroline Ednie learns :
For a city which prides itself on its design credentials, it comes as a surprise to find a young Govan-based designer with a reputation which is currently soaring in the United States yet who is still relatively unknown in her native Glasgow.
Textile designer Jan Milne is not phased by any of this, though. In fact, she is fairly amused when describing how she was recently referred to as "an outsider in her own city". This implied existential angst could hardly be further from the reality of her signature fruity and fragrant designs.
Jan has been steadily, and quietly, honing her distinctive style since she graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1994 with a degree in textile design.
"The style I have now I got together at art school. In fact, some of the motifs I still use I actually had in my degree show," she says.
"My work has always been informed by a genuine love of colour and large scale, strong images, so as a student I began to experiment with close up macro photography, zooming in on flowers and fruits just to make shapes and colours. And they were really effective although I did struggle at that time to get my textiles to live up to the vibrancy of the images in the colour photography."
Admittedly, it did take a little while before Jan's bold designs began to catch on. "At the time I set up my business in 1994-95, photographic imagery on textiles was new. There just wasn't that kind of thing about~' she says. "I was one of the first to use the gerbera (a kind of daisy), which featured in many of my textile designs in fourth year at college. Now it's everywhere - even in Superdrug's window.
"The large-scale of the images within the textiles I use is still quite unusual, though. That's very much my style, which I don't think has really been copied."
This will come as a relief to Jan's biggest client, the New York-based Rockwell Group - an architecture, planning and design corporation, responsible for the likes of Nobu restaurants and the Whiskey Bar at the Paramount Hotel, not to mention Michael Jordan's Steakhouse, Sony Theatres and Disney Cruise Lines. Rockwell, it seems, are big fans of Jan's funky textile designs, and have used them in a number of interiors for restaurants and clubs in the US, including Bongo's, Gloria Estefan's restaurant in Miami, and the Samba Grill in the Mirage Casino, Las Vegas.
The latest Rockwell-Milne collaboration is Fidelias, a new restaurant interior which has just opened in Connecticut, and which forms part of an $800m development for Mohegan Sun Casinos.
"The project is a bit of a departure for me as I was asked to come up with a different design, evoking a native American theme," Jan says. "I was a bit reluctant at first, however, I finally came up with a feather motif
which they really liked.
"The bizarre thing about it is that I was searching for an image for so long, calling the V&A and scouring photo libraries for eagle feathers, but the image I finally used was a seagull feather I found on Kirkcaldy beach.
"The darker more introspective colours used in the interior was also a departure for me. The client, however, is really excited that I have come up with something within their theme but that still looks like the janmilne signature style. It shows that it doesn't have to be fruits and flowers using bright colours."
The Fidelias interior is also significant for marking the designer's expansion into hard surfaces wlth a series of custom laminates which feature on the restaurant tables.
"My designs for the first restaurants were only on textiles like soft furnishing, drapes and fabrics," she says. "These days there's not so much of the curtaining going on in interiors, it's the cleaner look that's now happening, and the laminates give a sharper more contemporary feel.
"The custom-made laminate is still a very new thing, with a real potential to open up a lot more work for me in interiors. I've been the first to get in there, and it's something I really want to concentrate on, to promote now."
Jan is clearly focused on the contract interiors market as her main port of call, however this has not stopped her from dipping her toe in the accessories pool.
"Textile design can embrace so many things and as a frustrated designer I just want to get my finger in every pie," she says. "I've produced designs for handbags, ladies' scarves, men's ties, place-mats and coasters.
"The way I see it is that if there's a product that could be successful, and something that naturally comes from what I'm doing anyway and it's not already out there, then I think 'Yeah, let's do it'.
"At the moment the accessories are just as sidelines, although maybe when my main business - the textiles and laminates – is running itself, then I'll think of focusing on these other areas.
"A part of me says that it could be a separate business altogether."
It's affirming to listen to Jan's belief in her product and her plans to take it all the way "I want to take the business to its full potential and I'm nowhere near that yet," she claims. But the nagging question of her inordinately low profile on home turf keeps hovering around. I suppose I would agree that there's no evidence of me being here in Glasgow as far as the design scene has worked out.
"I love being able to say that I'm from Glasgow and based in Glasgow, but the irony is that work has come easier for me from the States, which I'm not complaining about.
"I've been very lucky. I nearly got my first commission in Glasgow recently though. I was asked to design a whole restaurant interior in the city, however I'm not at the stage that I feel confident enough to design every aspect of an interior - I'm a textile designer. But it was an interesting commission.
"Within the rest of the UK I'm doing a lot more work. I was commissioned by Austin Smith: Lord (the architects responsible for the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford) to do the textile designs for the new cafe-restaurant in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Wales. I've also done a fair amount of domestic interiors."
The most important concern for Jan is that she can just get on with what she does best and that is designing. It's quite difficult to be commercial without sacrificing your style, but to date I've just stuck with what I love doing, and I've been lucky," she says.
"I haven't had to compromise my style at all. Although, everything I've done so far has been reactive, now my aim is to be proactive."
Jan Milne Textle Design may be coming to a bar or restaurant near you before too long, after all.