Unveiled this month, a collaboration between Luna & Curious founders Rheanna Lingham, Polly George and Kaoru Parry, with social enterprise Fine Cell Work blends the current hot trend of tribal masks with abstract drawing, make-up art and of course colour, in a joyous collection of graphic hand-crafted needlepoint cushions. The seeds of the concept grew from the shop’s pursuit to highlight the faces behind design and craft.
Fine Cell work is an initiative that trains prisoners in paid, skilled needlepoint work and has previously attracted commissions from such designers as Ben Pentreath & Bridie Hall. The ladies of Luna & Curious, who we’ve profiled here before in reference to their magnificent colourful sock selection, approached the organisation with the idea of collaborating for the London Design Festival which opens later this month. Keen to avoid using the prisoners as a manufacturing entity, the trio asked them to create their own designs based on their brief. “We loved the idea that behind every design is a designer and batted around the idea of using faces on products to highlight this,” explains Rhianna. Inspired by abstract faces by artists such as Picasso and Bruno Manari, as well as contemporary make-up designers, the designers drew a collection of facial features – noses, eyes, ears, eyebrows and mouths – on sheets of paper so that the prisoners could cut out and collate a design. Their brief also stated: “It is not compulsory to use two eyes, a nose and a mouth. Please feel free to create your own image.”
For this, Luna & Curious received around 100 designs. “The prisoners responded so well to the brief, we were really flattered,” says Rheanna. However, this made the process of editing the collection down to just six strong designs something of a challenge. “It was a tough afternoon! All three of us laid the designs out and slowly whittled it down. We based our final selection on composition, how attention grabbing they were and how they sat with each other. Polly, Kaoru and I have a sibling relationship at work, any disagreements are always friendly and we tend to agree, but a bit like a Rorschach test sometimes one of us will see an abstract composition in a different way.”
At this stage, the designs in sketch form are shown in black, white and yellow but for the finished works the boutique founders selected a palette of blue, green, yellow, pink and grey for both the screen printing and embroidery. “The prisoners will receive all five colours of thread and have free reign on the stitches used and the area to be embellished so each cushion will be individual – its really exciting to not know how the final look will be until the delivery arrives,” says Rheanna.
For any Pinterest addicts out there, it’s worth perusing the board that Polly built to inspire the initial drawings of facial features. “Polly is a mood board ace, she had this idea of abstract faces brewing. We noticed that there is a really strong breed of make-up artists working at the moment with make-up-meets-body-art, and this linked into surrealist artists as well as tribal influences from Africa used in pottery,” Rheanna explains.
Polly and Kaoru will be visiting one of the participant prisons this month before the final unveiling of the collection on the 17-25 September. They plan to showcase as many of the paper designs as possible alongside the cushions, having been bowled over by how strong they were.
This year the shop will also continue working with two other social enterprises – The Soap Co, which creates soaps, cosmetics and cleaning products in a factory in east London with a workforce of blind, visually impaired and disabled people, and Art House Meath which runs illustration workshops with people suffering from severe epilepsy, translating their drawings into packaging for chocolate bars, cards and gift wrap. “We are thrilled at the reception from our customers and the social element is definitely an interest,” says Rheanna.