The Surtex annual art and design licensing expo may have happened in New York, but San Francisco was on center stage. From May 15 – 17, Bay Area designers and illustrators joined over 200 artists exhibiting their latest collections. Everyone had the same goal in mind: landing lucrative art licensing contracts with retail giants and global manufacturers.
Both seasoned designers and first-time Surtex exhibitors represented the best of the Bay Area. Among the standouts were Simon + Kabuki, a team of creative artists who transformed their standard showroom booth into a cozy faux-wood paneled lounge. The all-woman team of Simon +Kabuki license their designs to Target and other major retailers. They introduced themselves to new clients at this year’s show and made valuable contacts to expand the scope of their sassy and stylish designs.
Carol Van Zandt, a surface and textile designer from San Francisco, made her Surtex debut with an innovative menu of design collections. For Carol, coming up with a booth design that showcased her unique design sense was essential. The question she and many others had to answer was how to catch the eye of passing agents and art directors without resorting to gimmicks, gifts or pleading glances. It’s a tough question, but luring potential buyers in for a look is the first step to inking a deal. For a first-timer, this was all part of the learning curve, but Carol’s straightforward design awareness put her art in the forefront and won her the attention of potential new licensers.
The Sisters Gulassa take a decidedly international approach to their art, sharing ideas and designs from studios in California and Vienna. The two sisters, Lise and Cyrille, are partners in family, business, art and travel. You may not recognize their names, but their designs have been used in products from Clinique, Gap, Northface, Athleta, and many other household names. Lise recently moved from her Berkeley studio to Aptos, where the Pacific Ocean is just steps away. Her sister Cyrille, meanwhile, lives in Vienna with her family. The influence of the Wiener Werkstatte is apparent in their designs, along with elements taken from Asia, South America and places they still dream of visiting. Their melting pot approach to design sets them apart from the pack, and keeps their colorful treatments current and fresh.
Across the vast Javits Center floor, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair was also in full swing. The show included SF locals Shine Labs, designers of unique home lighting and artful accessories. From their Kansas Street studio come sculptural, organically inspired pendant lights, cutwork felt curtain panels and bone china home wares that reference mother nature. Shine Labs keeps the focus on natural materials and smooth contours, making their pieces elegant complements to harder-edged contemporary design schemes.
While individual designers had different expectations as to whether or not the trip to New York will bring them new clients, one thing they all shared was the belief in making the effort. They are part of a competitive and fickle industry, one that never stops searching for the newest sensation. For this group of local design stars, it is clear that one need look no further than San Francisco, where trends are made more than they are followed.