Designer Lark Champion has traveled the world over to find beautifully complex handicrafts to fill her home. Her eye natural eye for beauty and detail makes her one of the best home decorators in the area.
In a world of delicate, Southern-inspired home décor, the work of Lark Champion and Larkin Lane Designs stands out. Inspired by years of travel, Champion embraces the unique styles of cultures around the world. Her collection at Larkin Lane draws upon the handmade textiles from communities across the globe. From the Otomi of Mexico to the Ikat patterns of the East, Larkin Lane sells a myriad of hand selected textiles gathered from Champion’s journies.
From a young age, Champion was drawn in by dynamic and colorful patterns. She first learned to love and appreciate the handcrafted works of other cultures from her mother—who ran a successful folk art gallery for many years. Today, she has passed that love onto her young children who now accompany her on buying trips. Lark sat down with SVM to discuss her collection, love of travel and design and possible plans on expanding her line.
Travelling has obviously had a large impact in your life. How has it shaped your design aesthetic?
I grew up travelling extensively with my mom on buying trips for her international folk art gallery, Galerie Bonheur. Yearly trips to Haiti, and travel throughout Europe, North Africa and the Americas in search of art had a profound impact on me personally and from a design perspective. While I learned something from each and every country, I think it was the exposure to so many different cultures that most influenced my design aesthetic. I was surrounded by such a broad spectrum of art, from the “fine” art and antiques of Europe, to what some would call “indigenous” forms of art in places like Haiti and Africa. I credit my mom with teaching me that there is value in all art, as long as it authentic; and that the value of a piece doesn’t necessarily come from its provenance, but from the feeling it evokes in you. I have always been amazed by the similarities in motifs, and consistencies in artistic expression in cultures on opposite ends of the globe. I love the way an Otomi textile from Mexico looks on a silk ikat from Uzbekistan in a pillow. Or how chic a Guatemalan blouse can be when worn with a Haitian beaded clutch. It’s the idea of cultures collaborating through textiles that inspires me; and it is that layered and global aesthetic that I think makes Larkin Lane unique.
Where is your favorite place in the world to find unique art?
It’s hard to choose just one. For textiles, I’d have to say Guatemala. They are masters of color and pattern in textile art. And since a majority of people still wear the traditional clothing, you are surrounded by their exquisite work everywhere you go. I just love the history behind their textiles—how each village has a specific style of dress, and that you can tell which region someone is from by the embroidery of a woman’s huipil, blouse, or the faja, belt, for men. The country itself is beautiful too, and I adore the people!
Navigating foreign markets is a part of your day to day job. Do you have any tips on getting the best deals while negotiating?
Never underestimate the connection that a genuine smile can make, so start with a smile. Speak their language to the extent that you can, or, at least, make an effort. And most of all, be respectful. These are business women and men just like us, regardless of where or how they live. By selling their art, they are sharing a piece of their culture, a tradition handed down from generation to generation. I see it as such a privilege to do business with these people and to help preserve their heritage.
Your collection can be divided up into stylistic patterns: Otomi, Ikat, Suzani, and Guatemalan textiles. Do you have any plans to expand your collection and include a wider array of handcrafted textiles from other regions of the world?
Absolutely. At the moment, I am expanding my selection of Haitian beaded clutches. My friend, and one of my favorite Haitian artisans, Mireille, survived Hurricane Matthew and is back to hand-sewing the exquisite textile that has been a part of Haitian religious tradition for centuries. She is so grateful to have more work. I have a small selection of textiles from Bhutan that are incredible, and would love to add more. My mom is heading there next year, so hopefully I will be able to join her. Then, I also adore Molas from the San Blas Islands of Panama. I traveled there with my family years ago and can’t wait to return. I am dying to go to India of course. The list could go on and on.
Why is buying textiles, specifically the Otomi fabrics, directly from vendors in their native countries important to you?
It goes back to growing up surrounded by artists from around the world. The folk artists that my mom promoted became like family members. Their art is an expression of something from within. It is authentic. That is why the authenticity of textiles is so important to me. I have so much respect for textile artisans. I want to help preserve their traditions, and honor them in the way that my mom has forever been honoring folk artists.
What item from your collection is your favorite and why?
My newest favorite item is our silk ikat bow tie. I’m especially proud of our bow ties because they are so unique. We source the gorgeous silk ikat from artisans in Uzbekistan, and then have the bow ties hand-crafted here in America. The idea for the bow tie came while I was at the Steeplechase in Nashville. So many of the men there were wearing traditional bow ties. When I took the ikat clutch that I was carrying and held it up to my husband’s neck, I loved the pop of color and pattern next to his traditional attire. We have had such a wonderful response to the bow ties that we are expanding to include cummerbunds. What a perfect gift for groomsmen. You could also pair them with matching scarves or clutches for the bridesmaids!
In bringing these traditional designs back to America, you are giving them a new life. Do you see your business as a way to educate people about other cultures through design?
I think more than educating people, it’s about sharing stories of different cultures and artisans, and keeping textile traditions alive. When artisans share with me the history behind a textile, or how a tradition started, that just feels like a gift to me. I love sharing those stories with my clients, and hope that they share them too.
What’s the best part of your job?
Collaborating with talented artisans who take pride in their work has to be my favorite part. I love the exchange of ideas between cultures and that I get to be a part of that. One of my favorite stories is when I wore an infinity scarf that I had designed from Uzbeki silk ikat to a women’s co-op in Guatemala. The weavers there are incredible business women. They hand-dye and hand-weave fabric that they use to create beautiful accessories. The women weavers loved my scarf. They even asked me to take it off so that they could measure it to make infinity scarves with their own fabric. It just made me happy to think of artisans in Uzbekistan creating one of my designs, and then that being passed on to women in the tiniest village of Guatemala on the other side of the world! And for both cultures to be able to interpret that design within their own traditions, and generate an income from it, that was inspiring to me.
Like most women, I am always multi-tasking. Between stops at my local workrooms, I am on the phone or emailing with my international sources– sending photographs, sketches and specifications. One of the things I love about my job is the fact that there is a great level of communication between myself and my artisans. I also try to update the website as often as possible, keep up with social media, and write a blog post or two and then schedule them to be “published”.