Genevieve Bennett: working with leather and art deco design

We meet up with artist Genevieve Bennett to learn about her craft with textiles; from hand-sculpted leather to silk and panelling installations

Designer interview - Genevieve Bennett portrait © Andrew Ogilvy

London-based designer Genevieve Bennett has been working in the textiles industry for almost 20 years.

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In 2008, after graduating from the Royal College of Art, Genevieve opened her own studio where now she creates bespoke patterned pieces influenced by three-dimensional forms. She boasts collections with Mulberry and Knoll international and now works with clients on a commission basis.

We caught up with her to chat all things craft and textiles…

How did your childhood influence your work?

I grew up in the Peak District; my family had a silk business and we always had a lot of silk around. I was fascinated by the colour and textures and used to love trying to make things with the scraps.

What or who first sparked your desire to get into design?

I had an incredible art teacher at school who encouraged us to explore a wide variety of techniques and processes. It was during my Masters at the Royal College of Art where I began to explore process and technique in a wider variety of materials including leather, which is a key part of my current work.

Where do your influences come from?

I’ve been strongly influenced by designers of the Art Deco period such as Paul Poiret, Raoul Dufy, Lanvin and interior designer Albert Rateau. I’m also inspired by Dutch fashion designer Dries Van Noten. I love his eclectic mixes of embroidery, jacquard wovens and prints. I’m also inspired by carved stone and wood in various forms – ornate Indian Carved Jali stonework and wrought ironwork.

How did you begin experimenting with materials?

I am fascinated with how pattern can be translated into sculptural surfaces and texture. I love studying sculptural form and its response to light and shadow to produce designs, which are richly textured and subtly opulent. I began working in paper and card where I was exploring sculpting and cutting, creating 3D surfaces.

I progressed to leather as I was attracted to its durability, surface tactility, colour and softness in response to light. Leather is wonderfully durable but also very robust so it allows me to cut, sculpt, engrave and carve with it.

Can you tell us about some of your most notable commissions?

One of my favourite commissions to date was a very large installation for a private residence in New York. I worked closely with the owner and their architect to create two fully sculpted leather walls on both sides of their dining room in richly coloured fawn leather. It was published in a book titled ‘MR Architecture + Decor’ by architect David Mann.

Designer interview - Genevieve Bennett’s 3D installation with leather and braid © Andrew Ogilvy
Genevieve Bennett’s 3D installation with leather and braid © Andrew Ogilvy

What inspired your collection of tiles?

The inspiration for the collection draws on the rich history of leather working. From embossed Spanish leather wall coverings of the 16th century to the exquisite hand tooling and brogueing of leather for traditional men’s shoes and field-wear. Taking in the marquetry and rich intricate leather inlay for board games. These heritage influences are paired with modern production techniques and premium quality leather and produced in 26 colours. I wanted to produce a range of products which are alluring and elegant but also astonishingly practical, durable and versatile.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between technology and design and the changes it’s causing?

I have a passion for working with natural materials, and though my work is rooted in the tradition of decorative arts, it is enabled by sophisticated technology which I find endlessly inspiring and exciting. It is important to stay connected to the provenance of materials, to consider a product’s lifetime, and it’s my aim to produce designs which last a lifetime and that age with elegance and dignity.

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Designer interview - Genevieve Bennett’s patterned panelling installations © Andrew Ogilvy
Genevieve Bennett’s patterned panelling installations © Andrew Ogilvy

What can we keep an eye out for?

For this year’s Decorex exhibition, I launched ‘Braid & Bloom’ which is a two-part collection. ‘Bloom’ includes hand-sculpted leather designs for a folding screen, artwork panels and bolster cushions. Then the ‘Braid’ collection is an exploration of natural luxury materials of leather, brass, silk, wool and glass. This is the first time I’ve worked on producing a collection of brass and leather mirrors and hand-knotted silk and wool rugs made by master craftsmen in India.