India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
July 26, 2017

British Textile Designer Sue Timney On Having A Striking Design Aesthetic

Text by Nisha Paul

“When I failed at maths, my professor supported me saying ‘Well, at least she can draw!'”

The perennially exciting British interior and textile designer Sue Timney has inspired and impressed many (for over three decades) with her radical classicism and insistent monochrome designs. She is the co-founder of Timney Fowler and her products and style concepts have won her much-acclaimed adulation in Japan, Europe, and Britain. She was one of the first few to epitomise the notion of ‘lifestyle’ and Paul Smith, Linda McCartney, Ringo Starr and Elton John all flocked to soak up her inimitable unique style and pick up her iconic home artifacts.

Describe an unforgettable moment from your childhood…
“I was born in North Africa into a family from the Indian army and I became a nomad from that moment. We were constantly travelling as my father believed in taking his family everywhere and not sending us away to boarding school. He had been sent to school in the Himalayan foothills as a seven-year-old after being born in Jaipur and didn’t see his parents for nine months a year. He was determined not to do that with his three daughters, so we travelled. One of my first memories in Libya was of traditional body jewellery.  It was an amazingly powerful visual at an early age. This led me to write my degree thesis on women’s body decoration and incorporate these influences into my early sculpture and printing work. I’m sure this constant moving and stimulus have inspired my interior design as well as fashion projects.”

When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
“The idea of being an artist or designer has always been like a dormant volcano in me. I knew very early on that I saw and judged the world through these eyes, in fact, it was my main strength at school. When I failed at maths, my professor even supported me by saying ‘Well, at least she can draw’. Working with celebrities and designing their houses happened very gradually. After leaving the Royal College of Art in 1980, I travelled to Japan on a major scholarship, established a fabric design business and was then asked to work with various creative artists such as Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Ralph Lauren and Sam Mendes.”

How would you describe yourself?
“I would like to describe myself as a strong independent working woman with four children. Individuality and a particular approach to style are very important to me and knowing who you are as a designer is non-negotiable too. My training in fine arts prior to my design education helps the way I look at colour, composition, shape and style. I feel my university and art school background allowed me to intellectually evaluate various design problems and arrive at fresh perspectives.”

A particular project that shaped your journey….
“The Grand Design Water Tower was an amazing project for me. Close to the Imperial War Museum in London, we worked on this in record time as we were constrained by television timings. The project was nominated for a BAFTA but what I loved most was working with a team that brought everyone’s energies together.”

What inspires you?
“Everything inspires me which is why I love travelling. I’ve learned to be a good editor as it’s essential to contextualise the relevance certain visual stimuli may have after the first wave of influence that you experience. Then, it’s all about adjusting and adapting it to your own personal design style and attitude.”

Have you ever been to India?
“My father, as well as his father, were born in India. My great grandmother was Indian too. I haven’t been there but I would love to go. I’m working on a couple of boutique hotel projects in London at the moment and I’d love to replicate it in India. I think my style would seamlessly combine the amazing history and culture of the country.”

Which celebrity client has had an impact on your work?
“I feel blessed to have worked with some of the most amazing celebrity clients who are intelligent and creative, yet always interested in letting me do my job. Paul Smith, Sam Mendes and Paul McCartney, in particular, are long standing relationships that just seem to go on even if I don’t see them for a year because they are touring, making a film or running an empire. I often work with the next generation from the family which is a wonderful compliment as they go on to become friends, besides being wonderful clients.”

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