Tricia Guild launched her first line of fabrics back in 1970 in London, and it didn’t take long for her new company, Designers Guild, to become a global phenomenon. Her great love for contemporary fabrics, wallpaper, colour and pattern can be seen in the many books she’s produced—her just-released 20th, Moody Blooms, highlights her passion for flowers, and her belief that nature can be as important as furnishings for setting the atmosphere in a room. Guild joined our panel of judges for this year’s Designers of the Year, and I had the chance to chat with her at the Opus Hotel while she was vacationing in Vancouver this past summer.

WL: How do you get people to overcome their fears around working with colour?

Tricia Guild: I think it’s about finding out: What do you love? What’s your favourite postcard, painting, flower? And then playing with samples, making mood boards. We do that a lot in the store in London. We’re helping people get over that fear and enjoy it and have some fun.

You could always re-paper, you could always change the colour of the room, or re-accessorize. There are ways to start that are not a lifetime investment—that kind of lead you into understanding better what you love.

WL: Your latest book, Moody Blooms, is about working with nature—and nature is such a good place for people to start in terms of colour combinations.

TG: Yes—it’s thinking about what you always go to at the flower store. But there’s nothing wrong with loving black and white, or white, or ecru. It’s just that it’s not the only way. We’ve always used colour, and when people do, they absolutely love it.

WL: You’ve just celebrated 50 years with Designers Guild. Tell us a little bit about what your early days were like. What were the challenges?

TG: Being a young woman—actually, almost girl—in business, I was not necessarily taken seriously. I don’t even know that I realized how challenging it was at the time. I think I was just incredibly lucky because I had this idea. And within a few months of opening our little tiny store on King’s Road, two very nice women came in from Paris and said, “We’d like to represent you in France.” At that time, I had limited funds and started with 30 fabrics—really, I had 60, but I couldn’t afford that many. So I had to cut them down, which was a really good lesson. Being selective, being disciplined about that, it’s so helpful—painful and helpful.

WL: How does that translate to today?

TG: It’s the same today. We’re much more established, obviously. And I’ve got a fantastic team with a lot of experience. But who is going to tell me if that new collection is going to work? Nobody. All you can do is put your best endeavour into it. The challenges, in fact, just get bigger, because you have more people to worry about. We were only three when we started, and we’re more than 200 now.

Designer Tricia Guild
The iconic Tricia Guild has built a career out of embracing colour and pattern; of course she’s wearing dreamy, moody blues for her portrait here, shot at the Opus Hotel. Photo by Evaan Kheraj.

WL: I want to touch back on being a young woman in business, the challenges you faced back then. What do you think kept you moving forward?

TG: Well, I was very young, I had my daughter, and I wanted to be completely independent. And so it made me very ambitious. And I did really feel that there was a place for independence. The difficulty was the financial side, making that work—which I more or less did for the first 15 years. I felt that it could really grow, but I needed a partner. And so, in 1986, I asked my brother—he was working in Hong Kong—and I said, “You need a product. I’ve got a product. I need you. You need me.” And it was a really good thing to do—we structured it differently. It’s challenging, because you have to get it right, and you cannot get everything right. It’s impossible. Anybody who says they do is lying. Sometimes the thing I think is most special might not be the bestselling thing. Quite a while ago, I asked Howard Hodgkin—he’s a British artist—if he would design some fabrics. It was wonderful working with him. The project wasn’t a huge success, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful, and I still use them. So sometimes you just have to do things like that.

WL: Your new fall collection seems very artist inspired: you can see the brushstrokes on the flowers.

TG: We always paint in the studio—everything is hand painted. It’s always been like that, and it’s gotten easier to reproduce that look because of digital printing. For the fall collection, we started looking at a group of British artists—the Camden Town Group: Duncan Grant, Walter Sickert, sort of Bloomsbury-esque. And then it just went from there in the studio. And so it’s slightly in that mood of the 1920s, but I’m hoping they’re also really contemporary. There’s a mixture of quite warm, rich colours, and then quite soft. And then there are these beautiful weaves, because texture is really important to usas well—especially if you’re just using plain fabrics, which is part of our hallmark. We have this new kind of woolen texture, but it’s a very soft wool, so it doesn’t in any way feel hot and you can use it in a warm climate. And we launched a few in neutral colours last year. And then there’s another collection within this called Loden, which looks like a Loden coat: a very soft felt cloth that is made with recycled plastic bottles. It’s fantastic—it’s well priced and it will never wear out. So it’s a real mix of everything: quite luxurious, woolen fabrics, this Loden, and chenille with texture.

WL: In your 50-plus years of designing collections, do you ever get the equivalent of writer’s block? Do you ever find there are moments where you think, “I can’t find what this new collection needs to be?”

TG: I think for every collection, you have to really search. I do have a great team—I’m really lucky. But it’s about searching, even when something’s nearly right, but it’s not absolutely right. You have to work on it and work on it. The scale might not be quite right, or the balance. You can’t launch it if you’re not convinced, because that’s the only thing you’ve got—your conviction.

WL: I heard choreographer Crystal Pite once talk about inspiration—someone asked her how she gets inspired to create these beautiful ballets. And she said, “It’s all work. As long as I’m working and working and working, then I see things come out of it.”

TG: Exactly. What you’re doing is working toward finding something, when you can actually say, “Okay, let’s print that.” And then you wait and you watch.