It’s hard not to be enticed by Georgia Macmillan’s latest collection of beautiful linen considering it takes inspiration from life’s greatest and most simple pleasures - sharing a meal, love, laughter and summer holidays...
COLLECTION III has all the trimmings for a beautiful day in the sun, and it’s no surprise that the Dubai-based artist cites Italy and France as heavily influencing the four tablecloth and six napkin designs included in the new range. “This year COLLECTION III is a celebration of long languid summer days on the Amalfi and in deepest South West France – where the fields were full of wild flowers and the beach clubs heaved with D&G clad sunbakers living la dolce vita! I was surrounded by pretty pinks, greens and strong bright blues of the ocean and abundance of hydrangea and worked with this palette. I love classic stripes and checks. The La Fontelina beach club blue and white umbrellas were a fun addition”.
We recently caught up with the multitasking mother-of-two to talk about her new showroom (hint: you’ll want to move in!), her approach to mixing prints and colour, living in Dubai and how running her own business is a family affair. Prepare to swoon…
Can you tell us about your new collection and where your inspiration came from?
I have designed COLLECTION III with the simple act of sharing a meal in mind – the joy of entertaining with generous plates of food, endless bottles of rosé and plenty of fun and laughter. This is after all what summer holidays – wherever they may be – are all about. This collection consists of four tablecloth designs and six napkin designs.
Halcyon summer days surrounded by the fabled beauty of Capri and Positano – the unspoilt charm, overgrown vegetable plots, sun-bleached peeling stucco on grand villas, generous simple meals of Caprese Salads and Prawn linguine, and banks of brilliantly coloured bougainvillea, all of which overlook the deep blue water lapping into secluded coves… European summer holidaying at its best.
Travel is the catalyst for my design inspiration and one summer family holiday in deepest South/West France followed by the Amalfi coast left me dreaming of hydrangea blues from Ossun and Mirande, pastel-hued pinks and mint greens from Ossup, Vézac and the Campania region.
La Fontelina beach club’s famous blue and white striped umbrellas influenced my blue range. I liked the beautiful story of the Fontelina seaside restaurant, ‘since 1949 we’ve been serving bread, sea and love’.
Part of the campaign shoot took place under the ‘Capri Sunshade’ at my villa in Dubai during one of the heaviest desert sandstorms in years. The conditions couldn’t have been worse with linen and my handpainted 6.5m set floor flying across the garden with each gust of wind! Needless to say I cried at the end of the day. The other component of the shoot took place indoors in front of a beautiful new pink wall in my art studio – sandstorm free – with gorgeous photography by Abbi Kemp.
Can you talk us through your new showroom…
Last year I came up with the idea that the best way to showcase my fabrics would be to transform the guest room – which adjoins my studio in our Dubai villa – into a fabric showroom. I started by piecing together fabric swatches from my three collections – The Indigo Series (2015), The Bernalda Collection (2016) and this year’s COLLECTION III – to decide which worked best. Then I designed the headboard, a new wooden footstool, cushions and draping for the new space – and oversaw their creation of these at various carpentry and upholstery workshops in Dubai. An experience in itself!
I collaborated with Jotun Paints Arabia who transformed the walls. It was wonderful to work with the Jotun team who were incredibly supportive and generous with their time discussing complementary paint colours. I also called on favourite dhurrie supplier From Jaipur With Love to finish the look with a fabulous floor covering – I borrowed four dhurries and was hard pressed to narrow it down. The entire From Jaipur With Love collection is stunning! Piece-by-piece, month-by-month the project came together. I’m thrilled with the result and can’t wait to show clients how my fabrics can be used to great effect in the home.
What have been some exciting collaborations you’ve worked on over the last year?
I’ve been fortunate to work some wonderful brands this past year. Australian homewares company Hobbe approached me to create two fabric designs for its first children’s offer – the Petite Rocking Chair. I presented the brand with a pretty peony design for the girls and strong navy stripes for the boys. It was a joy to work with Hobbe’s Sam Hobbelen who has been a dear friend since Prep school days.
Closer to home in the desert, Dubai-based Melbourne interior designer and store owner Georgie Trigg of George’s of Dubai commissioned me to create an exclusive print in blues and blacks for her store. The collection needed to complement the existing selection of incredible Bonnie & Neil linens (in pinks and greens), colourful Mud ceramics and amazing edit of the best of Australian design. This was a fun project as the brief called for a design that was punchy, bold and bright – the result is very happy table linen! I loved working with Georgie, another great friend. There are more exciting projects in the pipeline which I can’t wait to share soon!
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the freedom to create whatever I want! To choose the colours, designs and patterns. To play around with paint and trial different brush techniques – AND to choose when I do it. No one is forcing me to release a new collection on a particularly date for a particular season. That pressure comes from me.
I love working with like-minded brands on collaborations. I also enjoy the diversity. I work in a fairly multi-disciplinary capacity as painter, textiles designer and illustrator. It keeps things interesting. For example, in a bid to recreate the ‘Amalfi tiles’ look for my COLLECTION III campaign shoot set I painted a 6.5m x 2.5m ‘floor’ on ply-boards. It took three weeks of painting up a ladder and perched on a child’s stool in the garage and I loved it. The monotony of painting a large-scale repeat-pattern was therapeutic, albeit physically exhausting. I definitely deserved my evening wines!
Having said that, painting days aren’t as regular as I would like. I am mostly on the computer emailing clients, suppliers, my manufacturing team, placing linen orders, working on number crunching, designing new swing tags etc. I can also be found at Emirates Post – sending parcels mostly destined for Australia!
Describe your dream room…
I have to reference hotel rooms for this question, which all happen to be in Italy…
– The lobby at Bellevue Syrene in Sorrento – high ceilings, floors of grey marble, a mix modern and antique furniture upholstered in blush pink and baby blue, and the prettiest oversized Murano chandelier. It took my breath away. Gloriously Italian.
– The Saint Andrea suite at Monteverdi hotel in Tuscany – I love the sense of quiet luxury, calm, history, earthiness, the use of exquisite local linens and textiles, and views over the Val d’Orcia. I love its lack of pretension (and the excellent wine too!).
– I also LOVE the heavy dose of maximalist Italian luxury in the Sofia Suite at Palazzo Margherita in Bernalda in Italy’s very traditional, off the beaten-track Basilicata region.
What’s your approach to mixing print and colour and what’s your advice for how to do this well?
The most important thing is to start with a colour palette that makes me happy. While I work with other palettes, I always return to incorporating blue in my designs. I fell in love with interiors when my mother gave me carte blanche to decorate my bedroom on our rural property in Warwick in the 80s – I settled on a dizzy cornflower blue concoction of Laura Ashley chintz, ruffles, check and more chintz with lavender blue walls! Can you imagine? Anyway, three decades on and my love of every shade of blue is still apparent.
The eye needs somewhere to rest, a ‘quiet space’ – whether admiring an artwork, taking a photograph or enjoying a room – so don’t go overboard on prints and textures, but these add interest. Play around with different patterns and colour combinations until you’re happy.
How do you approach tabletops?
We love entertaining but I don’t really think about ‘decorating’ a table I just set it with what’s needed – I’m very practical! My tables always consist of a linen tablecloth and napkins from my collections, all the silver, our beloved Solimene plates from Positano, glassware, a homemade cake, flowers and something to drink. Flowers are very expensive in Dubai as they’re flown in from Holland, so I always use bougainvillaea or frangipanis or big leafy branches from the garden. I actually prefer this ‘not trying too hard’ look.
What do you love most about living in Dubai?
Meeting new friends who are now forever friends. I certainly didn’t see that coming. We have made the most incredible friendships. The expat network is inclusive, fiercely supportive and loyal. There’s an incredible strength among the remarkable women I have met.
Living in a foreign country is an enriching and rewarding experience. We are so far removed from Australia and that way of life, but we love what Dubai has to offer. We love life here. Our children grow up surrounded by and respecting every different culture and ethnicity. Regardless of religion, every occasion is celebrated in Dubai – there’s always a festival honouring something! Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Diwali, Ramadan, UAE National Day, Eid al Fitr (the end of Ramadan), the Prophet’s ascension etc… the list goes on. It’s fabulous, civilized and embracing. My four-year-old daughter Olivia is always singing Happy Birthday in Arabic. We are especially respectful of the local Emiratis for embracing expats and allowing us to live and work in their exciting and innovative country.
And of course the travel. Being centrally located on the map we can jump on a plane and land anywhere in Europe, the UK, Sri Lanka the Maldives etc. in a matter of hours. The proximity is such a bonus. Oman is a favourite destination and it is two hours by car. We recently enjoyed an incredible stay at Six Senses Zighy Bay. Sadly visiting Australia means a 15 hour flight. And considering we travel with two small children, the 6-hour flight to Italy or France is far more enticing! I also feel we have the rest of our lives to explore Australia, so this is the time to take advantage of our location and travel the world.
Take us through the process behind your pieces from beginning to end?
Initially, I thought I would create two seasonal fabric collections a year but SO much effort goes into the creation of one collection (mostly the painting process – I can do up to 300 draft watercolour illustrations per collection) that there’s no time. Instead, I focus on releasing one collection a year and give it my all!
Inspiration is key, and it always comes from our travel experiences. This year COLLECTION III is a celebration of long languid summer days on the Amalfi and in deepest South West France – where the fields were full of wild flowers and the beach clubs heaved with D&G clad sunbakers living la dolce vita! I was surrounded by pretty pinks, greens and strong bright blues of the ocean and abundance of hydrangea and worked with this palette. I love classic stripes and checks. The La Fontelina beach club blue and white umbrellas were a fun addition.
I look to all of my old photos and then start mixing watercolour, play around with lines, shapes and patterns. I spend a lot of time ‘doodling’ but often the unplanned, spontaneous painting is the one that works. Then I arrange the A4 illustrations (there are hundreds!) on my studio floor and move them around like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle to so see which designs and colours work and ultimately think how these will translate onto fabric. The final edit – usually four to six designs – is then scanned and sent to my supplier.
Then the frustrating part kicks in – often the one I love on paper doesn’t translate well in a repeat pattern or the colour is slightly off once scanned and printed on fabric. So it’s back to the drawing board. For example the paint Prussian Blue is stunning on paper but throws green when printed on linen, so to achieve a true blue I need to mix Payne’s Grey, Indigo and Cobalt Blue, sometimes with Chinese White. I’ve learnt so much. It takes a lot of trial and error. My mother has taught me so much about the technicalities of paint and colour. It can be overwhelming making creative decisions on your own. She’s incredibly talented and knowledgeable and an invaluable ‘second opinion’!
Once the designs are sampled on linen and I’m satisfied with the final product, I work out which will be made into napkins and tablecloths, do the final number crunching and process my order with my printing supplier. This is followed by a photo shoot, website update, taking pre-orders for fabrics etc. etc. It’s a long process. I’m a one-woman-show, hence why I only have the energy for one collection a year!!!
What are your top three business tips for mothers wanting to launch their own business?
For starters, no time is the right time. If you have an idea just do it. Don’t procrastinate. I launched my second linen collection three weeks after the birth of my second son. Hardly good timing given how little sleep was involved and how hardcore those first few months are with a newborn! It was a bit crazy doing a campaign photo shoot two weeks post-caesarean too.
Secondly, make a plan, do the numbers and go easy on yourself. I don’t have a business plan or an enormous budget, but in my mind I know what I want to achieve and spend a lot of time crunching numbers on spreadsheets to make it happen. Try and stick to that plan and don’t lose hope. Don’t let the success of others intimidate you either. Learn from them and be inspired by their achievements.
And finally, family comes first. There’s no such thing as finding a ‘true balance’ but look at the big picture, at what’s most important. I do work in the morning when William is sleeping and Olivia is at school. In the afternoon I switch gears, change in to home clothes and do the parent thing or take Olivia out to run errands, or go swimming and catch up with friends so it’s fun. An odd email will need responding to, but in general the computer is out of sight. Olivia is pretty cool with ‘Mummy has to do work’, so she gets it (most of the time!) if I need to slip upstairs to the studio for a moment. But then she usually joins me a few minutes later and starts playing with my paintbrushes! Not productive.
I’ve never been a ‘work at night when the children are in bed’ person. I can’t concentrate by then. All respect to those who can! For me, I want to spend that time with my husband over dinner with a glass or two of wine (followed by a good dose of Netflix!) or go out with friends.
What’s the most challenging part of running your own business?
Working by myself, to a very tight budget and dreams being harnessed by the reality of spreadsheets! I can feel overwhelmed by it all, especially when I look at the big picture and what I ultimately want to achieve. It feels a long way out of reach. I’m trying not to be as hard on myself.
I call on my husband and father to oversee the numbers – this is their field of expertise, I’m just the creative. I’m a great believer in working with your strengths and outsourcing the headache/weaknesses to those who can do it with their eyes shut. They’re both incredibly supportive with their time. I know linen spreadsheets are the last thing my husband Ben feels like doing after a long day at work!
What about the most rewarding part of running your own business?
When industry heavyweights and interiors heroes acknowledge my fabrics with genuine interest and actually put the designs to use – this has to be one of the most rewarding parts. Charlotte Coote of Coote&Co has incorporated my linen in some extraordinary Melbourne projects and stocks the collection in her magnificent textiles showroom. It’s such a coup to see a headboard or slipper chair covered in my linen. She has been an incredible mentor these past three years.
I’m also still pinching myself about being recently represented by Nicola Lawrence who is an Australian online retailer supplying beautifully produced textiles from around the world. To have my collection presented alongside Bennison Fabrics, Blithfield, Caroline Irving Textiles and Anna Spiro Textiles, for example, is a dream come true. Nicola is so kind and generous with her time I adore working with her.
On a more personal level, I have been touched by the overwhelming support of friends and family who continually purchase pieces from my collections – they’re linen cupboards must be overflowing by now! I am also greatful to the kind commentators on Instagram. All of this love has really touched my heart. It is a gentle reminder that I must be doing something right!