Interview (Part I): Josephine Kimberling

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Josephine Kimberling is a Seattle-based graphic and surface designer. Her debut quilting fabric collection for Robert Kaufman, Hot Blossom, is arriving in stores this month. It’s a bold, colorful, graphic collection in three colorways, with bright, layered, splashy florals; happy butterfly flocks; modern folk medallions and birds; an updated bohemian paisley; and versatile geometrics.

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Hot Blossom is representative of the trend of contemporary quilting fabric manufacturers expanding into fashion and accessory markets, and it’s artists like Josephine who are helping blaze the trail. Hot Blossom is as equally suited for garments as it is for other projects, and it’s no wonder, since Josephine is a former designer for Nordstrom. She designed hundreds of prints for the Brass Plum (BP) junior’s clothing line. She has also designed stationery and gift wrap products for Hallmark.

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For the first part of this interview, I asked her about her jump from fashion and paper products to the retail fabric market, and about her style in general. On Monday, for part II of the interview, we’ll take a more in-depth look at Hot Blossom.

How did you go from your education in graphic design and illustration to designing for Nordstrom?

In college, one of my classes my last quarter was to take a portfolio class, and in that class one of our projects was to contact someone in the industry whose work you admire and set up an informational interview with them -– which is a great opportunity to show your work to someone on the inside of the industry and to ask them questions about their career path, day-to-day job, background, etc. In reviewing my work, my teacher noticed that I was more of a hybrid — neither a true graphic designer nor a true illustrator, and remembered a girl she had in her class in previous years who had the same type of aesthetic as I did. She recommended I contact her to learn more about her career path and what type of opportunities could be available for my style.

I set up an informational interview with her — we met and chatted over coffee. We hit it off, and after our initial meeting continued to loosely keep in touch by sending cards during holidays and fun postcards to each other. About a year later she decided to leave Nordstrom and called me to let me know that she recommended me for her job, which was creating artwork for girl’s and baby clothing for their private labels.

Growing up my friends and I shopped vintage, and I cluttered my closet with unique styles in garish colors and fun, exuberant prints. I had always loved fashion, and printed clothing, and even contemplated switching my major to fashion design. However, prior to meeting with her, back in the ‘90s, I never knew that these types of careers existed. Once I was there everything just clicked for me – it was where my passion, my background and my artistic style came together and flourished.

I worked in that department for a year and a half, and another position opened up in BP, their junior girl’s department. I was ready for more responsibility and to grow creatively. That next job opportunity allowed me to grow so much artistically and to begin researching and giving trend direction for print and color to our team and buyers. I absolutely loved it and stayed there for four years.

josephine kimberling hot blossom selvedge

And how did you go from Nordstrom to Hallmark Cards to designing a collection for Robert Kaufman?

One of my first jobs in college was at a rubber stamp store, where I got to create handmade cards every day using new techniques, supplies, and stamps for display. This then turned into designing stamps for their own line, and teaching stamping classes. These experiences grew my love for cards and paper products. While at Nordstrom I had gotten to a point in my career where I was ready for a new challenge. I had always wanted to work for Hallmark Cards, and the timing seemed appropriate.

While at Hallmark Cards I was a graphic designer for their stationery and gift wrap lines, which was an absolutely phenomenal experience -– great people, great work environment, and hugely creative atmosphere. During my time at Hallmark I dearly missed drawing surface pattern every day, since the graphic design work I was doing didn’t include much original artwork creation. So in my free time I decided to work on two different fabric collections and shop them around to fabric companies to see if any doors would open. Robert Kaufman picked up my Hot Blossom collection, and my second collection is now part of my licensing portfolio. For years I’ve wanted to do my own thing and have my own line of something, and starting with fabric seemed like the most natural avenue for my work.

Was it difficult to transition from designing for garments to designing for the retail fabric market?

Yes, it was definitely a transition (and continues to be) that takes a lot of thought and analyzing on my part. The industries are very different from each other, as well as the consumer. When I started out creating my two fabric collections, I created a lot of art that worked for fashion but wouldn’t work for the fabric industry, so I had to over create to get it down to the pieces that would work together for a fabric collection.

hot blossom garments

Garments made with Hot Blossom fabrics.

Coming from the fashion industry, you must have an eye for trends. What is hot in the fabric world right now? What do you see on the horizon?

I absolutely love researching trend, and keeping my eye on what is going on out there. I don’t feel I can speak to the trends in the fabric world, as I am just starting out there, but I can speak to the fashion world. I always take my inspiration from there, as I want to be able to offer something true to me and my background.

My mind is currently living in spring 2010, and I’m really excited about where print is heading, as it calls for artistic creative expression. We’ve been seeing a lot of graphic, clean-lined pattern for a while now, and watercolor/hand-painted looks just started coming out last year. The hand-painted and hand-drawn looks will continue to move forward in print, and we will see softer/diffused patterns that look like they are underwater, artistically painted florals as well as hand-drawn romantic prints and botanicals. Color is starting to move away from jewel tones to soft washed out color mixed with neutrals and washed black (I actually love these tones with a hit of fluorescents!!!). It’s starting to come out in stores this spring a little here and a little there, but I think we’ll have to wait till 2010/2011 to see it come out in full force where the customer is a little bit more ready for it. It’s a huge color shift, but makes sense with all of the layering, draping and oversized styles that are happening now too – everything’s just softening up.

Other print trends I’m seeing is a layering of prints within a print, and collaging elements together within a print. It’s all about mixing it up and creating something unique. There is also a resurgence of photograph prints and screens –- again, art from a variety of trades, but put together in a new and fresh way. Ethnic prints are still going strong, and done in a very pretty, commercial way. Repeats are getting more unique and smartly executed. Overall spring 2010 is a huge melting pot of trends that are being mixed together to create something unique and different.

Where do you see yourself in the pantheon of contemporary fabric designers?

Well, I definitely have a ways to go! There are so many great, established artists, and a lot of wonderful fresh talent out there, it’s definitely a competitive (but supportive) market. I would really enjoy the opportunity to have more fabric lines come out in the future. All I can do is do my best and hope that the fabric industry likes my work enough to keep me around : )

Who are your favorite designers and artists?

From a fashion standpoint, I love Etro, Anna Sui, Matthew Williamson, Missoni, and Pucci to name a few. They usually have fantastic color stories, fabulous prints, and a spectacular way of layering textures and fabrics together. As far as artists go, I love Anahata Katkin, Cataina Estrada, Bella Pilar, Wendy Plovmand, and Hanna Werning, because I love artwork with detail as well as collage.

What else inspires your work?

Lots of things are a source of inspiration for me – magazines, runways, nature, blogs, books – I think of inspiration as anything you see through your own colored lenses that sparks excitement in your mind or in your heart to see things from a different perspective and to grow. That inspiration then connects to a piece inside of you in a way that is uniquely you. Someone else could completely see the same things but create something uniquely different based on who they are. I’m definitely a researcher and information hoarder! But when I design a piece of my own it comes from a personal place in me that is truly a collection of my experiences –- for example, I love detail in my work, and prettiness with an earthy vibe. That’s where I am designing from and the angle that it comes out as.


images by natalie g. from Josephine Kimberling’s Flickr stream. You can also follow Josephine via her blog. Stay tuned Monday for more Josephine and Hot Blossom!

7 Comments

  1. Katrina says:

    Its fascinating to see how a designer can go from one type of work to another and be so successful. Thanks for sharing your experience Josephine!

  2. Cheryl says:

    Great interview! Thank you!

  3. Wonderful interview! Her style is indicative of her richly layered skillset and wonderful talent. I was introduced to her work by another designer I admire, http://www.dianekappa.com/, and so glad to her bold, saturated prints entering the market!

  4. golden star says:

    Thanks for this interview. It’s fascinating just how Josephine created while following her instincts. I visited her flickr site and the clothing and bags capture the eye.

    Looking forward to Part II.

  5. Annabel says:

    Great intereview! I was really interested to hear how different Josephine found designing for the fashion industry compared to designing for the retail fabric market. This seems obvious enough to me now – but had never really occured to me before :P

  6. [...] more about Josephine, check out the interview with her on True Up {part 1} {part 2} – she has a fascinating and varied background! Also check out her blog, which features [...]