A Cool Textile Designer Talks Style, Inspiration & More
A Cool Textile Designer Talks Style, Inspiration & More

A Cool Textile Designer Talks Style, Inspiration & More

In this series, we ask interiors creatives and tastemakers what’s inspired them over the years – from travel and food to films, books and even people. Textile designer Tori Murphy started her career in fashion before she found her niche in interiors. Here, she tells us more about that journey and what informs her aesthetic today.
By Georgina Blaskey

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My personal style started developing when I was in my 20s. I was naturally drawn to monochrome and texture, and this started appearing in my work while I was doing my MA at the Royal College of Art. My business launched five years later with a monochrome collection. Now, I’d describe my style as quietly glamorous, creative and comfortable.

My parents have both made a big impression on me. I was inspired by my mother as a homemaker and my father as a businessman. My art teacher at school also taught me the importance of art – creativity, looking, learning and making – and showed me a route in life that I was unaware of. The art department was where you’d always find me, in blue dungarees, covered in paint and charcoal smudges. That kind of imperfect, welcoming, creative environment left a deep impression on me – a space to create, to make mistakes and discover, and truly be yourself.

Today, there are many designers who inspire me. Malene Birger has bridged the worlds of fashion, interiors and art – her large monochrome paintings are high up on my wish list. I spent a lot of time last year ahead of the Gabrielle Chanel V&A exhibition reading about her early years and it’s fascinating to learn how such a strong brand gained its identity. If there was ever a show to highlight the successful crossover between creativity and commerce, it was that one. 

Malene Birger has bridged the worlds of FASHION, INTERIORS AND ART – her large monochrome paintings are high up on my WISH LIST.
Chanel at the V&A; Malene Birger Paintings
Chanel at the V&A; Malene Birger Paintings

While I was studying at Central St Martin’s, I discovered I was on the wrong course. It was bad timing for many reasons, so I deferred from Central St Martin’s for what I thought would be a year. I was always drawn to the fashion industry and, needing a job, sent my CV to each business on Fashion Monitor, one by one. My break came when I got the job as the New Faces booker for IMG models. I was 21, the youngest model booker in London, and my creative world exploded. 

After a while, though, I knew something was missing. My own creativity felt stifled, so I moved into being a fashion stylist’s assistant on a magazine. I learned about the importance of press and carving out an identity while also retaining integrity and longevity. For four years I worked in the fashion industry before going back to finish my BA in fine art. This time, I was a totally different person. I knew more about myself, I’d experienced the good and the bad, and I think I had a more interesting perspective. I also understood the importance of selling to be successful, and this led me to textiles. 

‘Commercial’ was kind of a dirty word at college. However, textiles and pattern design are areas where you can be incredibly creative and apply that commercially in so many ways – there’s such potential for growth. This led me to the Royal College of Art, where I did an MA in textiles, and it was here that I came across a jacquard weaving loom for the first time. It was like magic – my drawings and patterns but in fabric form. After my graduation show, I moved to Como in Italy to work as a textile designer. My boss was Mila Zegna Baruffa and I had the enormous privilege of working on brands like Dior, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Fendi – but it wasn’t until I found myself on the factory floor one day that I truly found my calling. It wasn’t just the textile design I enjoyed, it was the manufacturing, the cutting, packing, dispatching, warehousing, logistics, global selling and distribution. I thought, this is what I want to do with my life, but can I do it in England?

I came home to be closer to family. I set about sourcing British weavers, finishers, and machinists who could bring an English homeware brand to life. It was all consuming, I was so driven, surrounded by friends getting married and having children, and I was single and heading off again to another obscure part of the country to look at yet another factory. People thought I was mad, but I ignored the doubters and found a team of weavers in Lancashire, finishers in Yorkshire and machinists in Nottingham. In 2012, on my 32nd birthday, I went to my first trade show in London with a capsule collection of English woven and manufactured homeware, and the rest history.

Unsurprisingly, I collect fabrics. They are a constant source of inspiration, and sometimes a fabric just sticks in the mind. I find it very hard to leave behind a piece of fabric that has made me stop and look at it. 

My favourite colour is black. Both for sartorial use and when used sparingly in interiors, I think it can be incredibly feminine and soft. It grounds things and stops things being too pretty.

I rarely read fiction. Instead, I love reading about the art scene, artists, models, authors, Soho in the 50s, and Francis Bacon and his motley crew. Dog Days in Soho was an incredibly vivid book and I’ve just finished Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, which is a similar tale set against the backdrop of WWII.

I love film and theatre but if I had to choose, it would be the theatre. The realness and rawness of it, the humanness, is very moving. Watching people who’ve honed their craft reminds me to delve deeper into my own work and be as good I can be.

I always have music on and it’s totally eclectic. Bluegrass, folk, Nashville music; I love Louis Prima and Bill Withers; and if you want me to dance then play Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba and you’ll have a hard job stopping me. We recently went to a candle-lit concert by a string quartet playing Queen and Abba music, and I was moved to tears by the sound. It’s not something you hear very often – that kind of human rawness, and it really stirred something in me.

Cooking is something I love to do. Time is precious with three small children but if the conditions are right, then I find it very therapeutic. I love following a cookbook recipe and Ottolenghi would be my go-to.

I was SO DRIVEN; surrounded by friends getting married and having children, I was single and heading off again to another obscure part of the country to look at yet ANOTHER FACTORY.

There are many fellow creators I admire. My friend Collete Laxton, who co-founded The Inkey List is a wonder woman. Whitney Bromberg Hawkins, the founder of FLOWERBX, has created an incredible brand. I always admire women who have successfully combined creativity and commerce.

I have an attachment to a special piece of furniture. My other half Joby built us a kitchen dresser and it’s beautiful. It reminds me of Ireland and my family there. It’s a place to put the things we love – flowers, the children’s drawings, candles at dinner. It’s a beautiful but also practical thing that is a total extension of our family.

I will never tire of Ireland. My family are all from the southwest coast and there is something so inspiring about the place. We go back for a month every summer, and it really grounds and resets me. It just puts my priorities back in the right order.

Life is a juggle. We have three young daughters, all under ten, and two businesses between us. The only way we’ve been able to make it work is by working for ourselves and sharing the parental load. The flexibility allows us to create our own rhythm, mostly working very late at night to keep all the plates spinning. Not always successfully, of course, and there have to be compromises as you can’t be a full-time mother and a full-time businesswoman at the same time, but I have always wanted a big family and I will never regret being at home for their childhood. The business has grown beyond our expectations for the last two years, so I’m interested to see how things develop when our children are all in school and I have more time again.

Visit ToriMurphy.com 

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