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Art With Heart
By Andrea Mills | Photo: by Erika Harrsch | October 1, 2018
The latest collection by Laura Kirar for Baker was one of the most talked-about product launches at High Point. We sat down with the renowned designer to discuss inspiration, politics, product design and Mayan deco style.
How did you get your start in product design?
I grew up in Oak Lawn, and every weekend we would go to the city and do something cultural, so I spent a lot of time at the Art Institute of Chicago. I always wanted to be an artist, so I went to SAIC and studied sculpture and interior architecture. My thought was to get immersed in interiors and sculpture and then get a masters in architecture, but then I started working at Holly Hunt. My first job there was rescaling the Christian Liaigre collection for the U.S. market. What I had learned at SAIC was just the seed, and being at Holly’s was like the tree really growing because it allowed me to blossom and get some serious hands-on experience. Looking back, it was a pivotal moment because I’m not sure I would have understood the notion of licensing before redeveloping this collection. Eventually I started my own firm and had a product design license at day one. It’s kind of like that rock band thing where you have a hit song and people think you’re an overnight success, and you’re like, ‘No, I’ve been doing it for 10 years.’
What was the inspiration for your new collection with Baker?
This was my fourth collection for Baker, and we did 28 pieces. Each new collection builds on and complements the foundation of the first. The last two collections have been heavily influenced by my time here in Mexico, even though you wouldn’t look at them and think they are Mexican. But seeing the Mayan ruins and lower profiles translates into different geometry; a different scale. So this latest collection has what I would call a Mayan deco influence. It still feels very urban, modern and sexy, but the geometric forms come from ancient architecture.
You have traveled a lot; what is your connection to Mexico?
Currently my residence is in Merida. I bought a hacienda here in 2009 and have a design shop and studio in San Miguel and Merida. I was splitting my time between Mexico and New York for a long time, but last year my husband and I decided it was time to get the house done, and I wanted to make some progress with the artisans I have been working with here. It’s interesting after growing up in Chicago, which is such a great architecture town with so much history, because Merida has a lot of the same qualities. A lot of designers and architects are flocking here because it is conducive to building your dreams.
How do the ancient techniques and artisanal work you’ve discovered make their way into your collections?
In regards to a collection with a volume like Baker’s, I use the material, techniques and inspiration of working one-on-one with local artisans as a jumping-off point for how I put something into the marketplace at a production value. I have had the great luck of traveling and working in Asia, Europe and India working on prototypes and establishing relationships. What I kept seeing over the years was that the way the artisans were sharing their knowledge was changing: Apprentice systems that had been in place for hundreds of years were falling apart, and younger people didn’t want to learn. It’s so sad. As I started traveling around Mexico, I was like a kid in a candy shop with all of the skills and incredible techniques, from embroidery to copper to ceramics. It felt like a movement, and I had this eureka moment and realized I wanted to be doing my own private label collection.
What statement do you want the Laura Kirar Private Label to make?
I’ve been working on this for five years now and have produced home and fashion accessories like beautiful vessels, candles, place mats and luxury dog collars branded after my pet chihuahua, Micho, called Casa de Micho. I’m now working on furniture and lighting too. It takes a really long time to create a new product and to innovate with these groups, but when you do, it is so incredibly satisfying. People have a visceral reaction to stuff—they either like it or they don’t. If you can catch them for long enough to tell the story behind it, that someone actually made it with their hands and it took years of knowledge, then it’s unique. Anybody can buy anything, and it’s all at your fingertips online. What makes something special, or a luxury, is having something nobody else does.
You’ve donated some of the sales from the Laura Kirar Private Label to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. What made you get involved?
I feel lucky to be in a position to do something good with the platform and voice and a certain amount of notoriety in the design world that I’ve gained. I realized that what’s happening at the border wasn’t just affecting me and the people I work with—and of course, living down here right now, people are talking about it a lot. Rather than talking and feeling helpless, I wanted to do something. My father introduced me to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Chicago, and it is amazing that they have been doing this work [promoting the best interests of immigrant children] for quite some time. It’s more on the radar since the new policy, but it is not a new problem, and I think they’ve done really good work. I’m gearing up to do another promotion to donate to them again.
I have so many irons in the fire, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and see where that goes. I’m really satisfied with the work that I’m producing, and I want to do more collections because I love doing it. I’m working on more in the realm of art furniture with the Private Label. We started with an exploration to get it out there at a more accessible level with bags and Casa de Micho, but I have been working on some things that are really limited-edition and more conceptual in nature. I’m coming full circle and starting to create art again.
Prices upon request, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, Ste. 6-187, 312.337.7144, bakerfurniture.com