Brooklyn-based Ladies & Gentlemen studio is headed up by Jean Lee and Dylan Davis who first grabbed our attention with a range of artfully bespoke lights for the boutique lighting brand Roll & Hill inspired by artists including the Russian Modernist Kaezimir Malevich, a series of playful and kinetic hanging mobiles called Point Counterpoint, and most recently, the sophisticated interior installation for Australian brand SP01's New York launch.
Balancing work across furniture, lighting, objects, jewellery and interiors, we caught up with designers Jean and Dylan to find out more about their new studio in New York, the people who have had the biggest influence on their work, and what we might see from Ladies & Gentlemen Studio in 2018.
more space: What does a day in the life of your studio look like?
Jean Lee: As a small studio everyone wears a lot of hats and what we do day-to-day changes frequently. We usually start the week setting general group goals and individual goals so everyone is on the same page and has their own autonomy. Dylan is typically in charge of product development so he is prototyping, material sourcing and communicating with fabricators. He tends to spend more time in the shop getting his hands dirty. I typically spend more of my time doing a mix of administrative tasks related to sales, press, marketing relationships and outreach. When we want to focus on designing something new for a project, we include our full-time design assistant for a team brainstorming exercise we call ‘Sketchercise’. It's an exercise where we take a book from the studio library, open it to a random page and then spend two minutes sketching as many ideas as we can come up with, then repeat from another random page. The ideas collected at the end of 20 minutes spark a great dialog and we pick new directions that we're all excited to pursue. We find sketchercises train us to brainstorm loosely and enjoy the process. We also typically do lunch together with the team. Our go-to lunch spot in our Red Hook neighborhood is either picnicing at a park by the water, or eating lunch waterside by Fairway Market. Either spot has amazing views of the East River and the Statue of Liberty! It's a great ritual to recharge our batteries and connect with each other on a personal level.
What are the moments that have been most important to the development of your practice?
There have been a few big moments for us in pushing our studio practice. The first milestone was in 2012 when we decided to expand our product offerings from small home goods accessories, to lighting and furniture, launching the Aura Lights and Ovis Chairs through an independent design exhibition that Sight Unseen curated during NY Design week. This first forray into interiors opened us up and helped propel us in a new direction.
The second milestone happened in the fall of 2013 when Jason Miller, founder of Roll & Hill lighting, reached out to us to design a fixture for them. We had always admired his company and were beyond thrilled to have an opportunity like that. The collaboration launched the Shape Up light series, which debuted at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. Since then, Roll & Hill has picked up two additional light series from us, including the Kazimir chandeliers and sconce, and Krane lights. It was a big turning point becaus Jason helped us validate our own design aesthetic and instincts before we even knew we had them.
The third and most recent milestone is our move from Seattle to New York City after 15-plus years living in Seattle, and five years running Ladies & Gentlemen Studio. This was a huge step for us, heading out of our comfort zone to gain new experiences and challenges in a new environment. Some of our family and friends thought we were crazy but it has proven to be an inspiring boost to our studio. Since moving here we've gained lots of new experiences through collaborations, travel, and connections with the design community locally in New York, and in Europe, and beyond.
Who are the collaborators who have had the most impact on you, and how?
We’ve developed so many amazing relationships to date, all of which have had a great impact on us. When we first started working with Jason Miller from Roll & Hill for example, he actually turned down many of our initial concepts before we landed on the Shape Up lights. We had always assumed that when a company wants a designer to design something, they want something that fits with the company aesthetic or brand. That was not the case for Roll & Hill. Their goal is to foster design that expresses the designer’s perspective, not the other way around. He really helped us trust our own instincts and that has helped us to build our design language.
Another great collaborators is working with the founders of Studio Gorm who initiated a project called Furnishing Utopia that asks designers to respond to the values of the American Shaker movement. We were originally invited to participate and then became so passionate about the idea that we’ve helped organise events with other designers from different parts of the world. The event has built an incredible community of thinkers who all help push each other.
What skills have you each developed that you are most proud of?
For Dylan, he’s taking on the main leadership role in creating an infrastructure and implementing systems that ensure the studio can operate smoothly and efficiently. He has also developed great technical skills and know-how to develop products, while finding creative ways to push the boundary of our work. For me, I have developed the skills to steer the studio practice in new directions that open up creative avenues and experiences, such as organising events, workshops, and collaborations with companies, studios, and other creative disciplines.
What is one thing that you haven’t ever designed but would love to?
We would love to design an outdoor playground or outdoor installation of some sort!
What is currently on the drawing board and what can we expect to see from you in 2018?
Right now we are designing and building our own studio space in Brooklyn as a case study project to illustrate our approach to the creative workspace. We’re integrating products we love, such as Vitsoe shelves and a magnetic wall system in collaboration with Visual Magnetics (a magnetic wallpaper company) and Civilization (a graphics and branding agency). We have plans to create more sculptural mobiles and lighting pieces that expand upon our Lune Mobile series and Float lighting, and we’re working on the next exhibition of Furnishing Utopia. The show will feature new works from 24 design studios from around the world and launch during NY Design Week in May this year.