Clarissa Hulse is well known for her lively and vibrant botanical designs. The exciting prints, which capture the colours and shapes of the natural world, can now be found in hundreds of department stores and exclusive boutiques across the globe.
We meet Clarissa in pretty North London at her studio. The building was once home to the chauffeurs who worked in Islington’s grand houses, but it now it serves as Clarissa’s studio, and will soon be converted into her family home, too.
‘I started my business in 1994 completely by accident!’ says Clarissa. ‘I was hand printing scarves and I got an order from Liberty and then Barney’s in New York saw my scarves in Liberty – then I had an order from Neiman Marcus and before I knew it I had orders coming out of my ears. All of a sudden I had to employ people and get a bigger studio. I had a business before I knew what I was doing!’
Clarissa’s business was a challenge to begin with. ‘We had a lot of ups and downs,’ she says. Now though she employs 3 full time and 3 part time staff to help her manage the ever-increasing work load.
In 2002 she expanded and launched her first cushion collection. She quickly sold the collection to Heals, The Conran Shop, Liberty and Selfridges. ‘I just knew I was really on to something!’ she says. After that the business grew into lampshades, wallpapers and fabric, before she was asked by House of Fraser to design bed linen.
Although her career really began in fashion, she says: ‘I felt happy with the move into interiors because in fashion everything is very fickle. People are much more conscious of what is “in” and what is “out”. With homeware people just buy what they really love.’
When coming up with the ideas for her designs she sometimes starts with sketches. ‘A lot of my designs originally start from photography or plants that I’ve gathered from trips to the countryside though,’ says Clarissa. ‘Some photographs I take in situ, but other plants I’ll take home and press. I also might take a picture of an amazing sunset or beautiful flower for colour and inspiration.’
‘For the next fabric and wallpaper collection I’m doing I’ve actually done a lot of research online, which I’ve never done before,’ says Clarissa. ‘It’s a very different way of working. On the one hand it’s very frustrating because you’re sat at a computer and it doesn’t affect you in the same way that being out there experiencing nature does, but at the same time the enormous breadth of what you can find is just mind blowing. I think it’s good to change the way you work and challenge yourself every now and again.’
She also finds inspiration in the area around her. When she is in need of a little natural inspiration, Highbury Fields, with its vast expanse of green grass, is a must-visit. As is Angel’s Camden Passage, bursting with quirky shops and cafes. It’s a little haven of creativity – and only a short walk away from Clarissa’s studio.
A favourite haunt of hers is The Elk in the Woods, a cafe and restaurant with impeccably designed, wonderfully eccentric interiors. After seeing the plush fabrics and bold prints for ourselves its clear why it’s one of Clarissa’s favourites! While visiting Clarissa we popped into nearby Thomas Kleibrink, where Clarissa bought a cute vintage cup and saucer and Annie’s Vintage Costume and Textiles where we couldn’t help but try on some hats – we also stumbled upon a newly opened shop, Folklore, which Clarissa loved. ‘What I love about London is that you come across new things all the time!’ she says. Clarissa also showed another of her favourite places, the Little Angel Theatre – a puppet theatre for children which showcases amazing puppets and props.
Before we left we asked Clarissa what she hoped to achieve next. ‘Life is totally nuts at the moment – I feel like I’m spinning hundreds of plates!’ says Clarissa. ‘But I’ve got a great nanny and a great team and because this is my own business there is a lot of flexibility. Travel is the one thing I really miss since having children. I used to go to India all the time. Now they are getting older though I hope I’ll be able to start travelling again.’
‘I still feel like really I’m an artist. I want to work with new techniques and new fabrics and I’d like to do more arty projects. Most of all though I do miss doing scarves and I’ll definitely go back to that.’
Published in the Summer issue of Heart Home Magazine. View the magazine here.