Anthropologie is constantly looking for new talent to develop both clothing and homewares. For the recently-opened Chelsea Market location in New York City several gifted artists were tapped to contribute unique projects. I had the opportunity to sit with one of the artists, Sarah Ashley Longshore, last Friday at City Crab for a meal and a chat. Ms. Longshore and partner Michael Smith were still basking in the glow of the store’s launch party the night before. They were effusive and so fun to talk to!
Ms. Longshore, a pop artist living in New Orleans, created a special line of painted latte bowls specially for the Chelsea Market store. Much more on this project below. She also created a line of abstract chairs which are currently available on Anthropologie’s website. The connection to Anthropologie came through fellow New Orleans resident Seema Sudan — known to Effortless Anthropologie’s readership as the designer behind LiaMolly. Sudan is also a former Anthropologie designer who helped to set up the company’s sweater line. During a New Orleans visit Sudan took several Anthropologie heads by Ms. Longshore’s Market St gallery where they were captivated with a new chair project. Though Ms. Longshore typically works with materials like glittered vinyl and patent leather for her vividly painted chairs she was working on a new construction from hand-painted muslin. This proved to be love at first sight for Anthropologie, which promptly ordered a run of the chairs for its stores and catalogues.
Ms. Longshore was given one year to produce the chair line and described the experience as incredible. “It was so hard,” she said. “Because I knew about this project for a long time but I had to keep it a secret! But it was so much fun too. Anthropologie’s team was so supportive of letting me maintain my artistic integrity. For a company like Anthropologie to approach me…it was huge for me! It’s important to utilize corporate collaborations to get your name out there but you don’t want to sell out either. Anthropologie gave me such freedom as an artist. There was very minimal direction on their part.”
The result is a mid-century-styled armchair upholstered in cotton. Adorning the cotton is a hand-painted abstract inspired by a painting of a girl swimming. The colors clearly evoke spring and summer while the painting itself mirrors current pieces in Anthropologie’s clothing line. And like almost all of Anthropologie’s furniture products this chair is made in the USA.
If production is the nod of approval, then additional projects are the true mark of success. So when Anthropologie’s Special Projects Director Patty Isen contacted Ms. Longshore earlier this year about an additional venture it was a thrilling surprise. This time around Anthropologie commissioned Ms. Longshore to create 300 hand-painted latte bowls specifically for an artists’ series at the Chelsea Market Anthropologie. Longshore quickly agreed and got right to work. The company was once again impressed and quickly grew the order to 1,000 bowls (!!!), eventually topping out at over 3,000. But that’s not the best part — in late February it became clear that the Portugal factory producing the bowls was not going to be able to ship in time for Ms. Longshore to complete the entire order and get those bowls to NYC. So Anthropologie sent Longshore (and partner Smith) to Portugal to wrap up the project at the source. The couple spent a few weeks in Portugal as Ms. Longshore created her abstract works of art. And the result? An intriguing set of bowls with no two alike. Over 500 were in stock at Chelsea’s launch party last Thursday but were selling quickly. These bowls will also be available in limited quantities at Anthropologie’s New Orleans outpost (opening in August 2010).
I asked Ms. Longshore if Anthropologie gave more direction for this second project. “Oh no, no,” was the reply. “They gave a very general frame of reference. Nothing too figurative, they said. Abstract. I had free creative license just as I did with the chair project. And it frees you up to do your most interesting work.”
I got a good look at both the bowls and the chair at the Chelsea party. And let me admit this — I’ve since bought two of the bowls for myself. They are spectacular. I hear Ms. Longshore met Urban Outfitters CEO Glen Senk at the Chelsea party. How’d that go?
“You never what you’re going to get with a company CEO. Usually they’re removed from the day-to-day. I expected to have to explain myself and my role, why I was there. Instead [Mr. Senk] immediately asked me about each of my projects for Anthropologie. He was so personable!”
So what’s next for Ms. Longshore? Another project with Anthropologie, debuting in May. (More on this in an upcoming post.) The pop artist also runs her own gallery in New Orleans, featuring her aforementioned chair line as well as huge contemporary portraits and photography. She counts actresses, producers and royalty among her clientele. Ms. Longshore also creates performance art and is working on a cocktail ring line. It’s true — the woman never sleeps!
And why should she? So far her personal journey has taken her Montgomery, Ala. to Montana to Europe to New Orleans, with plenty more destinations to come. After eating one meal with Longshore and Smith I felt like I’d known them for years and had been along for the ride all along. And it’s impossible to walk away without wanting to champion Ms. Longshore’s work. Her passion, spirit and proclivity for success shine through an irrepressible smile and infectious personality.
“Art — to me, is serious, exhilirating and nerve-racking at the same time,” Ms. Longshore told me. “Buying fine art is like falling in love. I channel all of those emotions into everything I do.”
Besides Ms. Longshore’s gallery in New Orleans, she also has reps in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami, as well as international representation. If you’re interested in contacting her directly you can visit her website, email her or call her at (504)-458-5500 to set up an appointment.