Few things please Imogen Tunnicliffe more than a beautifully designed object. If it’s functional and sustainably made, then that’s a design trifecta as far as the Aucklander is concerned.
Imogen is Head of Textile Design at Città, a company she’s worked at for 17 years, the last 12 of them in her current role.
Having spent time living overseas, she came to the furniture and homewares company after a master’s degree in printmaking at Elam School of Fine Arts. At the time, Imogen was working as an artist and illustrator, which is how she found her way to Città. “They were looking for an illustrator to create unique designs,” says Imogen. “My first job was actually designing Christmas decorations.”
“Eventually, I started designing patterns for bed linen, cushions and towels.” Fast forward to today and Imogen is one of four in Città’s design team at the Auckland HQ (the others are focused on furniture and 3D design).
The company, which started life in 1989 as Corso De’ Fiori, now has 12 stores (including four outlets) around Aotearoa, as well as an online store. But when Imogen started at Città, the company mainly catered to wholesale clients, offering products plucked from all over the world.
“Today, we design most of our products ourselves. And while we still have a strong wholesale presence, our focus is on our retail stores, online sales and, more recently, branching into the commercial realm.”
Ask Imogen to describe Città’s brand philosophy and she doesn’t pause for breath.
“We’re a design-led brand, one that’s inspirational but also approachable. Our aim is to offer great design that fulfills a need in people’s lives, but equally to surprise them so that they fall in love with something they may not have expected to.”
Imogen’s remit covers “everything in the textile area”, from beach towels and cushions to upholstery fabric for sofas. “Currently, we’re telling a strong colour and texture story with our textiles.”
While some items, such as wool blankets, are produced locally, most are manufactured overseas.
“We work with skilled artisans in India for most of our textiles as they have a strong history in the textile area. But we also work with countries all over the world, including Portugal, Lithuania, Mexico, and China.”
It would be rare to find a business that wasn’t impacted by the global pandemic. Città is no exception, but they’ve managed to turn a negative into a positive, says Imogen.
“Long before Covid, we’d been talking about refining our offering. At that stage, we produced everything from bed linen and handbags to cooler bags and toys in six-monthly product drops. But you can’t be everything to everyone and we’d been in discussions around how we could refine our range. Then the pandemic happened, and of course items were stuck on ships or entire factories closed down. That forced us into doing what we’d wanted to do but hadn’t yet managed.”
Now, instead of releasing seasonal collections twice a year inspired by a singular story or theme, Città is focused on capsules of designs released sporadically throughout the year.
“Previously our designs were inspired by a particular theme or place, for example New York, and then six months later, Mali. But now our design story is more cohesive and is firmly guided by our overarching brand story. This ensures our offering is much more harmonious, both visually and practically.”
As a designer, Imogen says the new, more focused product model is much more rewarding. “It’s much better to spend longer designing one product and getting it right than splintering your time and effort trying to deliver a multitude of different products to tight deadlines.” It’s also a far more sustainable operating model. “We’re not filling the world with more stuff for the sake of it but are producing considered items with longevity in mind.”
One thing that won’t change is a reliance on natural materials such as jute, linen and organic cotton. Wool is also a key fabric. “It’s such a versatile material and even though many people think of wool as being thick and bulky, it can also be fine and light. Either on its own or blended with other fibres, wool is ideal for throws, blankets, cushions and upholstery.”
So what can Città fans expect to see by way of new designs in the near future?
Lots of colour, for starters.
“In the textile space, we’re moving from neutral shades into bolder, warmer, more dense hues — deep blues, warm purples, fresh spring greens and citrus tones. It’s a reaction to the past few years where many of us have craved earthier, softer tones. But now people seem to want creativity, colour and excitement, not just aesthetically but in many parts of their lives.”
Design inspiration comes from “anywhere and everywhere”, admits Imogen. “That includes architecture, art and fashion — the angles, textures and light can all spark ideas.” And of course, any product has to be functional, beautiful and sustainable!
WORDS: Sharon Stephenson / PHOTOGRAPHY: Greta Kenyon