James Patmore was having a bit of a third-of-life crisis. At the age of 30 and having worked for big names like Tom Dixon, the product and furniture designer's career trajectory was climbing in the desired direction. But even with his successes, Patmore felt the siren call that many feel: to strike out on his own to see if he could create a successful venture that had his name on the door.
"I was just like, 'If I'm going to work my arse off for someone, I might as well do it for myself and then see how far I can go. If I'm not going to do it now, when am I going to do it?'" says Patmore.
Less than a year in and Patmore's eponymous business is showing the kind of growth that makes the risk of leaving a sure thing seem not much of a risk at all. Whether it's teaming with LVMH on big projects, creating a custom light installation at Kit and Ace's Borough showroom or helping to produce a bespoke Nike store in Moscow, Patmore's talents are in full demand.
We spoke with the founder of James Patmore Studio about how he found his calling, where he finds inspiration (hint: it's sartorial) and why cycling is the signature commuting choice for London designers.
Kit and Ace: How did you choose to become a product and furniture designer?
James Patmore: It chose me. I was good at drawing. I was good at making things. I'm pretty practical in terms of putting things together. I was encouraged to draw, paint and make stuff from an early age. It wasn't until I was about 17 that I realized I was good at drawing and making things. I discovered design and that was a feasible option. I just thought, "Yeah. Let's do that."
KA: Describe your artistic style.
JP: My style's changed, obviously, as I develop myself throughout my career. I've worked with a number of well-known designers. My own personal style started off quite minimal. Now it has a little bit of classic design involved as well: very classical shapes, but minimal silhouettes. They're quite graphic. I like to have the minimal silhouette with the intricate detail.
KA: How has that style evolved?
JP: When you first start designing, you work off your practical knowledge. That constantly grows and becomes more and more informed. I feel that the more times I see a producer and a manufacturer, or go see production -- to understand more processes -- it informs my design style and how I can visualize these things being put together. That, in turn, has an effect on the outcome.
KA: What's been the biggest challenge in setting off on your own?
JP: I've done huge projects for other people, but when you start off on your own, you have nothing in terms of portfolio that expresses yourself. You need to have the first project to say, "Look. This is me." It's no longer what I graduated with eight years ago. This is my stuff. It's not Tom Dixon. It's not the people I've been working for. "This is what I want to do and I can take this forward" rather than, "Please trust me with your money. I'll do it. I'll make you look good. I promise."
KA: Why was it so important for you to go solo?
JP: When I graduated I had insecurity. "Can I really do this?" I wasn't ready to go out on my own. It was like, let me just work for other people. Let's see more of what design has to offer, and am I able to do it? I think it's like a 30 milestone. With all designers, I think everyone comes to a realization: "What am I going to do? Am I going to work for someone else, pick up a monthly pay packet, and just suck it up, or shall I see what I can do?" This is the real test.
KA: What visuals outside of your line of work influence you?
JP: I look at a few quite cool designers, Casely‑Hayford, Agi & Sam – people in menswear. I look at tailored suits. That's my first goal basically, I want to earn enough to buy a tailored suit [laughs]. I look at some graphics, posters, artwork, sculpture. I look for different processes that are outside my realm that interest me.
KA: You have a strong visual aesthetic. How does that carry over to your sense of personal style?
JP: I do pay more attention to the cut than to the label. I prefer to avoid labels, actually. I appreciate the Kit and Ace cut. I do appreciate the bits and pieces. I don't like to be too showy or out there. I do like a nice fitted piece. Again, it's probably quite similar to my classical silhouettes in design. The detailing is key for me.
KA: When you're working with giant brand, is there a part of you that feels excitement, like you've hit the big time?
JP: I don't know. I thought it would be with Nike or someone like that. I've worked with such big clients before that now it's just like, "Right. This is how I need to approach it. This is how I can get it done." I've done a big project with Veuve Clicquot as well -- so LVMH, it didn't really awe me at all. It was just like, "OK. Now I've got it. I need to produce it." It's more scary than anything.
KA: You have a half a second of, "Oh, cool. Then it's like, "Oh God. I need to do it now."
JP: Exactly. It's like, "Oh, shit [laughs]. Nike. Yeah. I need to pull this off now."
KA: Changing gears, you're an avid cyclist.
JP: Yeah. It's amazing, every designer in London cycles. If they don't then they're earning too much money. It's quite good. Rather than thinking about your work, you're thinking about not dying. It's quite good in terms of adrenaline pumping.
KA: What's your favorite thing about working for yourself?
JP: I was talking to a mate of mine, he actually works four-day weeks. I was like, "Man, this is where I want to be." That's my aim. First goal is a tailored suit. Second is to only work four days a week.