We spoke to Charles Randak of Toshie Mackintosh, a group of Glasgow School of Art graduates, about Mackintosh, The Hill House and the inspiration behind their latest collection.
NSTUSA – During your time at the Glasgow School of Art, how were you inspired by the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh?
Charles Randak – To be honest, I did not know anything about Charles Rennie Mackintosh when I arrived at the Glasgow School of Art, which is quite strange as I had just come from a secondary school not far away from the GSA which was Martyr’s School (a Mackintosh building – no less!) However I was aware that when I was at Martyrs School that the building was different. So even then, the detail in the building left a subconscious impression, so Mackintosh has always featured strangely in my life for some reason.
However, you cannot spend four years in the Mackintosh Building without it getting into your bloodstream , you become very familiar with the corridors, the spaces, the light and the details. This is one of the reasons why I say that we did not just suddenly design the Toshie Mackintosh Collection – it was many years in the making.
NTSUSA – On your website you mention that in most countries, it is possible to buy classic pieces based on distinguished designs from that country’s artists and designers. Are there examples from a particular country that inspired you to do this with Mackintosh’s designs?
CR – It was really my wife who kicked the whole thing off by saying why was it that we couldn’t buy a quality product based on Mackintosh when, for instance, in Spain you could buy a wonderful range of items based on Joan Miro’s work. In Scotland, we had only had what we call ‘Mockintosh’ – usually cheap copies of some Mackintosh detail or pattern. We set out to produce the first quality up market products and worked with Johnstones of Elgin in taking our designs into merino wraps and scarves and worked with the Glasgow School of Art in printing silks and vioiles which formed our first ‘capsule’ range which also included deerskin satchels using our Toshie Mackintosh Tartan.
NTSUSA – How do you strike the balance between representing Mackintosh’s style while still creating something that is original and unique?
CR – This was for us a really key issue. We knew we would not want to just ‘lift’ a Mackintosh design and do something with it. We knew that we had to find an inspirational starting point which was capable of being grown into a creative approach that was contemporary but clearly had its roots in the man’s work.
NTSUSA – As you know, Hill House is one of our current priority projects. What do you think makes Hill House so special?
CR – When anyone abroad asks what is the most important building in Scotland – I always say that it has to be the Mackintosh Building – for reasons I am sure that you are aware of. If that’s the case then for me Hill House has to be the second most important building in the whole of Scotland. The design and the location make it unrivaled.
NTSUSA – Have any of Mackintosh’s designs from the Hill House directly inspired your work?
CR – Yes, throughout the House you can see Mackintosh’s use of ‘squares’ – the basis of our designs. Currently we are producing text and a short video based on ‘why squares?’ looking at how and why they feature in Mackintosh’s work. Roger Bilciiffe, the acknowledged Charles Rennie Mackintosh expert is helping us with this.
NTSUSA – You have worked in partnership with Harris Tweed to create a handwoven ‘Mackintosh Tartan.’ Are there any other Scottish designers or producers that you would like to collaborate with in the future? Why?
CR – We have just had our first Toshie Mackintosh carpet delivered, a 2 metre square based on our motif, and it is fabulous. Its very much an ‘artwork’ piece and we will be launching it shortly. Bute Fabrics are very much a manufacturer we would like to work with in taking the designs into carpets as we would like to keep the Toshie Mackintosh range ‘made in Scotland’ – already we have a wonderful lace making company in Ayrshire who have the only French lace making looms left in the world making sheers for us to coordinate with our fabrics and wallpapers.
NTSUSA – Designers, as with architects, must collaborate with craftsmen across many disciplines to see their creative vision come to life. Some may see this as a limitation while others as a an opportunity for growth. Where do you stand, and where do you think Mackintosh stood on this issue?
CR – I think Mackintosh would have been very willing to collaborate with various trades in implementing many of his deigns as he was primarily the creative visionary and would have relied on their expert knowledge of what could be made in wood or metal and how to achieve what he wanted – I am sure that he would have had to compromise and listen to them on many occasions.
NTSUSA – What is on the horizon for Toshie Mackintosh?
CR – Hard work is the simple answer. The creative process of getting to where we are is the small part of the exercise – we have to get the Collection to the architects and specifiers so that they will use it and people will see it and hear the story behind our designs and discover their origins. I am writing this in the heat of a New York afternoon – I am here to see what I can do to help get Toshie Mackintosh into the firms who design the interiors for the offices, hotels and wherever our Collection might find a home.
We want to see the designs taken in home furnishings in the future and perhaps even into fashion (we did a photoshoot in New York last year and everyone loves the dress) so we will see what comes down the line. Already a retail product range of stationery and gift items are in design for the UK market, and there is talk of bringing a major Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibition over to New York next year, so I guess the product range would come with it.
NTSUSA – Are there specific things you hope an American would gain from enjoying your designs?
CR – We always say that you don’t have know anything about Mackintosh to like the designs – the provence is the extra dimension which adds so much and takes you into the story of the man and his works. We actually sent Brad Pitt a scarf and a wrap after hearing he had visited Hill House last year – we don’t know if he ever got them!
Epecially for the USA market we introduced a very top range Silk Slub Wallpaper after discussions with New York distributors, so we will see how these are received in due course.
But I guess the key is that in buying any of the designs, there is this wonderful story of Scotland’s most creative genius who is now beginning to be recognised on a world scale for what he achieved – with his 150th Anniverary next year, I am sure that this will also help in this recognition.
Toshie Mackintosh is offering NTSUSA members an exclusive wallpaper and cushion cover “launch offer” with a discount of up to 50%!