Blackheath photographic designer Claire Swindale creates beautiful playful silk scarves from everyday London street scenes she’s photographed. Now she has launched her debut interiors collection of fabrics, wallpapers and cushion featuring iconic prints of London and all-things British
Words: Victoria Purcell
Claire Swindale is a fan of colour. Her Blackheath apartment is an art and design-lover’s paradise. Vivienne Westwood wallpaper in an unapologetically pink print welcomes you into the living room, teamed with a patchwork chaise longue, empty vintage frames, a collaged self-portrait that very nearly made the Royal Academy and a huge painting of Frida Kahlo rescued from an East London street art project.
And its colour that makes her collection of silk scarves – each a hangable artwork in itself – so wearable. The photographic designer has a fascination with London and its icons, so you’ll find a screamingly bold image of a drag queen, the City skyline, a Pearly King, and Big Ben in her light-hearted, observational designs.
‘My mum wears the drag queen scarf because of the colours, but actually she’s wearing a drag queen. I like that humour. And the colours are lovely in this one,’ she says of her fish and chips scarf, ‘the tartare sauce is really elegant there,’ a statement that, we both agree, will likely never be uttered again.
Her scarves have been seen on Joanna Lumley and Lisa Snowden, and now Swin, as she’s known to friends, has launched her first interiors collection.
My designs all derive from my love of London – the drag queens, the dogs, the soldiers, the crowns are all born out of a passion for London
As we go to press, Claire is jetting off to New York for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York to showcase her wallpaper, fabric and cushion designs. But why the Big Apple?
‘They like the Brits and my collection is British-centric and made in England. My designs all derive from my love of London, except for my Kathmandu scarf (I used to live out there. It’s my second home). But everything else – the drag queens, the dogs, the soldiers, the crowns – is born out of a passion for London.
‘I travelled the world for eights years with a backpack,’ she says, ‘but we’ve got the best city ever. I can spend a day just walking with my camera – the details, the architecture, the atmosphere and the dirt… Soho and Buckingham Palace. It’s just brilliant.’
Claire’s latest collection, which sticks within the realms of her signature style – ‘structured yet whimsical, timeless yet edgy’ – features her photographic art printed in repetition at various sizes. She intends to make the designs available in a range of sizes, both in wallpaper and fabric formats, and you can choose which Pantone colour you would like for the background. Running the smaller prints on wallpaper has a sort of Magic Eye effect from afar. What looks like a paisley print from afar, for example, turns out to be a park bench.
What looks like a paisley print from afar turns out to be a park bench
Claire has lived in Blackheath for 14 years. But with her love of colour and vibrancy and street art, I wonder whether she’s ever felt the pull of Shoreditch?
‘No. I want to live here forever,’ she says without missing a beat. ‘I like the sense of community and the fact that people talk to you. I just feel at home. It’s lovely and green and it’s got views.’
Claire certainly likes to do her bit for the area. She has long supported local restaurant Everest Inn’s fundraising efforts for the victims of the Nepal earthquake, donating her Kathmandu-print scarves for auctions. She also mentors business students at Greenwich University and often takes Dorothy, her 1965 Morris Minor, to the monthly Park it in the Market vintage car event at Greenwich Market.
What does the future hold for brand Swin? ‘I’d love to do a collaboration, maybe with Paul Smith. He uses a lot of colour and a lot of London icons.’
I have a feeling we might be seeing Dorothy taking over from Paul Smith’s iconic striped Mini one day soon…