A large-scale installation of inverted umbrellas and fabric swaths in the Contemporary Art Center, fashions by a Project Runway alum, and a pop-up boutique on St. Claude Avenue might not seem similar. But their common threads are exactly that — custom-printed textiles by Camilla Franklin, owner of Blissett Textile (www.blissetttextile.com). While the prints may be overshadowed by the projects, Franklin says that's one reason she loves textiles.
"We're surrounded by textiles," Franklin says. "But one really doesn't think about the fabric for the most part. You think about the garment, or the couch, or the pillow, but not what went into it or what created it. ... But I've always been textile nuts. I just love it."
The Oxford, England native studied fashion and textile design at Middlesex University and Edinburgh University's Scottish College of Textiles. She worked at textile mills in Scotland, England and New York before moving to New Orleans in 1996 to work for a local textile company. When that business folded in 2009, Franklin knew she didn't want to move again.
"I love New Orleans," she says. "I wanted to stay here."
In 2012, Franklin launched Blissett Textile, a custom printing company she runs from a rustic workshop she and her boyfriend built in their banana-tree studded backyard. She and her two employees print custom fabrics for accessories, garments, upholstery, art installations — "pretty much everything you can use a textile in," Franklin says.
At any given time, she'll have as many as 50 clients nationwide. Recent projects include kerchiefs digitally printed with maps of urban transit systems for Few & Far Company and garments for local clothing line Hunt Collective. All of her textiles are made of natural fibers and printed with eco-friendly pigment ink.
"We do sampling for [everyone from] large New York design companies who sell interior fabrics across the world to startups ... doing pillows or scarves," Franklin says. "And maybe graphic designers who want to put their imagery on an accessory or something like that."
Franklin also has branched out beyond business-to-business printing. She recently developed her own designs and products, which she says is what she always wanted to do.
"We've got a New Orleans-inspired collection based on realistic images, some abstract, painterly collections, which are very on-trend right now in both home and fashion, and a botanical collection using photorealistic images," she says.
Designs range from Holy Cross steamboat houses to abstract images of cockroaches. Because Franklin is not aiming at the mass market, she can be more adventurous with her designs.
"Our designs are a little bit more edgy because we're not having to sell millions of them," she says. "And a little bit more fun, I would say."
Franklin credits the blossoming New Orleans fashion scene for creating an environment that allows her business to flourish.
"There's such a big resurgence of textiles and fashion in town," she says. "I think the fashion shows have really had a big impact and created a buzz."
"Some of our fashion designers ask us, 'Don't tell everyone you're my source, because then everyone is going to use you,'" says Katie Murphy, marketing manager and textile designer at Blissett.
Studio manager and textile designer Jeanne Marquez is helping coordinate Blissett's first pop-up shop at Bywater Art Gallery (3700 St. Claude Ave., www.bywaterartgallery.com), which runs through October. Blissett Textiles was one of 10 businesses selected to be part of the retail project funded by the Greater New Orleans Foundation. It shares the gallery space with Frontier (www.facebook.com/ournewfrontier), a collection of local designers.
"We're doing everything from home to fashion, so we've got accessories, garments, scarves, table runners, tea towel, aprons, pillows — quite a wide range," Franklin says. "It's been exciting."
Franklin says juggling her own design development with client's orders has been a challenge. She and her employees work on their products evenings and weekends. Fortunately, they all love what they do.
"Having the opportunity to design something, print it out and have it tangibly right there in front of you — it's so exciting," Murphy says. "You have no limitation and you're really able to express yourself."
"In some ways," Franklin says, "the hardest thing is knowing when to stop."