Pioneering Design in Bulgaria: Q & A with Michelle Lane of BREAD Studio
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After a career in New York as a fashion stylist, jewelry designer, and creative consultant, Michelle Lane has shifted locales and entered a new mode of design. Lane's new Los Angeles-based venture, BREAD , is a studio, shop, and showroom with a mission to "merge design with preservation and economic stimulus," as she puts it. "My goal is to represent emerging designers whose work deserves a place in the world economy." Her first project is a collaboration with emerging designers from Bulgaria, which debuted in New York City this past August (the pieces are now available at her online shop BREAD). How did this former Vogue staffer find herself in Sofia, Bulgaria, exploring uncharted design territory? Read on to learn the story. Above: BREAD designer Marina Dragomirova's Fuchila Sofa is a woven sofa with a frame that's based on a loom. The use of nylon threads for the warp and weft allows for the textile to bend and become three dimensional; $1,900 at BREAD. Remodelista: What initially drew you to the Balkans? Michelle Lane: I had just spent time at the European Graduate School [in Switzerland], looking at the way countries that have been decimated or destroyed are now coping with and transitioning out of that way of life. I wanted to help bring the Balkans back into the design dialogue. The area has such a rich, cultural history that has been overlooked; it's a deep and mysterious place. RM: What struck you most about Bulgaria and about Eastern European culture? ML: There is a sense of thrift and resourcefulness that naturally exists in a place like Bulgaria, a poetry to design that evolves from circumstance. Bulgaria is a humble country and it's transitioning out of communism right now. Above: Detail shots of Marina Dragomirova's Fuchila Sofa , made of tapestry woven wool on a powder-coated metal frame. RM: What inspired you to switch your focus from your own work to highlighting the work of others? ML: I initially wanted to make things with designers there. But I discovered so much amazing talent that instead, I wanted to give these artists a platform and highlight their work. BREAD takes a holistic approach to design that merges fashion, art, and function where art asks the questions and design gives solutions. Above: Dragomirova's Crystallites pendants are made from crystal pieces gathered from local charity shops; the bowls and vases are cut and reinterpreted into lighting designs. She also uses crystal in her Mixers collection, a group of wine glasses that are hand cut and joined into new forms; $124 available through Bread. RM: Who stood out to you the most at Sofia Design Week, the annual festival held every June? ML: For me, Marina Dragomirova's work made a big impression. She presents traditional techniques through new forms. Her take on design is progressive with a focus on informing others about the history and value held in individual pieces. Above: A detail of Dragomirova's Fuchila Chair in bright yellow with contrasting black wool. RM: What are some of the challenges Bulgarian designers are up against? ML: Everyone is looking to preserve artisanal handicrafts, but there has to be forward movement. So that's the struggle, you want to preserve but you want to progress without going too fast. Marina, for example, researched carpet-making techniques and tried to work with traditional artisans to produce her own designs. She found that there was such a communication barrier that she ended up working with a family friend in her village instead. Above: Neva Balnikova's Poor Animal Pins ($130 each), another example of work in the BREAD repertoire. The pins are made by hand using the designer's sculptural wrapping technique and are a commentary on animal treatment. RM: What's next for BREAD studio? ML: Continuing to represent these designers whose work deserves a place in the world economy. Toward that end, I've recently decided to launch a showroom in Los Angeles. Above: Michelle Lane at BREAD's Trace of Thrace pop-up event at Maryam Nassir Zadeh in New York. Photography by Hisham Akira Bharoocha . The neon Plexi Jewelry (right) is made by Milko Boyarov, a Sofia-based designer who won the 2013 Swatch award; prices range from $60 to $140. Above: Another version of Dragomirova's Fuchila Chair with a yellow nylon warp and pale green weft. For more on Marina Dragomirova, see Food For Thought , an interview between her and Lane on BREAD's site. And take a look at where Lane stayed when she was in Sofia last summer: A Parisian's Pied-a-Terre in Sofia, Bulgaria .