Interview with Stephen Ormandy and Louise Olsen of Dinosaur Designs

Dinosaur Designs Interview

dinosaur designs interview

If you like to wander around Soho you may have stumbled into a bright corner boutique called Dinosaur Designs. Next to the Ham Yard Hotel, this little shop is unlike any other in the area, a place so replete with restaurants these days that it’s hard to muster an appetite. Boutiques are scarce in these parts but Dinosaur Designs stands out for many reasons – and not just because of the scaling down of boutique culture. For one, it is full of bright jewellery and homeware items such as vases and bowls that look more like art pieces than functional objects; secondly there’s a good vibe here which stems from the Australian founders and designers of the brand, husband-and-wife duo, Stephen Ormandy and Louise Olsen. They’ve had a big hand in designing the store in line with their nine Australian outposts and New York boutique which is now 16 years old. This London shop is bathed in light; there’s a big table in the middle covered in multi-coloured bangles – a signature jewellery piece for the brand which was established 30 years ago in Sydney.

The Dinosaur Designs shop opened in London two years ago, but the jewellery is also sold through Net-a-Porter. In fact, the label was announced as the best selling new brand for the online designer shopping destination when it first launched with them. Over the years, Louise and Stephen have collaborated with a number of brands including Paul Smith, Louis Vuitton (for a very special chess board and back gammon set!) and Carolina Herrera for jewellery. One of their first partnerships was with Donna Karan in 2000 with homewares sold in the DK New York store.

Stephen Ormandy and Louise Olsen are well known figures in their native Australia. Sydney’s Hazelhurst art gallery is currently holding a large scale exhibition of their more sculpture-based work which they sell under their own names. Inspired by abstract artists such as Matisse, Calder and Picasso as well as the primitive indigenous art of Australia and of course  nature itself (their latest Dinosaur Designs collection is called Sand), the duo have nonetheless turned their Sydney-based studio – which now employs 85 people – into a very modern manufacture. The hand craft techniques that go into making their layered resin pieces are especially complex: each colour that gives a vase or bracelet its swirly/ripple-like effect corresponds to a different stage; a semi-transparent jigsaw if you like, that is made patiently one on top of the other. Dinosaur Designs is also a very green company. Th resin comes as a byproduct from the oil industry and the company often collaborates with charities including The Australian Conservation Foundation.

We caught up with Stephen Ormandy and Louise Olsen during a brief stop off in London, following their visit to the Salone del Mobile in Milan.

dinosaur designs interview

dinosaur designs interview

Dinosaur Designs Interview

Hi Louis and Stephen. You’ve been working together for 30 years. How did it all start?

Louise: We started at art school where we majored  in Painting and Drawing. We starting Dinosaur as a way of supporting our art.

Stephen: With art school, well you couldn’t just walk into a job that another university graduate would expect to walk in to. We wanted to use our creative abilities so we came up with something that was more immediate. We were printing fabrics so we thought, ‘How hard is it to make clothing?’ It’s quite hard as we found out! People would try our garments on give up! The sewing was so terrible.

Louise: We were good at textiles not the sewing part! From there we started making jewellery and homewares.

Always together?

Stephen: Yeah it was always a collaboration. I mean individually I was selling jewellery, selling my pieces to fashion shops around Sydney.  Just by chance the first semester of art school I learned to make jewellery. The things I made, people liked! So I started selling them to stores and that got me through school. Louise was working on textiles and we also had a third friend, a girl named Lianne [Rossler] who worked with us for many years, but we parted ways about nine years ago now. So now it’s just the two of us.

It’s a great tale of ‘togetherness’. When did you get your big break?

Louise: It all started from friendship really. She [Liane] was working on jumpers and wholesaling them. I was working on textiles and we just sort of came together. We were in the markets for about two years and then we were selling in stores around Sydney. Then, we were invited to be part of an exhibition of Australian design at the V&A [in London] in 1999. We also were doing a lot of jewellery at that time for different musicians like INXS and Kylie Minogue.

Stephen: So when the press officer at the V&A found out we had worked for Kylie they used that as press officers do! Kylie was so phenomenally successful at that point in the UK that we got a whole stack of press from it. I was even interviewed for Radio 4 Woman’s Hour! [He laughs]. How’s that? I still have the recording that they sent me!

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Louise: After that we started selling to New York with Donna Karan and in London through Liberty and Harvey Nichols.

 

So how do you work on the design? What is the process?

Louise: We make things from our studio in Sydney – we have a big team of 85 people.  We design it all and get involved in the development phase by working out all the nuts and bolts and then it goes into manufacturing. We do all the modelling; that’s to say we hand sculpt the all shapes and design everything ourselves.

 

You opened the London boutique two years ago. Are you looking to expand the business with more shops

Louise: well that could happen yes! Now we are at a different place. We are running Dinosaur but we are going back to our art practices as well. At the moment we have a large museum exhibition at the Hazelhurst gallery [Louise Olsen & Stephen Ormandy: The Art of Dinosaur Designs]. It’s a huge space which is amazin!  It’s our third museum show and it focuses on our sculptural work. we tend to think of furniture as sculpture/

Do you find it annoying when people describe you just as jewellery designers?

Louise: I mean when you look at Calder or Picasso, Giacometti – artists that also created homewares and jewellery, or indeed ceramic works and furniture, there’s no question mark. Being creative can stretch to many disciplines. Just look at JW Anderson!

Stephen: Rick Owens sculptures are phenomenal too! We sell our furniture in small limited numbers because they are all hand made. We have one table here actually [we’re at the Ham Yard Hotel next to the DD boutique in Soho]. I guess the going price is about $10,000. Like a painting, no two are ever the same. I guess it’s unusual because we are artists but we did the more ‘commercial stuff’ first! We’re now presenting ourselves as we have always been, and that’s as artists.

How you work as a couple?  How do you differentiate between who does what in terms of design style?

We have a conversation about things. It’s complex because we also do our own art work separately. So when there’s a table by Louise at an Olsen & Ormandy show, the table will say ‘Table by Louise Olsen’.

But how do you differ?

Stephen: We do argue over who did what sometimes. We simply can’t remember at times!

Louise: I think maybe my style is more organic and softer and Stephen’s is perhaps more geometric and strong sculpturally.

Stephen: Yeah, but you also do a lot of that as well. I think our style is a joint style and particularly with Dinosaur Designs it is a visual language that has been developed in the last 10 years with the two of us. It’s always evolving. It’s a like a font that continues to change but doesn’t lose itself.

You use a lot of  resin in your designs and the beauty of your commercial work especially is really seen in the layers of colour. What drives this passion for colour would you say?

Stephen: I think history of art is a big influence for us; so between the natural world and the art world is really where we dance!

Louise: Being Australian means we naturally live very close to nature, so the environment is a key factor in our work. One thing naturally leads to another too. I looked at sand for this [2017] collection which follows on from various studies and collections about the sea.

Stephen: We don’t want to be disposable. We design for the long term. In fact, I knew a couple who were divorcing and everything was going smoothly until they got to their Dinosaur collection which they really fought over!

dinosaur designs interview

dinosaur designs interview