Lovers of Lily-Lark often report being stopped on the street and asked “Where did you get that fabulous parasol?” Most of the time, what caught the stranger’s eye first was Lily-Lark’s distinctive fine art canopy. Have you ever wondered how those fantastic prints came to be? Writer, researcher, and art historian Lola Arellano-Fryer sat down with Lily-Lark’s founder, CEO, and creative director, Lisa Selwitz, to ask her about the design process… and to learn what it’s like to run a small fashion biz that runs on art, creativity, and sunshine.
Lola: Where do you look for inspiration for your parasols?
Lisa: Everywhere. I’m a curious sponge, and can find inspiration in museums, browsing online, following design trends…anything.
If I see something I’m intrigued by, I’ll photograph it or take a screenshot and put it in a circle to consider how it might look as a parasol. I also try to be conscious of the colors designers are showing on the runway. I want women to have designs that work with their wardrobes.
Lola: Who are the artists behind your beautiful prints? How do you find the right artists to work with?
Lisa: Our artists come from so many different places. There are a few artists I buy from each time I curate a new collection. Some of them I’ve known for years, and met at trade shows early on, when I was still getting Lily-Lark off the ground.
Last year, I attended a few virtual trade shows, connected with some new people, and added some designs to our upcoming collections by artists I haven’t worked with before. After being introduced to new artists, I’ll often find them online and keep my eye on their current work, looking for that perfect parasol print.
Lola: As creative director, how do you go about envisioning a cohesive collection?
Lisa: Usually, we begin with art that is already designed by a surface textile designer or fine artist. And when I see a piece of art that just hits me over the head as the perfect parasol to have over my head, I follow my instincts. I may send it off to a few designer friends or people whose judgment I respect for confirmation.
Designing the collections was a very different process this year, compared to before the pandemic. In previous years, we’d go to trade shows and look at the art in person. This time, we had to get creative, and ended up finding art from so many different sources. In the end, I’m sure I looked at thousands of pieces of art before signing off on the new collections.
Lola: You’ll soon have three stunning new Lily Lark collections available. Can you tell us more about them?
Lisa: To begin with, I wanted to make sure the three collections all had that fine-art, Lily-Lark bent, but were also distinctive from one another. It was important for us to define who the target audience was for each collection before we could determine whether a print was right for that collection.
Of the three collections, one is abstract fine art. One is more figurative - being flowers or animals and such. One is a collaboration with an amazing woman, Colleen Darnell, known as @Vintage_Egyptologist on Instagram.
Colleen’s an egyptologist who loves vintage style, and she carries parasols frequently. She’s been a great friend to Lily-Lark, and we approached her last year to ask if she wanted to collaborate. Now we have a really beautiful print as our first print together. I invited one of my favorite artists, Stefan Jans with Prints of Orange, to create the print for our collaboration with Colleen. I knew he could take the brief that I gave him and make it spectacular.
Lola: Are there any parts of the design process where you tend to reimagine things?
Lisa: Yes, I always allow myself the option to make things better. If something isn’t working right, I look for ways to improve it. It’s not done until it’s right. And if I can’t make it work, then I kill the design and move on to something else.
Sometimes I’ll look at artwork and think ‘ooh, I just want that little section right there on the left’. So I approach the artist and ask if they can redesign it to match what I want.
I bought a print last year, and during the middle of calibrating the color during printing, I realized that it was too big. There was too much artwork to make what I wanted to be the canopy. I felt that there was a really gorgeous section in the middle of the art that was like the icing on a cupcake. But there was too much cupcake around it. Once the design became bolts of fabric, circles would have been cut out of it with no icing on them.
So just last week, after owning the art for the better part of a year, I went back to the artist and had to ask him to cut off half of the design. With a piece of art that is so abstract, every parasol will be unique in its design. But I have to guarantee that each parasol has some icing on it, and that it has a certain aesthetic.
Lola: What’s something you’ve learned since founding Lily-Lark that’s turned out to be solid life advice?
Lisa: You have to learn to pivot!
Right now, I have one print that I tried to produce in our satin material, but the printer can’t make the blue saturated enough on satin. We eventually moved away from satin, and tried printing it on the peach skin fabric we normally use. It looked better, but not good enough. So I asked my other printer to print it, and voila! It looks like he’s figured it out. Sometimes, challenges like that will lead to something even better than you imagined.
Want first dibs on all the newest Lily-Lark designs seen at the top of the page? Back our Kickstarter campaign to support the launch of our new diffusion line, Lark by Lily-Lark, and 19 new prints, and pre-order the new parasols at a discount. We hope to launch Monday, April 4, but we’ll let you know exactly when it launches!