Going oriental this week as far as textiles go, at any rate. GuanAnAn London was established in London at the end of 2018 by founder Ju Guan, and they have a fabulous range of cushions, wallpapers, lampshades and fashion accessories in unique prints based on Ju’s drawings of characters from ancient oriental mythologies. Ju has a passion for sharing stories through her drawings as I found out when I interviewed her. Hi Ju!
Hi! My name is Ju Guan, I come from China. I lived and studied in Glasgow from 2012 to 2018, then I moved to London and set up my brand here. I graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, and my major was Painting & Printmaking.
What inspired you to set up “GuanAnAn London”?
While I studied at GSA, I found out a fact that I always have had a passion for sharing stories through my drawings and connecting with people on an emotional level through my artworks. So, I started this brand with a strong belief in the power of storytelling. When people buy a product, they do not just get a daily-use item, they will gain joy from the stories. This is the thing I always wanted to do. To bring something interesting into people’s daily life.
Your brand creates unique prints for luxury home decor and fashion accessories based upon inspirations from ancient oriental mythologies. What do you like most about drawing the oriental mythologies?
Let me take the first collection “The Fish” as an example. It’s based on classic Chinese mythology called the Classic of the Mountains and Seas……. Actually, I don’t know if I should call it mythology because the characters in the literature are described as real existed creatures over 4500 years ago, rather than characters of a story. It’s more like a dictionary of ancient Chinese mythological creatures.
“There is a fish called He Luo, it lives in a river in the North. It has one head and ten bodies, and it yells like a dog. People love it not only because it is one of the best-tasting fish, but also it can cure illnesses.”
I read the words and imagined what if they existed in a world just like horses and snakes around us today. Then I designed every single character by hand drawing on paper with watercolour and ink. When the characters had been completed, I used a drawing tablet to create the final illustration on the computer.
This is a very enjoyable designing process for me.
I personally love your He Luo cushions – in all the colourways! What items are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season?
Yeah, people are asking about He Luo cushions all the time. The octopus body is very eye-catching. And there are a lot of people like the twilly scarves for the fine details and rich colours.
Out of all your collections, do you have any favourites?
I currently just finished the design of my second collection “The Blue Bird”. It’s a much bigger project than “The Fish”. I spent quite a lot of time on the feathers and I will say it worth of time. I love both the outcome of the design and the story.
The Blue Bird is much more popular in the oriental culture. The Chinese saying is: “There are three bluebirds. They have the most beautiful feathers, redhead, and black eyes. They are servants of the most powerful goddess. Two of them accompany the goddess all the time, and the third one is the messenger who represents the goddess.” You will see magpies（symbolises joy and good luck) are flying around the bluebird. So, that means the bluebird is bringing good news from the goddess.
You offer a bespoke service & are able to print your designs on any kind of fabric developing it into soft furnishings. What has been your favourite bespoke request so far?
I reupholstered two vintage chairs for my family. The reason why they are my favourite pieces is because of a special bespoke man-made suede. That fabric is the softest fabric I have ever seen, and it’s heavy. I have a velvet Calathea at home, the fabric feels to touch just like the plant. That gives me an idea that I can make the whole interior a match, not only the patterns and colours but also the touch.
You currently offer a wide range of products including silk scarves, silk kimonos, silk nightgowns, cushions, wash bags, lampshades, wallpapers. Have you got any new products in the pipeline?
I am planning to develop my designs into ceramics. I made a sculpture of He Luo with clay and talked to some ceramic professionals trying to build up a reliable production relationship. It will cost a lot to develop a new product, and I insist on high-end production that makes it harder for the plan to become a reality.
As you are based in England, are your products available to purchase overseas?
Yeah, of course. We can ship to overseas customers and we will be very happy to know there are more people in other countries that like our brand.
When choosing items to add to your collection, do you take into account your own tastes, your customer base, current fashion trends, requests, traditional charm, colour or bits of all those?
As an independent brand, I would say the designs are very much based on a personal taste. I believe that if I can create interesting things and pass some joy through them to the customers, they will buy it. And I think the most important thing is not following the current fashion trends, it’s to lead a new trend. But, of course, customers’ requirement is important for me, that’s the reason I welcome bespoke orders.
Have you always wanted to pursue a career in art/textiles?
When I was a kid, every time people asked me what do I want to be when I grow up, I say artist. The answer never changed. I started drawing before I can remember, and I was training painting skills for many years, since 7 years old. Then I learnt how to be more creative and finished my study at GSA. Developing a career in the art area is always my dream.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
Casual. Comfortable is the most important thing, followed by style.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)
I love the concept stores supporting independent designers like me. I can always find cool things in Notting Hill.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Haha, a lot.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/Facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about GuanAnAn London
BTW, I just released discount codes on my Website for Mother’s Day gift. 20% off on everything and an extra 20% for the silk scarves.
Thank you Ju for explaining the background to the weird and wonderful mythological creatures … I wonder if they really did exist or whether somebody had a vivid imagination?!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Ju Guan