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Following the White Rabbit. A waistcoat tale.

Alice Tarot patchwork waistcoat


Many years ago, or perhaps I should say, “Once upon a time”, I was sitting in a plane bound for San Francisco for a job interview with one of the biggest and most successful design companies in the world, invited there by the CEO, who I liked and respected. But I shouldn’t have been on that flight, and I knew it. At the time I’d just started my own design agency in London, so interviewing for a job was hardly appropriate. I’d found myself terrified by the insecurity, though, and had endless sleepless nights wondering how I’d pay my over-sized mortgage.

In many ways the possible job offer seemed like the answer to a “get me out of this situation” prayer, and so I jumped at it – and jumped on to the plane. It felt like cowardice in a way. I knew, if I was honest with myself, that I was not cut out to work in an organisation and that what I really wanted, instead, was to make my own design business into a success. But in those days I had little confidence in my ability to do that.

I hate long-haul flights and get bored out of my mind, so, these being the heady days when you could carry needle and scissors on to a flight, I took some prepared silk patchwork pieces with me, and sat sewing a tiny patchwork – tiny because I knew I’d be cramped as hell in economy class. I had no idea what I’d ever do with the piece I made, but I had some reddish squares, some greenish ones, some black and white chequer-boards, and some showing a white rabbit, and it all looked quite sweet.

Well, I didn’t get the job, and found I wasn’t sure I’d ever wanted to. It actually felt like a relief to get back to the thrills, and the risks, of my own business. The entire experience made me settle down and face the fact that the rest of my working life I’d be doing entrepreneurial stuff – sleepless nights and all. Because that’s what fundamentally makes me happy. Insecure, scary at times, but also hugely fulfilling – and fun. So I focused, and got on with learning how to build and run a studio. I didn’t look for any more job offers.

Okay, at times it still felt like I jumped down a rabbit hole, away from the safe(ish) but dull “big company” world and into something far less secure. And my business in London unfortunately never did became what I wanted – there was too much corporate work, not enough silliness and experimentation. I once fell asleep in one of the endless client meetings. But it taught me how to run a design studio, a skill I was able to put into practice again in 2001 when a mutual friend in Prague produced from behind a curtain (no really!) a certain Alex Ukolov, and we founded a design company together to make exactly what we wanted to make and nothing but what we wanted to make – come what may. These days, Baba Studio feels exactly like the type of crazy wonderland creative studio that I wanted, but couldn’t achieve in London. I love it.

A couple of years ago, when we began working on a costume for The White Rabbit, for our Alice Tarot, and Alex said, “He needs a decent waistcoat.” I remembered, that somehow, for some reason, I’d brought that piece of silk patchwork with me when I took that other mad leap – the one from London to Prague (and that’s a separate story). There was JUST enough for the waistcoat front. Almost as if it was made for it.

Things often do work out if you just have the courage to jump down that rabbit hole.

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  • great story and well told

  • What a lovely story! Thanks for sharing that little tid-bit – I am always fascinated by the origins of creative genius in any form. I am happy you followed your heart – and despite the financial ups and downs for someone who is self employed – doing what you love is what a truly blessed life is all about. Thanks for sharing your textile gifts, philosophical ideas, and your aesthetic ideals. I really appreciate all you and Alex do, you really are quite dynamic – kindred spirits 🙂