With over fifteen years of experience as a handbag designer for luxury fashion houses, such as Aspinals, Whistles and Anya Hindmarch, Isla Simpson has honed her style down to a fine art. Classically British and feminine with references to old country houses from the ’80s, her work is intricate and pretty with just the right amount of chintz. Launching her own studio in 2017, Isla creates beautiful bespoke stationary, home accessories and original artworks for a variety of clients, including Bloom and Wild and Matilda Goad.
We visited Isla on a summer afternoon where she welcomed us with a pot of tea and a delicious home-baked Victoria sponge cake. We chatted about her love for all things Laura Ashley, cooed over her British shorthair cat Wooster and discussed the underrated activity of daydreaming.
How did you come to be a Designer and Illustrator?
After fifteen years of handbag design, working in-house at various brands, I leapt to freelance. Having a chance to explore my own style, I started posting sketches on Instagram and accepting commissions. It was an organic shift.
What’s your biggest career achievement to date?
I’ve never been one to reflect on that, time is so short, there’s so much I want to do!
You studied textiles at Central St Martins – did you always want to go into accessories?
I knew I wanted to be a womenswear designer from an early age and was introduced to accessories design by tutors at Central St Martins. Having a very niche career has always really suited me, and leather is a beautiful material to design with. I cut my teeth just at the start of the ‘it bag‘ era, the pace was lightening fast and equipped me with a great skillset.
What is the biggest inspiration for your work?
I have what I call ‘Mum & Dad’ style – an inherited love of Laura Ashley, brown furniture, the blousy, curtained, wallpapered country houses of the ’80s and ’90s. There’s a longing and nostalgic romance to all that I design. I also hugely admire decoupage artist, Mary Delany and Queen of tea towels, Pat Albeck, women who designed well into their dotage! Longevity is so important to me.
Do you have a particular place in the world where you feel most at home?
The West Country, I went to school in Bath, so I’m dying to move back West. The people, the architecture, there’s something in the water.
Any favourite colour combinations?
I am unashamedly feminine, there’s always a heavy dose of peach taffeta and mustard in there somewhere.
Are there any other artists that you particularly admire?
So many! Fanny Shorter designs beautiful fabrics and we became great pals through instagram. Ellie Mac for her embroidery wizardry – we recently did a collaboration together and she is so impressive. Ben Pentreath creates the houses I want to live in, he’s the Edwin Lutyens of our time. The Folly Interiors is where I like to shop and William Elc makes me want to move to rural Kent.
What items on your desk could you not live without?
My iPad pro for sketching and my Wedgwood vases for organising my paintbrushes. It’s an ‘old-meets-new’ desk accoutrement situation, or should we say a creative mess?
When you’re not working, what do you like to get up to?
Either staying in a Landmark Trust house or dragging my parents round a Natty T (National Trust) in the country. I’m learning it’s just as important to get away from the desk and city, allowing yourself the space to be inspired; that’s when the best ideas arrive. I’m a huge day-dreamer, a much underrated activity.
Are you reading anything right now?
The Mapp & Lucia novels by E.F.Benson – Upper Middle class snobbery and rivalry set in the dreamy village of Rye in the 1920s and ’30s. In my ‘Pollyanna-sh’ way I want something jolly before bed where nothing bad happens.
What are your sustainability values?
It broke my heart listening to a recent talk given by my friend Kiko Mathews at L’Occitane on learning only 9% of plastic is recycled. I’m researching into using more recycled papers and I don’t box my stationery lines, to avoid shipping unnecessarily in from China. I choose brilliant English printers and paper suppliers, people I enjoy working with and keep production local.
What is your favourite Evermore scent?
Light! I love the citrus notes – I’ve always been a big fan of the fresh scent of citrus. Now that summer is in full swing, it’s a beautiful scent to burn during the day whilst I’m working on my illustration and design projects.