Mandy Fleming’s Belle & Vidére is a fledgling interiors company (developed by creative agency Rosie Lee), with a focus on a craft oft-overlooked in these modern times; the humble lampshade. With more than a healthy dose of quintessential Britishness, Fleming is giving the chintz icon a new lease of life – not least in her T-Light collection, where the designer gives purpose to the dusty old t-shirts that you simply can’t bring yourself to throw away. Sentimental, nostalgic, or plain old hoarder; that flea-bitten Metallica 1992 tour tee will have never looked so good.
Inspired by punk’s first lady, Ms Westwood, Fleming hopes to introduce a little rebelliousness to the British lighting staple, revelling in eccentricity, and appropriating wry humour in her work to boot – in short; Belle & Vidére is a brand on a mission to turn vintage interiors on their head, through surprising handcrafted commissions and small-run collections.
As you know, we adore anyone who looks down on norm and convention with stony-hearted pity; so caught up with Mandy for a chat about lampshades, inspirations, and starting out in business…
Mandy, can you tell us a little about Belle & Vidére?
B&V make lampshades. High-end, handcrafted luxury lampshades. Using traditional shade making techniques, B&V look to turn the most unexpected items into contemporary illuminates. There is a sense of humour in some of the collections, but quality is something we take very seriously. Every piece is executed to the same high level of craftsmanship.
When did you first realise that the use of old fabrics, in particular old t-shirts, would make for nice lighting?
I’ll try and keep this short: The very first lampshade I made was created from a Nagoya Grampus Eight (a Japanese football team) t-shirt, I’d had it for years. It was the very first t-shirt my husband gave me and we have been together a long time! It was falling apart at the seams and no longer wearable, but I absolutely love the graphics and it reminds me so much of a particular time in my life – it felt wrong just putting it away in a drawer. I tried to make a cushion cover out of it but it looked terrible so I retired it to the drawer… again. A short time later I treated myself to a standard lamp, it took me ages to find a plain white cotton shade but eventually I did. I was sat admiring my new purchase turning the light on and off and I was amazed at how beautiful the fabric looked wrapped so perfectly around the frame.
Then I had that light bulb moment (sorry). Would my t-shirt work as a shade?
My first attempt was pitiful, so I decided to find a course in traditional lampshade making – and with my new found skills I made my first T-Light! My husband loved it (he’s hard to please) so I thought, OK, maybe this was beginners luck, let’s try another one. I made up another using a different t-shirt and showed a few friends; the response was really encouraging and commissions came in pretty much straight away. At the very beginning of B&V, I set up a workroom in the basement of my husband’s studio, one of the designers there had brought a rice sack back from a recent holiday, it was pink with a large black scorpion printed on it, she wondered if it could be turned into a light. It took me so long to work out how I could achieve this but did eventually, and the sack makes for rather a striking floor light in her apartment.
I love giving something a new life, and thrive upon problem solving. T-shirts evoke a specific time, movement, culture and a way so many of us choose to communicate a little of who we are that to be able to extend that message or memory in a T-Light for me is something special.
What were you doing before?
I was a freelance make up artist before I made lampshades. I loved my time as a make up artist, I travelled all over the world and worked with some incredible people; many of whom are now my closest friends and have been very supportive with my change of career path.
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
It took me ages to work out the answer for this question as I’m finding running your own business is really hard… Anyway, after an hour of my husband giving me an ear bashing on the importance of social media, and then going through stats for the website, I next had to rush off for a meeting with my accountant. It was then that I realised my favourite part is the learning.
Making shades is a big part of the business, but there are so many other factors involved, factors I really hadn’t taken into account when I decided to make Belle & Vidére my business. I’m learning so many different skills each and every day, and I absolutely love it.
If you had the opportunity to collaborate with one creative, who would that be; and why?
Dame Vivienne Westwood! Love, love, love her work; she injects a real sense of humour into her collections and has a subtle cheekiness about her work. I love the way she will just twist a seam or extend a lapel, or simply make a hem slightly different lengths to really make the garment her own.
I admire the way she deviates from the norm, and will push the boundaries of tailoring – and in doing so produces the most outstanding pieces of work. I’m lucky enough to own a couple of Vivienne Westwood items and the quality of work is impressive. The accuracy of the stitching and the attention to detail is a visual delight. I’d be really interested to see what tweaks she would give to a Belle & Vidére shade…
What makes you smile?
Seeing other people smile.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
When I started my training as a make up artist 17 years ago, one of the tutors, whose name was Pearl, told us during a tutorial on pin curls: “ladies you aim for perfection, you will never achieve it but you must always aim for it”. To this day I still hear her voice as I’m stitching away, and perfection is always something I aim for. I am confident and happy to hand over any piece of my work as I know I have given it my absolute best.
What’s next for Belle & Vidére?
I have a new collection of T-Lights I am working on right now and I’m looking to release these in the next few weeks. I am currently working on a several commissions for them. B&V is about to launch a new collection for the Boutique range. The Boutique collection sees the use of Belle & Vidéres’ signature long fringe, and we have played around with the fringing by again using a very traditional technique on a contemporary trim – creating another dimension to the Mono shades.
I feel very fortunate, and am really excited to see such a busy start to the new year!