Allegra Hicks is the designer and face behind the eponymous international luxury lifestyle brand that is recognised around the world for its beautiful textiles and prints.
Were you a designer before even knowing it?
I think that all of us creative people have something inside that we need to say, and in the end what is important is to find out how you will express it. Then you have to find your own creative vocabulary. As a child and a teenager I did not know I was a designer, but I had a precise sense of aesthetic likes and dislikes, and I was always in search of harmony. I always loved colours.
Did growing up in Turin have a big influence on you?
I grew up there until I was 18. I always liked Turin, always elegant and self-contained, beautiful architecturally with a fantastic sense of proportions.
Is it true that your parents had nothing old in their house?
Yes, I grew up in a modern environment, with Gio Ponti and Albini. We lived with new designs, understanding that it meant going forward freely. My house was very different from a lot of my friends. We had glass everywhere.
What was the effect on your style of the many different influences that came from studying in Milan, New York, Belgium and London?
One of my teachers said, “You have to find your own style,” and my style is eclectic, organic, and influenced by nature. Sometimes in an indirect way, but nature never makes mistakes.
Do you have a guiding thread that we can recognise in your work?
Yes. If I go from designing a table, to a fabric, to a rug… everyone thinks that my signature vocabulary follows through.
What is the Allegra style?
Eclectic and hippy. I am not at all scared of not being fashionable. Maybe because I was bought up in a modern house, since I was a teenager I have liked vintage. I like the Forties, love the Seventies and I don’t have a style or a colour that I hate. As a designer it is important to create a style, and as a person you have to find what is good for you and just for you.
What do you design primarily?
Textiles: I draw them all, and I produce them in different factories in different parts of the world. In Italy they do very good woven fabric; in Belgium they do fabulous cut velvet; in India they do amazing embroidery in silk; in England I do printing.
And what about furniture?
I have very good craftsmen in Naples who have just started a new venture. I very much enjoy playing with the three dimensional. The most exciting thing is to have an idea and make it become real. From a drawing or a watercolour it becomes a fabric or an object.
I love flying carpets! There is something very pictorial about a carpet. When I started to do rugs I thought they were the closest thing to a painting.
Do you make them in wool?
Mostly in wool. Some are in silk, and some a mixture. I have two places making them, one in Nepal and also a place in Kashmir, and they are all hand made.
What else do you do?
I am more of a textile and product designer, but of course sometimes I design interiors.
I just finished a house in London. I am doing a shop in the Hotel Sirenuse in Positano, a house in New York, one in Milan. But mostly I collaborate with designers and architects.
Who do you work with?
Now I am working with an architect in Naples who really loves my work. I have worked with so many that I don’t want to mention any of them in case I forget one.
Has your work changed over the years?
What is interesting is that you have to prove yourself constantly. There is a certain level of insecurity whenever you start, but when you know your “metier” you know your starting point.
How many collections do you make?
One fabric collection every year, a rug collection every two years, and private commissions constantly arrive. Just last week I had four commissions for rugs.
Are people on the lookout for your vintage work?
Yes, in clothes, as nowadays I only do them when I feel like it, and it is not my business. Sometimes I design clothes for myself. They normally start from one of my prints and then become a dress.
What is important for you in order to feel elegant?
First of all, you wear a dress and the dress does not wear you. I like to be very much at ease with what I am wearing. Never mini-skirts, never anything that is too tight, even metaphorically. The dress is a continuation of how you feel and what you are. If you are not in a secure mood you feel well when accompanied by what you wear.
And in a house, do you have some musts and some idiosyncrasies?
For me the most important thing in a house is good light. I don’t like a central chandelier in a dining room or a living room, unless it has candles. In that case I adore it. The wonderful thing about life is that everything is fluid and you can change, the rules can be broken all the time. Sometimes it is great to have a mise-en-scène. I adore amaryllis and cut roses, but not the roses that you buy in a shop which make me sad. Roses should be garden roses.
You said that you are influenced by nature?
The sea has influenced me in different ways, to think and to be inspired and to let myself go. I think that the elements allow you to be free, to have immense horizons, and the sea has strength and I feel loved by the sea.
Are there any colours you don’t like?
I don’t like brown alone, but if any tone of blue is next to it I adore it. For years I did not like primary colours. I didn’t like red and only used it as lipstick, but now I love it. Living in a house with primary colours is more difficult.
Where do you live now?
London is my adoptive city and I have lived here most of my life. What was interesting when I did my house was the white light of London which induces you to use warmer shades of colours. In my new house in Naples I could use much stronger colours, because the light there is very strong and warm and colours live much better. For instance I made peacock blue rooms which work very well. Colours are never abstracted from where they are. Every atmosphere has an aura.
How do you work?
If I have an idea in my bed late at night, I put myself to work. When I am on holiday or travelling I draw, I do little drawings as if I was taking notes. When I come back I look at them and make a choice either to throw them away or to keep them.
Did you never want to be a painter?
I was scared of being judged as a painter. If someone does not like an object it is different from not liking a painting.
Do aesthetics guide your life?
You asked me before if my work has changed. I think aesthetics are very important, but when they merge with your ethics it is just perfect. When I was young I only thought of aesthetics, and aesthetics are necessary. You cannot lead a life without beauty, but it is not sufficient.
So over these years living in Turin, in London and now also in Naples, what did you learn?
I think that what I learned is that there is a great strength in fragility, and when you are creative it stays with you for ever. You can sometimes not be inspired, but this is what you are – strong because you are fragile. I am a designer.
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London, December 2015.