There’s a whimsical island feel to textile designer Virginia Johnson’s work. This time of year, it’s easy to imagine yourself wrapped in one of her light-weight wool shawls as you board a plane for the Caribbean. When she launched her business in 2001, word of Virgina’s talent spread quickly.TEXTILE DESIGNER/ILLUSTRATOR: Virginia Johnson
Step into her charming store on Ossington Avenue in Toronto and you may be surprised to learn it’s only one small part of her thriving business. Virginia designs and manufactures her own fabrics, clothing and home accessories. Her work is sold in over 100 stores worldwide including Barney’s, Holt Renfrew, Liberty’s and Selfridge’s.
The designer majored in art history at Queen’s University before moving to New York City to study fashion design at the Parson’s School of Design. She became an accessories designer for Helmut Lang and illustrated a series of books and stationery for Kate Spade.
Soon after returning to Toronto, she tapped into her network of contacts in New York and launched her business. Virginia paints all of her prints using watercolours. Her exuberant use of colour and carefree loose style is approachable and playful. It reminds us of our need to slow down and be joyful.
Her designs are a reflection of her extensive travels and love of nature – particularly animals. She often looks to the past for inspiration – whether it be a bird illustration from the 1700’s or a piece of Inuit art from the 1960’s. She uses those references and makes them modern. Virginia’s paintings are silk screened onto fabric in India and Toronto.
Wool chain stitch pillows – love the rich colours.
Building a collection is a fluid process. Virginia juggles the design, production and marketing of her work and usually comes up with 4 to 7 new prints each season, keeping the popular classics along the way. Most prints come in a number of bold juicy colours.
Her clothing acts as a canvas for her textiles. The shapes – caftans, shifts, ballerina dresses and skirts are timeless — letting her bold patterns take centre stage. Where possible, she strives to incorporate environmentally friendly practices by using organic cotton and finding creative uses for off-cuts.
One of her most popular designs features a camel print. Virginia joined forces with World Literary Canada, a non-profit organization that promotes international development and social justice. For a year, all proceeds from the sales of her Camel scarves raised money to facilitate the education of women and children in Varanasi India.
The camel scarf and now a charming rug.
As her business has grown, Virginia has expanded her home collection. This block print bedding is particularly beautiful. If you have a baby in your life, check out the quilts and bedding – they’re fresh and happy without being too sweet.
Aside from the shawls, my favourite part of the designer’s collection are the bags. The colours, the chevron pattern — perfection.
Even your iphone can stay warm with these wool sleeves.
On her blog, Virginia just announced her first collaboration with Anthropologie. This is one of the drapery designs you can choose from.