SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL: MEET FELIX BY LALA CURIO FOR THE VALE, OUR FIRST FORAY INTO SURREALISM
Some collaborations are written in the stars. Others, as it would happen, are written on a cotton candy-hued skyline that is punctuated by fish-filled bubbles, pyramid peaks, a giant grapefruit slice, and an airborne llama named Felix.
In the spring of last year, Melinda Marquardt, the designer behind The Vale London, had just launched her Sloane collection of luxe wallcoverings, textiles, and pillows, and was busy bringing it to market. She wasn’t actively looking to forge a creative partnership per se, but an idea was forming at the back of her mind. Inspired by the work of collage artists Mohanad Shuraideh and Joe Webb, Marquardt was considering how she could incorporate a fresh take on Surrealism into a future project.
A student of the 20th-century cultural movement and its art and literature, including the works of André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst, Marquardt was envisioning a landscape wallcovering of epic proportions. That said, it took a chance encounter with artist Laura Cheung Wolf at a Rue IV event in Washington, D.C., to set the wheels in motion. “Laura is the amazing artist behind Lala Curio, a Hong Kong-based home decor brand that revives ancient artisanship for modern-yet-timeless interiors,“ says Marquardt. “She introduced herself to me and showed me her portfolio. I was blown away by the intricacies of her work, in particular her unique embroidery techniques and hand-painted wallpaper. As soon as I saw her work, I knew that I had found the right designer for my surrealist concept.”
What ensued over the next three months was a meeting of the minds, and a deep dive into what’s possible with custom wallcoverings. “The creative process was a proper 50-50 collaboration in terms of back-and-forth ideation, rounds of design tweaks, and colour-tuning,” says Marquardt. Cheung Wolf is quick to second that emotion: “From our very first interaction, it was an efficient, harmonious collaboration with absolute synergy and mutual respect. Melinda shared her mood board of reference images that she had been collecting, which set a spot-on framework for the creative direction. I was really excited about her concept for light and happy Surrealism. Instead of being dark and serious, Melinda had the brilliant idea to flip the script.”
From there, Cheung Wolf and Lala Curio’s all-female team of chinoiserie artisans helmed the wallcovering’s fabrication while Marquardt served as creative director, making adjustments to the scale and composition until it was perfect. “Each panel features a 100-percent Thai silk ground and a paper backing,” shares Marquardt. “The pink silk is hand-painted before being hand-embroidered and beaded for dimension and depth. Not only is this The Vale’s first foray into Surrealism, it’s our first wallcovering that is exclusively made-to-order because of how labour-intensive the craftsmanship is.”
Lala Curio’s commitment to upholding the art of ancient Chinese craftsmanship is a huge reason why Marquardt wanted to work with Cheung Wolf. “Lala Curio is composed of three-generations of Chinese artisans with a lineage in the imperial crafts,” says Cheung Wolf. “I feel that it’s my mission to preserve and reinvent lost crafts, making them relevant for today's interiors. I love the romantic history of 17th-century chinoiseries, and embracing China’s highest crafts with a Western eye. Being schooled in England, I very much resonate with that aesthetic as well, and feel passionate about devoting my time toward creating a new chapter in the history of chinoiserie for the 21st century.”
Take a gander at the pair’s finished product and it’s impossible not to grin from ear to ear. Koi fish encapsulated in bubbles, children in school uniforms building sand pyramids, a monkey perched atop a slice of grapefruit blowing bubbles from a conch shell, Felix floating away on a bundle of balloons… The illogically uplifting seascape sparks immense joy. “It’s fun and whimsical, but in terms of the craftsmanship, it’s the equivalent of high-fashion couture,” says Marquardt. “From glass beadwork for each and every flamingo feather to hand-embroidered seashells and gradations of orange-and-gold paillettes for the goldfish, to call it bespoke is an understatement.”
When Marquardt says bespoke, she truly means bespoke. “Each and every wallcovering is commissioned to a specific set of specifications,” she informs. “The Vale will embellish each mural as much or as little as the client desires, including removing features upon request. For example, if a customer isn’t a fan of monkeys for whatever reason, we can remove the monkey, and so on. The interior designer will send us the room elevations and specifications, and we will send back a custom drawing for approval before each wallcovering is created.”
Formally dubbed Felix by Lala Curio for The Vale (after that fluffy, flying llama, of course), Marquardt rolled out the surreally wonderful wallcovering with her new Hyde collection, and introduced it at Paris Déco-Off in January. “The response has been phenomenal,” adds Marquardt. “We already have multiple designer requests from the first showing at Déco-Off, and showroom sampling will be available in June. We anticipate whole-home applications. Felix is the perfect conversation piece for a dining room, for example, or for a statement-making entryway in a tropical location like Florida. While a child’s bedroom or playroom is an obvious choice, escapism is magnetic and delightful for all ages!”