An Interview with Nicholas William Sebastian Ozanne
Leafing through an English magazine, I came across an article about a gentleman in the Cotswolds who was pursuing quite an old-fashioned career—weaving. I was fascinated. And, indeed, the photos of his work both in the article and on his website were arrestingly beautiful. Yes, of course, I would order a scarf and yes, he’d be a perfect candidate for interviewing on this website. I emailed a request, he responded positively, and what follows are my questions and his answers.
Why weaving? What in your background, education, and personality led you to pursue this career?
“I did not initially set out to be a weaver.
“In fact as late as my late teens, I was all set on a path that was to lead me to study archaeology. Before I accepted my place however, I was also studying art. On a chance visit to my parents’ house, my elder brother, who was then in the Royal Air Force and stationed in Scotland, looked over my shoulder as I was finishing a painting and commented that it was really good and that I should do that for a career. Although it sounds strange to say it, at that precise moment I clearly heard a bell ring inside my head and, just as abruptly, the path I was following in life shifted.
“I applied to art college, turned down the place on the archaeology course at university in London, and a few years later found myself on the textiles degree course at university in Winchester in the south of England.
“Although I specialized in weave and graduated in 1999, the weaving had not yet become second nature. After graduation I drifted away from working with a loom and moved to London and a job in sales and marketing.
“It was not until after my father’s death in 2003 that I started thinking about the path I had chosen and decided it was not enough—it was really not fulfilling the creative side of my nature. I returned to weaving (fundamentally helped by my mother buying me a small loom for my thirtieth birthday). In 2009 I founded my studio label Leto & Ariadne in London, the name coming from two characters in Greek mythology. I then moved to the Cotswolds the following year to set up my current studio.”
You seem to prefer working in silk. Any specific reasons for this?
“I didn’t set out to work in silk, but as time went on it just became more and more apparent that this was going to be my fiber of choice. Silk keeps you warm in winter and yet it breathes well in summer. I think that it responds to the needs of your body. It can also be beautiful to work with on the loom and the finished product is something that feels wonderful against the skin and that, to me, is very important.”
To my eye, the most impressive thing about your work is your extraordinary sense of color. This may well be inherent, but in any case how did you go about developing it?
“The color sense I use in my work is something that has developed over time but in a way that was unexpected.
“I am very far from being a New Age hippie, and I don’t profess to be in tune with such things any more than the next man, but with colors there is a subtle difference that is always hard to explain. The easiest approach would be to ask someone to imagine that each color emits a different sound and when you start putting sounds together you either hear harmonies or discords. It’s the same thing with colors. The pieces that I have woven are woven in what, to me, is harmony.”
Assuming that you prefer the traditional loom as opposed to a mechanical one, what do you regard as the advantages of the one over the other in today’s world?
“In my mind the world has become overmechanized. The industrial revolution has created a world where things are produced in massive quantities. Generally, they are cheap and readily available. In many cases, this has had the effect of changing peoples’ lives for the better on a vast scale.
“The darker side of this, however, is when the things being made can only be described as rubbish. They are sometimes of bad quality and sometimes made utilizing processes and materials that have a starkly detrimental effect on the world. What I am trying to do is make fewer pieces, but of better quality. In fact, I draw a parallel between my work and that of the German product designer Dieter Rams who aims to ‘make less, but better.’ Part of this process is working on the looms I use which are old and had all been used for years before I owned them. In the case of my largest loom, it was actually once owned by my university, and part of my graduate collection was created on it. The energy used to power this kind of loom comes from my body; there is no electricity or any other energy source used in making the textiles. They are hand knotted and washed by hand using the minimum of water. (Incidentally, the water used to rinse the scarves is then used to water the garden and bits of silk left over when the warp is cut from the loom are chopped up and used to mix with lavender for lavender bags. Nothing is wasted. I try to ensure that my business treads lightly on the world.)”
Have you explored other artistic outlets as well?
“In the years between graduation and when I picked up weaving again I tried many creative things—mostly writing and drawing. They are still activities I enjoy, but they are not things that I am able to do everyday. Like many craftsmen, I have to balance my own work with part-time employment elsewhere. So any free time I would normally have in the evening is spent at the studio doing what I love most—weaving.”
When did you set up your business? What inspired you to do so? Do you work alone or do you have a staff? Have you received any awards or other special recognition?
“I set up Leto & Ariadne in 2009 in my tiny basement studio in the West Kensington part of London. In fact, this is why my first loom was rather small. Space was limited so it had to be compact and also light—too heavy a machine would cause vibration through the wooden floors and annoy the neighbors. Quite simply, I started my business and I was very sure that I could sell my work. Looking back that could either be seen as arrogant or eternally optimistic; I like to believe it was the latter.
“I do know though that I did not want to spend my life working for someone else and spending all my efforts and any given talent turning someone else’s dream into a reality when I had dreams of my own. And so now I work from my studio in the surviving part of an old Cotswold mill that has been swallowed up by a rather unattractive industrial estate, but which now very much feels like home. I do not have a staff, although I took on my first intern this summer and that turned out to be a very positive experience.
“And yes, I have received a few awards since I set up. Among them: the Selvedge Award for Textile Excellence from Selvedge magazine, and I was named the Best Newcomer at the British Craft Trade Fair.”
How have your clients discovered your work? On average, how long does it take to fill an order?
“My clients mostly buy my work at design shows that I visit around the country. I really enjoy the interaction I have with people during these three- or four-day exhibitions.
“In terms of filling an order, it depends on the time of the year and what the order is. I try to keep a residual stock of the designs so that I can dispatch within a few days. Bespoke work can take a little longer as the design process needs that discussion between myself and the client and then of course the making time. I always try, even at my busiest times, to fulfill an order within three to four weeks. I do make a point of keeping the customer informed if there will be any possible delay to make sure that will not cause problems for them.”
Your website is impressive (and seems to have been updated lately). Does it generate most of your business?
“My website is a good example of how I started the business on a shoestring. I quickly realized that the only way to get exactly what I wanted was to have a website written for me in code rather than using one of the ‘off the shelf’ options. After getting some quotes for doing this I felt a bit faint and decided the only way was to learn to write the code and do it myself.
“And that’s what happened. I learnt HTML, XHTML, and CSS through online tutorials and designed and created my own website. At the same time, I styled and photographed examples of my work using friends as models and often their houses as locations.”
You’ve named your loom. Please talk a little about that.
“I have, in fact, named all my looms. They are all called Eric. Not explaining why is a personal idiosyncrasy.”
Do you see major expansion of the business in the future?
“I see expansion of my product ranges and actually pulling into being some of the ideas I have in my head because it is getting a bit crowded up there. I have plans to make collections of neckties and pocket squares, printed silk cushions, blankets woven with beautiful lambswools, heavy woolen fabrics for women’s coats. There are also several collaborations I am working on. The first is with the painter Ange Mullen-Bryan, who is very influenced by Scandinavia and with whom I am exploring the use of different fibers and color palettes with the aim of translating the language of her artworks into cloth. The second is a project with my best friend, the milliner Gemma Sangwine of Sanquinello, where we will be jointly designing collections of hats and hairpieces utilizing specially woven fabric made by me. Compared to other luxury labels though (as that is how I regard my work), I will always be a much smaller operation. In the future I see larger premises and other weavers working alongside me, but nothing on the scale of an industrial factory. That is just not the way I want to develop the business.”
Let’s hear a bit about Guernsey, your Guernsey heritage, and how it might have influenced your career choice.
“My family’s connection with Guernsey is a very strong one as my father’s family emigrated there from France in the 1500s and over time progressed from privateers to respected gentry. My mother’s family—her maiden name is Opie—was Cornish and arrived on Guernsey during the Victorian period as they were stonemasons and architects and followed the building boom but never left. Although my father was in the Air Force, and we traveled around the world with him from posting to posting, we would always spend the long summers in Guernsey at the big, early Victorian house of my mother’s mother. I think this is where my fascination with history, architecture, and art started. It was easy as a child to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of things and to want those things for myself. Everything in that house was old, but to my eyes had life and character. This did not specifically mean that I was destined to become a weaver, but it did mean that I understood quality and the rightness of things.”
What next for Nick?
“At the moment, I am picking up the pieces of a terrible year. I was bedridden and had to learn to walk again through an awful attack of arthritis that was very unexpected and blew all plans out of the water. Most of that is behind me now and I will continue working on the new collections. I am hoping to be able to formalize a regular internship program through my business and was also thinking of starting up short weekend courses for people who want a taste of what it is like to weave. There are also certain stores I want to approach to sell my work in London and other places. Ultimately, I want what I believe every other craftsman wants—recognition and income.”
Good luck, Nick. You clearly deserve it.