You can barely move for a striking, playful Camille Walala print in London these days, and that’s no bad thing. Her distinctive blend of Memphis-like mark-making and tribal-inspired patterning are a splash of joyfulness amid the grey. They grace walls, bar, and cafe interiors, set designs, shoes, identity projects, and pretty much anything else that you can pop some geometric shapes and a poppy palette on. But Walala came to design later in life than most, having moved to London at 23 from a small village in France. She spent a while partying, working in various French delis and cafes, and at one point, harboring a dream of working at Pret a Manger. She didn’t get the job. A loss to the sandwich world, but a win for the design one: she went on to study textile design and, thanks to a superb nightclub commission, the rest is history.
“I finished my textile design B.A. in around 2008/2009, and after that I didn’t know what to do, so I was working in a cafe selling cheese on Broadway Market [in east London]. I wanted to be creative, but for myself; and I was selling cushions with printed textiles on Broadway Market too, but I found it quite boring. I wasn’t very excited. I knew I didn’t want to work for another designer, and I’d always thought I wasn’t good enough. I could do stripes and dots and triangles, but as a textile designer you have to apply your work to trends, so I was a bit lost.
“This was the first thing I did professionally, it was around 2012 and a friend of friend was running the nightclub XOYO in Shoreditch. She’d seen my work and said ‘I would love you to decorate my nightclub.’ I thought, ‘that’s amazing!’ I’d never done anything like this, I’d only done cushions and sold them on the market, so I was really excited but also really scared. They told me the budget and said either I could spend it all on the making, or play it safe. It was such an amazing opportunity to do whatever I wanted so I spent all the money, and it’s an amazing portfolio piece to have.
“The club was in a warehouse space, and they said at the time they wanted it to be open in the daytime and have exhibitions on the walls. And in the night, a bar—something more intense. There was a lot of back and forth for the three months I worked on the project. I’d have ideas and photocopy patterns in various sizes and bring them in. Showing it to the client was amazing; he gave me a lot of confidence and was very trusting in my taste. Having showed him some of my patterns, he asked me to design furniture or some simple blocks or bar stools. They had a sofa that was a bit crap, so we reused it and did black and white stripes on it. A lot of it was about making sure that all the different styles of pattern I wanted to use worked well together, so I limited the palette to four colors and black and white.
“I hadn’t worked on anything like this before, so a lot of it was done instinctually, with a lot of back and forth and asking for reassurance. I didn’t even know how to use Illustrator, so a friend helped me reproduce my designs for different scales.
“A lot of my inspiration for the designs was in tribal and primary colors, I’ve always looked to Memphis Design and African patterns, so I mixed them all together to create my own patterns. Having worked on the XOYO project, I felt I was finally going in the right direction: I don’t just want to be selling cushions on Broadway Market. I finished uni when I was 32, so it was nice to feel like I’d got to a place where I was excited about work and finding what I wanted to do.
“It was really nice to work on a bigger scale project and create a space that could make people vibrate a bit. When the club launched, it was hysterical: it was amazing to see all the people ecstatic in that space. I thought, maybe I can make people feel nice, or create excitement with my work.”