By Tina Jepsen
There’s a common thread that connects the trends we see at trade shows, retail floors, and homes across the world. It’s a woman by the name of Patti Carpenter.
Patti, a mainstay at industry favorites like Las Vegas Market, AmericasMart, and Maison & Objet, plays a significant role in shaping the styles that define interior and product design. Whether she’s designing, consulting, or connecting artisans with the mainstream consumer marketplace, Patti uses her extensive expertise to make the industry a more colorful place.
For the past four years, Patti has served as the Global Trend Ambassador for the Americas at Maison & Objet, one of Europe’s most significant and well-attended design expos. Curating the vendors, organizing the vast space, and pinpointing the “next big thing” are just a few of her many responsibilities with this show. Patti also works closely with AmericasMart in Atlanta as their Global Design Trend Specialist.
Through her work with her own company, Carpenter + Co, Patti shares her expertise with private companies looking to stay ahead of the design curve. Her client list is robust and includes Pantone, Crate + Barrel, Yankee Candle, and Bloomingdales.
As if that wasn’t enough, Patti also helps connect artisans from countries around the world such as Guatemala and Bolivia to US-based retailers. “Traditional craft + natural materials + fresh design equals a unique collection of beautiful objects with heart,” she notes.
Where does Patti get her knowledge about what’s new and what’s next? It’s a question the entire House Tipster team was eager to find out.
Here’s what we learned through our special interview with our favorite design influencer, Patti Carpenter.
House Tipster: Your education from the Fashion Institute of Technology revolved around fashion and design. Did you always know you would go into the design industry? What were some of your early influences? When you first jumped into the design industry, did you see yourself in a particular role?
Patti: Growing up, I was always an artist; always a creative. I was an Art major from Junior High onward and studied fine art at the Corcoran Museum in Washington DC in High School, where I attended Workshops for Careers in the Arts as an after-school program. That was the predecessor to Duke Ellington School for the Arts, which didn’t exist at the time.
I knew I’d be an artist and hated the term “starving artist.”
I considered costume and set design early on because the art department created all of that for our theater productions. I also studied dance and theater at that time. It was all there for us.
We came to NYC to perform at Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and my best friend’s sister was at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). I caught the fashion bug and never looked back.
I came to NY to major, first in Fashion Design, and then in Fashion Illustration, so I have 2 degrees from FIT. I always envisioned myself like Antonio, Kenneth Paul Block, Glenn Tunstull, Pearlman, and others who illustrated for Women’s Wear Daily at that time. Then photography came into vogue and I turned my focus to Design.
House Tipster: You’ve worked with major companies and brands, including Pantone, Ralph Lauren, and Yankee Candle. Do you have any anecdotes from your time with these companies? How did these experiences influence your current work?
Patti: I worked on 7th Ave. for 27 years as a Designer, Design Director and VP of Fashion Design and Merchandising with designers and companies including Adrienne Vittadini, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren, and The Limited Corporation (which for me was Abercrombie and Fitch and Henri Bendel) and Timberland.
My first design job on 7th Ave., where I learned so much of my foundation in design, draping, pattern making and fitting, was with SCOTT Barrie. This small designer house allowed me to design with SCOTT for Diana Ross, Ashford and Simpson, and many others. I once dyed my own bathtub a wonderful shade of teal creating Nick Asdord’s costume to be a few shades darker than Val’s. It stayed that way for weeks!
He was amazing and a contemporary of Stephen Burrows and Willie Smith. He was nominated for a COTY award at the time. That’s the predecessor of the CFDA Awards today. With SCOTT, I designed clothing, shoes, hats, gloves, bags... every part of a collection. It was a great first job!
I enjoyed the fashion industry a great deal and learned so much about tailoring, manufacturing, merchandising and sales and production. I traveled the world, which lit that fire for travel in me, and shopped markets, developed fabrics, set up factories, learned about retail worldwide, and managed businesses. It gave me the background I needed when I began my own company.
During that time was when my love of color and my abilities to spot trends were honed. I needed those skills to create salable collections every season. Working with sales and merchandising gave me the skill set to speak about the intangibles in Design and Development to engage their understanding and support each season.
That is the skill I use today in my Color + Trend work for Maison & Objet, Pantone and other clients.
House Tipster: We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask about Aid for Artisans. It sounds like an amazing, impactful cause. Can you shed some light on what the organization does, and your role in all of it?
Patti: In 2000, I began to see fashion changing in a way that was not as interesting or creative for me, being driven more by numbers than anything else.
I had been working with Aid to Artisans for a few years on my own time as a passion project. Their mission of “from Maker to Market,” supporting the work of indigenous artisans around the globe, resonated with the artist in me. They approached me with an offer to be the Creative Lead on a 3-year project in Mali in Africa. With all my travels I had not yet made it to Africa. It was a textile project and I decided to take that leap of faith and leave Ralph Lauren to assist these artisans in creating a sustainable link to markets with their cotton textiles.
House Tipster: Tell us about your company, Carpenter + Co.
Patti: I left Fashion and have never looked back. 6 years later, I had my own label, carpenter + company, recognizing that more than just new Product Development was necessary, and for 8 years sold it to manufacturers, retailers and museums around the world, including Bloomingdales, ABC Carpet and Home, Neiman Marcus, The Museum of Art & Design, Sferra, Dean & Deluca, and Donna Karan’s Urban Zen.
I also did Private Label for Crate & Barrel and Bloomingdale's as well as ceramics and lacquer for the PHILLIPS Collection. I had a great time and it was quite a ride. We have changed the lives of thousands of artisans around the world for the better and for the long-term, 85-90% of them women, and that makes me extremely proud.
Now 56 countries later and still counting, I’ve created a new niche for myself as a Global Trend Ambassador.
House Tipster: You play a large role in industry trade shows such as Maison & Objet and AmericasMart. Tell us about these shows and your responsibilities. What about working with design trade shows appeals to you?
Patti: Seeing the need for global information in Color + Trends, I created Trendscope. I give presentations internationally, speaking at conferences, trade shows and events. This brought me to Maison. They recognized that the reportages I create have a tremendous marketing and promotional appeal. We can expose so many more people in our interior design industry here in the US (designers, retailers, manufacturers, etc.) to the show and all it has to offer them.
It’s been a great collaboration over the past 4 years. Similarly, I work with Pantone presenting color + trend presentations to various parts of the interior design and development and fragrance industries.
House Tipster: Wow! You have so many different things going on at once. Is there anything else we’re missing?
Patti: I also work with Governments of countries and NGOs around the world. We offer artisan training and development and, 23 years later, I still work with Aid to Artisans on projects, most recently as part of market readiness training for 17 artisans from 6 countries and the US over 5 days at the August NY NOW trade show, here in NY.
It makes my heart sing when the light comes on in their eyes as they discover something new that can help them grow or begin their businesses.
House Tipster: What’s next for you, Patti?
Patti: My days are extremely full and can be quite varied. I do travel a great deal. Some involve covering international trade shows and creating presentations for clients. Others find me sitting in-country in the Bush in South Africa, with Ndebele women, creating and collaborating on new products that will have a broader global appeal and showcase their amazing talents to the world at large. This will give them a sustainable income and keep their long, proud history and culture alive. Others find me presenting to industry trade show organizations at markets or conferences.
I love the mix and the way that one day deeply influences the others. It all keeps my creative juices flowing.
In my spare time, I travel. I’m blessed with a partner of 20 years, that’s also a designer and loves all of this as well. We go to art shows and museums, films and exhibitions. We love to eat, so we try new places. I attend industry events to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s new and next. I love the excitement of it all. I speak at colleges, schools and universities to young creatives, encouraging them to think more broadly about how they’ll use their skills and talents in the world and I sit on the Advisory Board of the High School of Fashion Industries here in NYC.
To say that Patti is a wealth of knowledge would be an understatement. She’s an influencer, a design genius, and a wonderful person to be around; we’re so happy to call her a close friend of House Tipster.
If you’re eager to hear more from Patti Carpenter, visit her and other industry influencers at the “How to Adapt to a Changing Industry” panel discussion at High Point Market on October 15th from 11-12:30 pm.
Thank you, Patti, for your time and valuable perspective.You’re an inspiration!