When Diana Garreau and her business partner, Cristina Cherpas, refer to “upstairs” at their Laguna Beach studio, the word is barely audible, more a whisper than a statement.
The top story of the studio, a loft-like space that looks breezy and artsy, strewn with colorful books and enviable objets d’art, is a place of reverence for Garreau and her team – a space where business happens, but more importantly, where the bulk of creating for Garreau’s textiles, scarves, handbags, and jewelry takes place. But lest we think that this idyllic scene belies a blasé artist’s world, Garreau assures us that “upstairs” is not, in fact, a place for the faint of heart.
“I’m hard core,” the petite, nicely dressed Garreau says. “Hard. Core.”
“She is,” says Cherpas, poker-faced.
Looking at these pretty, likable women who surround themselves daily by beauty and the creation thereof, it’s hard to take them seriously. But the poker face never gives way to a punch line, and the evidence of Garreau’s relentless pursuit of new artistic heights starts to pour out.
“I love competition,” says Garreau. “And I don’t believe in mediocrity. If my team doesn’t feel me pushing, they’re not going to push. I ask them, ‘What are you going to do that’s different?’ I demand that from them.”
It’s a philosophy that Garreau developed early on in her career, first as a fledgling graduate of graphic design, then as a freelance designer on her own in her native South Africa, where she began creating and selling her designs to surf companies. But she wasn’t happy with the artistic climate in South Africa, one that she says was not based on originality, but on plagiarizing work from other sources. “The South African market was very dictated by what they saw here, and there weren’t any copyright laws there, so people just took things and had it copied,” says Garreau. “That wasn’t my gig.”
Call it an artistic rebellion, or simply a very human desire to demand more from her abilities, but Garreau decided fairly early on in her career that her future did not lie in toeing the line. She scraped together the money and bought a ticket to California. “When I came to Laguna, I felt that this was where I had to be,” she says. “If I wanted to grow and not copy, I just had to be here.”
In the beginning, she leveraged her contacts in the surf industry, many of whom were fellow South African ex-pats, and worked on expanding her hand-illustrated portfolio of designs, eventually selling them to companies that translated her work into prints on bikinis, boardshorts, dresses, and many other mediums. Her collection now fills four large suitcases, containing thousands of original prints that draw their inspiration from just about anything Garreau comes into contact with. A chevron-patterned book cover of an old hardback was recently the inspiration for a new bikini pattern, to which Garreau added tie-dye and highlights to make it her own. American Indian baskets, rugs, water ripples, Victorian vases, feathers, and tea towels have all been the basis for her designs, and being on the lookout for new inspiration is something Garreau describes as an obsession. “I drive people crazy,” she says. “I have to go to flea markets alone now. I just stop all the time. It’s quite bad, actually.”
The thing about Garreau’s designs is this: They are unmistakably hers. Bold silver cuffs, colorful flowing scarves and hand-beaded tribal-print chairs reflect a subconscious marriage between her southern African upbringing (she was raised in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Madagascar by a British mother and French father) with a British sensibility. Her collaborations with other artists from all over the world also display this mixture of the delicate with the brash – a fine macramé and suede clutch adorned with an encased beetle resulted from her work with an Argentinean designer, and her Italian-made bags are constructed with the finest, softest leather and accented with a large beaded Maasai earring.
For the time being, however, Garreau and her team are trying to stay focused on expanding Garreau’s eponymous line of original scarves and jewelry, branching out next into more handbags, and eventually, home décor. But one thing at a time is not natural for Garreau’s hard-charging creative style, and she’s already got her mind set on far-flung future projects. “I’d like to work on some lights and cushions… You’d think it would be so easy,” she says.
Easy it may not be, but Garreau is hard core. We have a feeling she'll make it happen.
Photography James Cant
Styling Kim Bowen at the Magnet Agency
Model Milan at Photogenics, Los Angeles
Makeup Billy B at Bridge Artists
Hair Cori Bardo at the Magnet Agency
Digital Operator Ricky Ridecos
Assistant Billy Brasford Howard
Location Studio 60, Los Angeles