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Gianna Majzler's World of Whimsy : Fabrics, Treasure Boxes and Sachets Are Fanciful by Design

ARTISANS: Spotlighting makers of handcrafted goods

April 10, 1993|VALERIE ORLEANS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Gianna Majzler's world is filled with teapots, birdhouses, scented potpourris and seemingly anything with a Victorian or whimsical look.

As the owner and creative director of Gianna Rose, a Fountain Valley-based company that specializes in everything from fabric designs to velvet pincushions to doorknob sachets, Majzler is surrounded each day by new designs and new items that she will incorporate into home decor items.

"On a recent trip, I found these great cast iron tassels. I wasn't sure what to do with them but I loved them so much I knew I had to think of some way to use them," Majzler said. What she thought up was a door pull--a piece of antique ribbon, often festooned with flowers and the tassel at the bottom. Majzler also envisions the tassels being used as curtain ties. "I travel a lot to trade shows, flea markets . . . all kinds of places to get ideas," she said. "If I find two items I like, I'll experiment to see how I can combine them."

Majzler started her company, Gianna Rose, about four years ago, initially working out of her home. Since that time, her items have been featured in Victoria magazine as well as in various catalogues, such as that of the Nature Company.

"I started off with an interest in fashion," Majzler said. "Initially, I worked on hats, creating an antique look with flowers and ribbons."

That led to other clothing items including robes and smocks.

"When I'd go to trade shows with my robes and smocks, I wanted something that was different from everyone else's," she said. "What tended to happen, is that my ideas would be copied with just a slight variation . . . often by very large companies that I couldn't compete against."

To overcome these difficulties, she decided to design her own fabric--something that would be more difficult for others to duplicate.

To achieve the looks she wants, Majzler contracts with a local textile artist to draw the designs she has in mind.

"One of my first designs was of chairs," she said. "So I had Shirley Cox, an artist residing in Santa Ana, draw a series of chairs from different time periods. Once the design was what I envisioned, I had the fabric custom-made. Then I used the fabric to make my smocks. They were a great hit, especially among interior designers."

That was the start of what would eventually become several different whimsical designs. "I try to predict trends of what people are going to like or collect," Majzler said. "For instance, my second design was of different styles of teapots. Collecting teapots and having tea is popular again, so the design was a natural."

The popularity of the pattern led Majzler to expand into home linens: tablecloths, a tea cozy, napkins, and even pillow covers. Victoria magazine devoted several pages to her linens in a spread they did on tea-related items.

"I choose shades of blue and white for the teapots because those seemed to be popular colors for that particular item," she said. "With the chairs, I used more of the mauve and cream colors."

Her newest design features a variety of birdhouses in shades of bright blue, red, yellow and green against a sky blue background.

"I've always liked birdhouses and I noticed they were becoming more popular lately," she said. "When I drive around or travel, I try to observe what people like--what they have in their homes or yards. I also need to determine what kinds of colors to use. There's something about birdhouses that's kind of fun and friendly."

Other recent home decorating items that Majzler has designed include cast iron paperweights in the shapes of architectural ironwork, featuring grapes, roses and other botanical motifs she found in New Orleans.

She's also at work creating special "treasure boxes" decorated with seashells that will bear the name "By the Sea."

The boxes are painted gold and then shells, pearls or sea horse figures are carefully affixed to the lid and sides. They are then filled with a potpourri mixture or little trinkets such as beach glass, beads or shells.

Majzler has also just developed two new scented items: One is a bedpost sachet; the other is a lemon-scented potpourri wrapped in a piece of ribbon and displayed in a freeze-dried lemon half, topped with a gingham bow. Although the idea sounds simple, it took Majzler three months to work out the prototype for the lemon sachet. "I wanted to make sure the lemon would last a few years," she said. "That involved testing a variety of methods to preserve the lemon."

The bedpost sachet has a loop of ribbon on the end so it can be hung easily. In with the potpourri, shells and sea horses are added to make the look more interesting. Originally these sachets were said to bring sweet dreams to the person on whose bed they were hung.

Gianna Rose's pincushions, shaped like fruit (apples, pears and strawberries), are created of soft velvet with several beaded pins already stuck in. Recently Majzler designed some vegetable-shaped cushions such as carrots and eggplant to add to the pincushion collection.

"While I like the Victorian look, I try to use a variety of styles in the items I create," Majzler said. "My goal is to come up with four new fabric designs each year but I put a lot of effort into research. I'm always visiting museums, listening to people, reading.

"Before I put a lot of time and effort into a design, I want to make sure it's something that's going to be appealing.'

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