In their light-filled studio in Sydney Australia’s Strawberry Hills, Louise Olsen and Steve Ormandy fashion resin destined for landfill into jewelry and home wares of rare beauty. Their studio’s name, Dinosaur Designs, is a play on the longevity of their pieces—they last forever.
Known for hosting entertaining gatherings in their beachside home overflowing with exotic flowers, Ormandy and Olsen—an off-work couple as well—make gorgeous vases.“We love the relationship between the humanness of the forms we create and the very modern material that we use—resin,” says Ormandy (who also created the abstract painting in the background). “We see ourselves as artisans and embody the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi where there's perfection in the imperfections. When you think of plastics you think of the mass produced, but what we do isn't like that. Each piece is handmade and designed with the intention of being cherished for a lifetime."
"We don't have any specific rituals for entertaining, it changes each time depending on the party and the people. Music's always very important as a way to get people to relax and be in the moment. Of course there's always a good glass of wine, great food and flowers, and a few pieces of Dinosaur Designs to add color to the table,” says Ormandy.
Dinosaur Designs’ latest collection, Sorbet, was inspired by that most prized summer delicacy: sorbet. The idea is a departure from previous lines, where elements of pure nature have been the inspiration.
“Sorbet is nature sexed-up,” says Olsen, “We were excited by the wonderful transformations that happen to vibrant colors like watermelon, raspberry, apple, and mint when you make sorbet. The pure pigment is transformed and softened by the churning and the freezing. The color becomes cooler but there's still an intensity in the flavor.”
“We work so closely with our pieces,” Olsen says, “they're all 'born' in our studio. When you see a still life of them, in whatever setting, you are drawn to look at the relationship between them and how someone has chosen to put them together. I always think they have a quiet conversation between themselves, and with the pieces that surround them. It's fascinating to see, as each piece has a personality of its own because of the way we make them by hand. I find that people love touching them and feeling their individual contours.”
Olsen has a practice of wearing the samples of each collection, to test the way they move and feel on her body. “When you design a piece you're always thinking of how it fits on the body; a really important part of the design process is wearing a piece,” she says. “As well as looking good, it's got to feel good. Jewelry is a very personal thing because we wear it so close to our bodies. It not only touches the skin but also touches the heart.”Ormandy and Olsen have collaborated with Louis Vuitton and Paul Smith, and have had work exhibited at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Pieces have featured in Carolina Herrera runway shows and have been worn by Kate Winslett, Rachel Weiss, Elle Macpherson, Hillary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Anna Piaggi, and Alicia Keys.
“Nature has all the answers and has endless possibilities,” reflects Olsen. “In Australia we have big horizons and nature is ever-present. The light is so sharp and illuminating that you see everything in Technicolor. It's so easy to get lost in nature—figuratively and literally. I'm constantly drawn to and inspired by nature.”“In the studio, we are experimenting with new forms of resin and testing what is possible to make them more biodegradable. The resin we use is by-product and, if not used, solidifies and often ends up in landfill. We're giving it longevity and a purpose. We've been experimenting with soy-based resins though we haven't been able to get the results we need yet—but we will keep on trying.”Dinosaur Designs is supporting WWF Australia and their Southern Eco Region campaign to save one of the most species diverse areas on the planet with a donation from the sales of their Earth collection.
“I went to university [University of New South Wales: College of Fine Arts] to study art and art history, and spent years in life drawing classes. To me the body itself is like a piece of jewelry ornamenting the earth—its intricate forms and movements have a beauty of their own. There are many crossovers between art, design and jewelry making. Adorning the body is a very primal thing to us, very fundamentally human.”“I am a bit of a people watcher. I love it! I've always been fascinated by the personal style of individuals and the way people choose to present and adorn themselves. What I love about jewelry is the way that people can take something I've created and interpret it in their own way, to fit their own style. It's great when a piece becomes a part of their own personal collage.”
Olsen, daughter of the dynamic art couple John and Valerie Olsen, whose bohemian childhood included many all-nighters eating paella with Picasso, comes by her imaginative creativity honestly. The ambiance of the Nolita shop—where rock-shaped one-off resin chests serve as inventory storage and showpieces—is no exception. “My earliest memories are of living in Spain and London, surrounded by art and artists, poets and writers. My home life was visually fertile and I was always encouraged by creative people to be creative. I learned and understood art almost by osmosis. There was never a time when there wasn't a new way of seeing the world. I was told that anything was possible in a creative world. Failure was not a bad thing; it was part of the process of learning and discovery. These were really valuable lessons at a young age. As artists and designers ourselves, Steve and I hope to pass some of that experience on to our own daughter, Camille. She travels with us whenever she can and she already loves New York…”
Boasting striking colors and softly familiar shapes, the handmade Dinosaur objects not only invite you to hold them but also seem to contain the idiosyncratic way of looking at the world that the designers share (Ormandy is an abstract painter, Olsen is the daughter of two of Australia’s most celebrated artists; they met at art school) giving them the quality of functional art pieces, as well as a talismanic emotional octave that borders on the magical. Motifs like playfulness, delight, and surprise underline the pop-art aesthetic, while inspirations such as mushrooms, exotic birds, and imponderable natural forces like the sun and moon, make each collection a journey of discovery not unlike that of uncovering a sculpture or a canvas—or a children’s book adventure. You could say that decorating your body and your home in Dinosaur Designs gives you a kinship with Alice in Wonderland, which is why these pieces are so adored by their owners.
In step with their latest collection, Sorbet, Dinosaur Designs will be serving Sorbet and Champagne in their Nolita boutique at 211 Elizabeth Street (at Prince) tonight for New York City’s Fashion's Night Out.