Celeb interviews

At home with: Andre Benis

Andre started his career working at the London office of CNN, but he always had an urge to start his own business. His mother’s side of the family has been in the Japanese kimono silk business for generations, so it was a natural choice to launch Shogun Designs. These vibrant textile screen prints are unique and made by artisanal suppliers in Japan. He talks to Lynda Clark about how it all began

Andre Shots Full JPEGs-0021FTB: You were born in Japan; tell us about your childhood
AB: My mother is Japanese and my father is from the US and I was born in Japan, where we lived near Tokyo. My grandmother lived in Kofu, which is about an hour from Tokyo, and we used to spend our summers there. Her home was a typical, traditional wooden house, with very ornate roof tiles, and the family had been in the kimono silk business for eight generations. The front of the house was used as a shop, selling kimono silks, and they lived in the back. It was a very special place and I loved going there. When I was about four, my father was re-located to England and we initially lived in a little cobbled mews in Earls Court.

FTB: Where do you live now?
AB: I now live in a gorgeous two bedroom basement apartment in Earls Court, which is great. My sister is an interior designer and she helped me design the inside of my home. She knows me very well, so she was able to put my personal stamp on the place, which is very important to me. I absolutely love what she has done and I couldn’t be happier
in my home. It’s kind of east meets west and is the perfect backdrop to showcase the artworks that I now sell.

FTB: How did your career start?
AB: I studied economics and politics at Manchester University and when I left, I started my career working at the London office of CNN. It was a great place to work and I was there for several years, before jumping to the other side of the fence. I worked for a number of global advertising agencies, representing brands like Pantene, Ariel and Kellogg’s. An opportunity then came up to be involved in the launch of a hotel and spa in the Alps. As I loved skiing and always enjoy a challenge, I decided to give it a go. The hotel experience triggered an urge to create my own business and, as I have always adored textiles and, in particular, the Japanese textiles that my family are in, it seemed the obvious step to start making and selling high-quality, affordable textile art via my website.

FTB: Tell us about Shogun Designs
AB:  I did a great deal of research beforehand and then had to go over to Japan to buy the screen prints and export them to the UK. The companies were quite mistrusting at first and the head of one of the suppliers I visited was 80 years old and an amazing man. The trouble was, that none of the prints had left Japan before, due to the mistrust of outsiders, but luckily, because of my family’s credibility, it helped to cement the relationship and it ended up very well. The screen prints are all unique and are inspired by Japanese aesthetics, traditions and culture. Screen printing is an ancient technique, which creates a beautiful, multi-layered effect, combining texture, depth and colour. The particular screen printing technique is also unique to Japan and is called Katazome. This is a traditional stencil technique used to dye fabric and paper, even using edible Japanese products like glutinous rice and persimmon juice! Introducing these high-quality, but affordable prints to the western world is so exciting.

FTB: What are your plans for the future?
AB: We obviously sell our prints online and to independent retailers and I am hoping to expand to larger retailers soon and for the collection to grow. Further down the line, I would like to introduce kimono-based silks into the collection, but these are far more expensive and very delicate to work with. I have always wanted my collection to be accessible to everyone, affordable and of the highest quality.

FTB: Have you any interior tips for first time buyers?
AB: If you are on a budget, then just adding some accessories like cushions, rugs or textiles to a room is a great, cost-effective way to update your interior. Blend old with new and do lots of research – visit markets, second-hand shops and look online as you often get some wonderful and unusual pieces. Creating the interior for your home is rather organic and is a gradual process of looking and finding just what is right for you.


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