It's no secret that we think pattern makes everything better - your home, your wardrobe, and especially your gifts. That's why we're so excited to have just launched our àplat x H&W culinary totes - the perfect (patterned!) present for the host(ess), chef, or wine lover in your life!
Shujan Bertrand is the founder of àplat and the creative mind behind these chic, modern, and eco-friendly reusable bags, as well as a fellow pattern enthusiast. We caught up with her to learn more about the inspiration behind her totes, the French notion of the "art of living," and why the moment of the reveal is just as important in food as it is in gifting.
Hygge & West: Tell us a little bit about your background, your business, and what inspired your totes.
Shujan Bertrand: I am an industrial designer with 20 years of experience in California, Milan, and Munich. I’ve spent the majority of my career designing consumer electronics and lifestyle products. After having children, I purposely moved away from technology and began to focus on soft goods and furniture design. I was approaching my third year at Coalesse/Steelcase when I had the idea for a tote collection.
The first tote in the collection was the à fleur bouquet tote. I was on my way to Renee Zellweger’s gallery opening of Summer School in San Francisco. I wanted to gift her a bouquet so I made a quick stop at Bi-Rite to hand pick some flowers. Much to my dismay, the cashier over-wrapped the once lovely arrangement in paper and cellophane. Not what I had in mind. I felt that the flowers deserved more respect and it actually no longer felt like a gift. This was my moment of insight: that a bouquet should be quietly seen and well dressed. It should also be cherished and reusable. That evening, I began to sew prototypes of what I thought a bouquet tote should be and shared the design idea with my husband and his parents who were in town from France. After brainstorming over coffee, I felt that something good, something new was emerging. The notion of designing a product that would elevate the moment of reveal experience to a higher level, of sharing quality things that we eat and gift was very exciting. Within a few days, not only did I design the fleur tote, I was so inspired that I also designed the complete collection of wine, food, bread, and garden totes. I continued on with my daily corporate life but spent nights and weekends refining the design and searching for a brand name. It was a tie between Sac a Tout (tote for everything) and Aplat (for dishes, is flat, or color swatch).
I finally found the courage to share my idea and designs outside of my family and the first person I could trust and think of who would give me honest feedback was Cathy Bailey, owner and creative director of HEATH Ceramics. She gave me the opportunity to put 100 àplat totes on HEATH shelves within 6 months. From March to September 2014, I held a corporate job while trying to build the brand and get it manufactured with all the core values that I still hold true to this day: zero waste, organic cotton, made in small batches, local, reusable, and reliable.
H&W: Your website mentions your connection to France. Can you tell us a little about that and how life in the U.S. differs from life in France, specifically when it comes to eating, gathering, and socializing?
SB: The French notion of the “art of living” is truly a way of life in my husband’s family. My French husband and I lived and designed in Italy and France for several years before returning to San Francisco. I designed àplat with great fondness and in memory of that happy time and in homage to my family lifestyle there. I often observed rituals of deliciously cooked meals paired with good wine along with great company that my family enjoyed all year round. I guess you can say my life was forever changed once I met my husband, followed by my move to Europe, where I experienced first hand l’art de vivre.
My in-laws' home in Nice, France—which they built from scratch—is perched on a small hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. They have a small fruit and vegetable garden that they pick from seasonally. In the summers, the lavender in the garden is harvested to make sachet pouches and the home is always filled with friends and neighbors who visit to eat and drink homemade wine. Every member of the Bertrand family started their personal wine collection at an early age, and it’s stored in the basement cellar. Each bottle has a special story of where it came from, and when it is finally opened that story gets shared. You may call this old fashioned, but for me, it was totally refreshing and new. It was utterly beautiful and I was in love.
I was from a different world - born and raised in Manhattan Beach, CA - and now, everyday routines take on new meaning, and those things I once thought mundane suddenly felt like art and poetry.
There are many types of tart or pie carriers out there, but the ones I admired most were my mother-in-law’s. They were made by her mother using old linens. An additional source of endless inspiration and admiration were the bread bags and pouches found in every French kitchen, along with the crates and baskets used to carry wine. These are products that have been around for ages—I simply brought them together, made them accessible, and created the àplat collection of culinary totes. This is why I say that àplat originated in France as it was inspired by the life of my husband’s family, and is deeply rooted in a culture of family and friendship, where socializing is a way of life and where generosity is a daily ritual.
H&W: We're so excited about the totes you've created using some of our favorite H&W patterns. Please tell us what attracted you to each pattern/colorway and why you think they work for your bags.
SB: I am so excited about this partnership. It couldn’t have been more perfect! The collaboration with Hygge & West was exactly the type of partnership I was looking for. A textile brand that had tasteful design sensibilities and with two women who are delightful and easy to connect with.
The final colored patterns Foret, Otomi, and Diamante were my top choices from our sampled prototypes. I instantly loved the Otomi because of its bold and festive look, and was drawn to Foret for its perfect combination of playful and sophisticated design. Lastly, I think Diamante in Gray really speaks to designers who love subtle accents of design.
H&W: How do you see your totes - and specifically the ones designed with H&W - being used, and by whom?
SB: I really think they make a lovely gift: perfect for the holidays, wedding party gifts, and executive gift baskets.
My favorite gift pairings:
Culinary Tote - good cookbook and a loaf of warm bread gifted inside the tote
Vertical Wine Tote - modern stocking under the tree filled with artisanal food and wine
Horizontal Wine Tote - a good bottle of whisky with 3 bitters and a few tools for mixing
H&W: You often talk about the "moment of reveal." Why is that so important both for food and gifts, but also other aspects of life, such as in the home?
SB: My designer approach has always been focused on the user experience, design, and emotional connections. As a designer, presentation is everything.
Personally, I’ve always tried to show respect and care to the person I’m offering good food, wine, or a gift to by presenting it well. The “moment of reveal” then becomes a memorable one - an experience that inspires more moments of togetherness.
In my culture, you always offer the finer things with two hands as a sign of respect. You pour your wine with the wine bottle label facing up and in line of site, not turned bottom or sideways.
The àplat tote is also meant to be left behind, to inspire the person who it was left with to have their own moment of reveal with someone else and so on and so forth; sort of like an àplat chain. Entertaining becomes much more inspiring and meaningful this way.
H&W: 'Hygge' is a Danish word that loosely translates to 'cozy.' Where and how do you find hygge in your life?
SB: My Hygge moments are many and I try to incorporate them throughout my day.
What comes to mind first are my children. Hygge, to me, means warm cuddles and hugs from my sleepy kids in the morning. It also means cooking for the family everyday. A quick coffee with a friend is very hygge as well.
At the factory, I hygge my time with the women who sew there. When I sew prototypes at the factory, I get a lot of hygge time that really delights me.
I’m also part of a wonderful supper club that meets every quarter where we cook food from around the world. Perhaps the ultimate hygge is in the company of this great group of friends sitting at a long table with our kids. We can count on a long night of plates and glasses softly clanging, food and wine being passed along, and personal stories being shared with belly laughing in between.
H&W: If you could cook a meal with any person - real or fictional, dead or alive - who would it be and why?
SB: What a fun question! Well, first I’d have Blaise, my husband, by my side and together we’d cook with Barack and Michelle Obama. I don’t have a political bone in me so the conversation wouldn’t be about global affairs, rather it would be more philosophical in nature. We’d talk about the meaning of life, diversity, spirituality, parenting, and things that could inspire an amazing, bright future. And I like the thought of cooking, eating and drinking with them casually. I like to imagine that towards the end of the evening, Blaise and Barack are in the kitchen wearing their aprons while Michelle and I are huddled in a corner sipping our glass of wine, laughing and chatting away about everything and anything.
filed under: Pattern Players