Seen through the eyes of French Bull founder Jackie Shapiro, everyday items are canvases for works of art: A wall, a chair, a lunch container, a tote bag, a piece of tableware.
“Even one little piece is a piece of art. We never really call ourselves a tableware company, even though that’s what we do,” she said. Shapiro’s designs have delighted on items as small as stirring spoons to as basic as a knife block.
Before designing for the home and the table, she designed fashion, including for the Milanese brand Fiorucci, and designed patterns using a computer in the early 1980s for Le Sport Sac, The Gap, and Esprit, designed the fashion direction for Mattel’s Barbie brand style guides, and had her own kids fashion brand, Izzy.
There are correlations between clothing accessories and tabletop, she said. “Style in fashion or for the table is all about how you pull things together. How you style French Bull gives it endless possibilities,” she said. “Setting the table with pattern on pattern looks exotic, boho chic; integrating solids looks graphic and modern; layering in French Bull with your everyday white tableware with any of our flowers, stripes or stripes adds pop. It becomes an instant pick me up, like wearing a great scarf or necklace.”
While colorful melamine is a go-to in an al fresco dining setting, she invites the consumer to mix French Bull tableware pieces with china, or make the look even bolder by pairing it with a patterned tablecloth.
While her first French Bull designs were on dinnerware, she has put her patterns on items that many wouldn’t consider decorating: Spreaders, tasting spoons, spatulas and cake knives, for example, and extends the brand through its licensing partners. “If we can delight someone, I feel really good. At retail, color is the first emotional connection to be made,” Shapiro said.
As a New York City resident, she takes inspiration from her surroundings. “Times Square is like an explosion. I love all the signage; I love all the neon, all the messaging — the chaos of it. To me, it looks beautiful. Our studio is next to Bloomingdale’s; the windows right now, they are so colorful. Every one is a piece of art in a frame of a window. I even love the grittiness, the juxtaposition of grit in New York City with the posters . . . There’s color everywhere,” she said. She has also viewed the colors around her by “resisting” wearing her glasses and has found inspiration that way as well.
What Shapiro enjoys most about designing for a table, she explained, is knowing that her products are a part of the consumer’s life experience and memories.
“My favorite part is introducing someone to the brand through a gift,” said Shapiro. The intention is that the receiver, with use, will remember the person who gave it to them, and it will make them smile, and the item will be passed on.
French Bull, in fact, just launched its first ever holiday-themed line in its 15-year history, something at which Shapiro expressed excitement about.
An important evolution in French Bull is not just about pattern, but it’s about its branding, with the tagline: “Live Vivid,” and its brand “mascot,” Happy, the French Bull dog. The brand is about “elevating the everyday to the level of vivid,” she explained, and it champions individualism. Licensing is a way to extend this.
However, Shapiro said that her patterns are a careful balance between on-trend and on-brand, allowing the company to create its own custom blend of fashion.
French Bull’s Terrazzo is a modern interpretation of the classic material used by Venetian builders, a look that was mimicked on linoleum in the 1950s and 60s, she said. Twiggy is a black and white pattern inspired on the iconic 1960s model’s lashes and has a mod London black and white motif. Ziggy is French Bull’s colorful take on the chevron trend while Glamo is French Bull’s interpretation of the camo trend.
Looking into the future, Shapiro noted that she has a strong amount of work in the pipeline. However, she is most excited about putting her designs on bags of all sorts, she said.
“Lunch bags, totes, backpacks, coolers,
gym/sports bags, computer bags, cocktail items, as well as swimwear and rain gear,” she said.