Three years ago, Serena Dugan left Serena & Lily, the lifestyle brand she co-founded in 2004, to return to her creative roots. Now, she’s back with Serena Dugan Studio: a line of wallpapers, handprinted Belgian linen fabrics and, soon, objects, available through showrooms and her website, serenadugan.com. We chatted with the Sausalito-based artist and textile designer about the power of creativity and building strength through adversity.
Serena Dugan in her waterfront Sausalito studio
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career? At every step along my career path, I have prioritized stretching and learning over slam-dunk success. That brought me to exactly where I am, so I wouldn’t change any of it.
What’s your perspective on launching a business amidst economic turmoil? Well, it’s certainly not ideal. But nothing about the current circumstances is ideal for anyone. So in my case I consider it a chaotic pre-launch, rather than a full and proper launch... This time and experience will make me muscular in ways that I have yet to fully grasp, but will undoubtedly benefit me and the business. Timelines, though, are out the window.
How are you adapting your business in the midst of the current crisis? Since my business did not experience a “before the crisis,” it is really taking on an unanticipated shape. In an effort to adapt to what the times call for, I am not in sell-mode. I’m happy to service interest in the brand, and respond to requests and orders, but I’m throttling back outreach and instead am focused on communicating larger messages intended to guide and inspire. My personal energy is put towards finding and tapping my well of creativity, and distributing content through Instagram that can help others do the same.
Why are art and design important during times like these? I believe strongly that the process of making art is a portal to creative solutioning. In addition, art and design can represent humanity at its fullest. We all need moments of beauty and elegance to cut through what’s awful right now. Beauty is not superfluous. It’s necessary. It’s a light that will lead us forward.
How does living in the Bay Area influence your design and business? The spirit of innovation pervades the culture here, both from a professional standpoint and in terms of outlook and attitude. This opens me up to new ideas, new business formats and a beginner’s mind—always... There is a casualness and a rulelessness about the Bay Area that allows my designs to stay loose.
Which two prints from your new line best represent your style? I think they all fit through that filter, but if I had to choose I would say Bahia and Condesa. The hallmarks of my prints are the visible hand of the artist (no mechanical lines), and complexity in the pattern story.
What is your dream for Serena Dugan Studio? My dream is that all facets of my creative statement will be supported so that I can create in these mediums every day. I want to keep my studio small, humming, wildly creative, and have a manageable platform to express myself in this way for a very long time.
What’s your motto? ‘Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.’ –Epicurus
What is your favorite local…
Boutique The Edit in Mill Valley
View From the Coastal Trail, Marin Headlands
Staycation Does Calistoga count? Indian Springs or Solage, depending on how social I want to be.
Takeout spot The Joinery in Sausalito
Restaurant Fish in Sausalito
Museum De Young (they have a by-appointment textile library)
Charitable cause Creativity Explored
Dugan says Bahia (above) has a “livable looseness” and Condesa (below) has “offbeat and bold” color pairings that are characteristic of her style.
A pillow featuring Capri fabric in Prussian Blue
(Note: this interview has been edited and condensed from two sets of email responses. A shorter version appears in a print issue of San Francisco Magazine.)
Photography by: Laurie Frankel