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In the Studio with Cold Picnic

  • Images: Daniel Dorsa
  • File Under: Life
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We visited Phoebe and Peter at their light-filled home and studio on the Bushwick, Brooklyn/Ridgewood, Queens frontier to talk about comedy, controversy and of course, Private Parts.

We've been enamored of Cold Picnic since practically forever. They haven't exactly been around forever (as you can surely tell by the youthful faces of the brand's designer-founders, Phoebe Sung and Peter Buer), but it certainly seems like we lived in a different domestic reality in the dark days before the debut of their revolutionary "Private Parts" rugs. It's fairly commonplace for our customers to get mega excited over a hot sneaker, a new handbag, or any number of other fashion drops, but, rugs? They're usually greeted with love that's a little more lukewarm. Not so for Cold Picnic: their first shipment a few years ago sold out in record time, and they've kept the imaginative, whimsical designs coming ever since.

 

 

Ok, so. Cold Picnic. You’ve gotta tell us where that name comes from. It’s so good.
Peter: Thank you! It’s actually a name we had kicking around for a while and I think we had been waiting to use it on something special. So when we decided to start a brand, we were like, finally! Once we had settled upon our aesthetic and what inspires us, the name seemed even more right for us, but that was sort of a happy accident.
What are your backgrounds? You’ve both worked in fashion, right?
Phoebe: I actually got my first bachelors in sculpture from UPenn, but I didn’t know what to do with it once I graduated so I ended up going back to school for fashion, at MassArt in Boston, which is where I met Peter. We both worked in fashion for a few years—me as a designer and Peter as a print designer. But a lot of what we were doing was buying clothes or prints and changing them 30% and sending them off to China. We started Cold Picnic as an outlet for whatever was inspiring us at the time, and it made us fall back in love with designing.
You guys must both have great senses of humor. Who do you think is the greatest comedian of all time?
Peter: I grew up with the original "The Office" so for me it has to be Ricky Gervais, in particular "The Office" and all his old podcasts. I think everything Mitchell and Webb do is hilarious! I also love Jessica Walter, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman and the "Broad City" girls.
Phoebe: I can’t think of only one! There are people who have always made me laugh, they don’t even have to say anything. Leslie Nielsen, Lily Tomlin, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Karl Pilkington, Fred Armisen.

Private Parts Pillow by COLD PICNIC

 

 

Our first factory called us up once early on in the sampling process to go over the colors, and he was referring to the designs as “the one with the martini glass” (the muff) or the “eggs” (tonal boobs).

When we first got the first Private Parts rugs in years ago, people were so excited about them—they were such a sensation! And so much fun! But we all know America can be a funny place. Have you gotten any blowback from people scandalized by the graphics?
Phoebe: Any blowback we’ve experienced has actually been in the opposite direction: how dare you put women bodies on the floor for people to walk on, or why does the torso condone a shaved pubic area. You’re always going get comments, especially on social media, but the latter really floored us, because to us those were just figurative outlines. We only really get shy about the private parts designs is when we’re sending them to a new factory. Our first factory called us up once early on in the sampling process to go over the colors, and he was referring to the designs as “the one with the martini glass” (the muff) or the “eggs” (tonal boobs). He finally got to the the torso design and you could tell he was struggling to think up a discrete way to reference it and finally he just started laughing.
What’s the coolest/weirdest/most exciting places a Cold Picnic piece has ended up?
Peter: It’s really a treat to see them anywhere. But we recently saw a guest house one of our clients, Shelter Protects You, did, and it was this beautiful room filled with built in bunk beds and one of our 6 x 9 rugs on the floor. We just wanted to be there.
Probably the weirdest place we’ve seen them is the Eastern State Penitentiary, though I’m not sure if that counts because we put them there. You can rent out the place for photo shoots, so for our first ever rug collection we went early in the morning and put them in all the old cells. There were old toilets and cots but in some cells the ceilings had caved in and everything was getting taken over by plants (and our rugs).

The Kiss

The Kiss Rug by COLD PICNIC

Phoebe: The Kiss was part of our "Interiors:1974" collection, which was influenced by a handful of Rainer Werner Fassbinder films we were watching at the time. It was a new direction for us, as our previous rug collections had all been landscape-based. In contrast, the Fassbinder films we looked at were a little claustrophobic: a lot of tight interior shots of closeups of the characters faces. The Kiss was based directly on one of these closeups, from the film "Fear of Fear". It’s probably our most romantic and glamorous looking design, but the film was actually about a housewife who is going crazy.

Talking Rocks

Talking Rocks Rug by COLD PICNIC

Peter: Whenever we design a new collection, we take a few days and get down any designs we can, in any way we can. This can mean drawing through the computer, or sketching, or painting or collage. Talking Rocks was one of the designs that came through messing around with construction paper from the dollar store across from our apartment. There were a handful of other designs we made that looked almost just like it, but Talking Rocks was the one that worked. We didn’t change the design at all, and even the colors were just the colors available to us at the time.

Private Parts

Private Parts Rug: 3 by COLD PICNIC

Tonal Boob

Tonal Boob Pillow by COLD PICNIC

Both: We always think of the Private Parts collection as something that forced its way into our lives. For a long time, whenever we sat down to design, we’d end up throwing out so many designs—this one looks like boobs, or that one is too phallic. Because of the way we work, we tend to get carried away and we definitely got a little over sensitive, to the point where we felt boxed in. Everything was so dirty! Then we had a sort of epiphany and realized that sometimes the work you make is trying to tell you something and this was one of those times, that we should embrace these designs instead of running from them.

The Tonal Boobs were the most in line with the sorts of designs we were avoiding at that time, though we changed it to make it more obvious. Then we designed the Torso so there was no mistaking what we were doing.

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