Soft Science

Cold Picnic’s soft goods are conceptual works that you can step on, fold up or snuggle. The company’s founders—and currently, only employees—Pheobe Sung and Peter Buer have made a name and big imprint in the design world with these creations, which are bold and colorful, and somehow both graphic and fluid. We sat down with the duo to find out where it all comes from—and how the two of them keep it all going.

BY ZINZI EDMUNDSON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY WINNIE AU

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Let's start with you two, how did you meet?
PHOEBE: We met in school. I think we just liked each other and one day walked straight up to each other in the hallway, after never speaking, and decided to walk over to the school canteen for a coffee. He asked me out, then asked to put it off a week. He told me later it was to break up with his girlfriend at the time—very bad! We’ve been together since. That was twelve years ago!

PETER: I remember we went to a jazz bar on our first date. Phoebe ordered straight whisky, and although I don’t really like jazz or whisky, I thought she was so cool. Also, hey, it would have been very bad of me if I didn’t break up with my girlfriend before going on a date with her!

And when did you first start collaborating?
PETER: It’s funny, we actually kind of started collaborating when we first met on projects for school. We would help each other on sewing projects (I sewed her pockets and she sewed my swimming costumes), and also just bounced designs ideas of each other. For some reason, designing and working with Phoebe was, and still is, so fun and easy.

PHOEBE: From the start we instinctively took on each other’s responsibilities as our own, which made starting a business together feel very natural.

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How did you first move from that day-to-day collaborating to Cold Picnic as a more formal partnership?
PHOEBE: About a year after moving to New York, I think it was 2012, we opened a little shop in Williamsburg with a girl we knew. It was silly—we didn’t even have money to fully stock the store! We started making anything we could think of: lavender shampoos, rooms sprays, soaps with little flowers in them, but also handmade leather bags, plant hangers and wall hangings. The wall hangings are what lead to the work we’re doing now. We loved making them, but the price point was so much higher than we wanted. That’s what motivated us to start making rugs. We needed to outsource.

Cold Picnic has really evolved its offerings over the years, but still occupies a textile-driven space—why soft materials? What attracted/attracts you to working with fiber?
PHOEBE: It wasn’t a conscious decision at all. At the beginning we just wanted to make everything. But, fiber arts is what stuck. It felt like the most natural medium for our designs, and it also felt—more than our accessories or even our some of our other home products—like the area where we never had anyone else’s work lingering in our minds when we were designing. Yes, we watch movies and take inspiration from them, but we’re not looking at rug designs and trying to allude to a specific movement or style or, alternately, thinking about someone else’s work and saying “ok we have to make sure it doesn’t look like this.” We feel very at home and comfortable designing textiles.

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Speaking of which, your designs do have such a strong and unmistakable look—where do you look for inspiration?
PETER: For most of our rug collections, we’ve been inspired by the scenery and color palettes from 70s movies. Our second collection was inspired by the movie The Passenger, and the collection after that was inspired by Ali Fear Eats the Soul. The collection I really enjoyed designing though was inspired by our trip we took to Fomentera for our honeymoon. We usually aren’t inspired by specific places when designing, but that trip really stuck with us and we could’t stop thinking about it and we just found that it kept making it’s way into our new designs.

PHOEBE: Eduardo Chillida's collages were also one of the reasons we went from making shag rugs to high-low rugs, so he definitely is a big influence.

Sort of a nerd question: Where are the rugs made of and what techniques are used? What's the material and dye process?
PETER: Right now we only have one style of rug, a 100% Indian wool rug with both high and low pile heights. They’re made in India and the wool is pot dyed to our colors for every order. They're hand tufted, which means they are done by hand, but it’s a hand with a tufting gun in it. The artisans at our factory make the rugs one uniform length and then shave down the ground afterwards.

Let's talk about maybe your best-known motif, which are private parts—what was the inspiration for those initial designs and then the ones that came later?
PETER: We actually never set out to make a boob/torso bathmat. In every collection we would notice shapes within our designs that looked like a boob, or a vagina, or a penis and had to scratch that design because of it. It happened so often that eventually we thought we should just own it and we decided to release our "private parts" collection.

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And what's in the future for you and CP?
PETER: We recently released more of our reversible quilts, but what I'm most excited about is the release of our first collection of flat weave rugs. These are woven, rather than tufted, and because of this, we had to branch out a little when designing as the designs have to be a little more linear. So, even though they still feel Cold Picnic, the designs are a little different to what we’ve released in the past.

PHOEBE: More CP hopefully! I love this job. It’s just us, though—we have someone who helps with emails, but remotely—but we do everything from packing the web and wholesale orders to managing social media and production and everything else. So we need to expand the company, but we’re both creatures of habit and keep putting it off. We would be happy to just keep doing what we’re doing.