Less is more
Embracing the balancing act of being mothers, and owners of successful businesses; Annika and Saskia Fernando display exemplary qualities of individualism, independence and a strong work ethic. Keeping in mind that less is often more, to them black and white is a backdrop to their styles. It is no question that inspiration to their individual creative avenues stems from Paradise Road which was established in the late 80s.
Owner and curator of PR Concept Store and MAUS, Annika Fernando is also an interior designer at Annika Fernando Design.
Saskia established Saskia Fernando Gallery 10 years ago and her online gallery, Artspace curated by her, presents a purchasable catalogue of contemporary art from Sri Lanka. She also has her own jewellery line titled ‘Papillon du thé’.
Both sisters remain directors to Paradise Road Group of Companies.
Having visited their shared office space at 41 Horton Place, I found myself paying attention to the coordinated style of their individual companies within the same space, showcasing art and design. As children growing up alongside success and expansion of Paradise Road, to owning and managing establishments of their own, which remain relevant and connected to their ‘parent’ company, we thought it would be interesting to speak to this dynamic duo.
To start things off, could you tell me what life was like growing up?
Saskia: We grew up with the influences of different cultures; a European mother, and being born in Australia, our experiences as children definitely had an influence in what we do today.
Annika: Our childhood included watching our parents working very hard to be where they are today to grow their businesses. Paradise Road began as one little shop, with my parents working at the store, and I remember helping out, gift wrapping, and now I’m doing it today in my own store.
How would you comment on your individualistic sense of style?
Both: Our styles change continuously; hence it’s difficult for us to define our style. If there is one thing I think we like to incorporate into both our way of dressing and style of living, it would be a sense of timelessness and not necessarily following trends. Trends may inspire us, but most of all the pieces we own and/or invest in are timeless.
You’re both working mums, do you view being female as an obstacle to achieving great things in life?
Annika: We were taught to be independent. All the parallel things that our parents did unintentionally instilled an extremely strong sense of work ethic, which we both have today with our businesses. I don’t view being a female as an obstacle; I view it as my strength. It’s a balancing act, being a mum and maintaining a fulltime career, and I think being female may assist in multitasking and balancing.
Saskia: I was never brought up to think I could do less than a man; I have my parents to thank for this and will do the same with my own daughter. I don’t believe in letting the challenges that exist in being a female to be excuses. I have experienced sexism in my professional and personal life, but if I let it be a justification for weakness, I find it would be a waste of time and energy. I feel we should embrace our femininity while we do what we want to do. We can be mothers and entrepreneurs, tough and nurturing, independent and family-oriented at the same time, this is something unique and it is something to be celebrated.
Speaking to Annika…
PR revolves around the workings of an entirely different concept; care to guide us through this?
PR is an inspired expansion on the retail framework that is Paradise Road, and the aesthetic is connected to that and independent too. It narrows in on an individualistic viewpoint, which is that of my own. It’s constantly evolving and celebrates strong design, first and foremost.
What are some of the challenges you’ve learnt to overcome while owning and managing PR?
Challenges are what drive the quality and consistency to withstand time. The biggest challenge remains in managing my own time and using it wisely.
Some brands you feature at PR?
PR carries a selection of Sri Lankan designers who remain a constant backbone to the store. In addition, I carry products and designers which I feel are relevant and complementary to the selection in store. This offers variation and surprise. Local designers you can shop at PR regularly include Maus, Sonali Dharmawardena, KT Brown, Anuk, Kûr, Dinushi Pamanuwa, Vathsala Gunasekera, Papillon du thé, Cher by Chevonne, Lois London and many more.
Could you tell us a bit about Maus?
Maus is a label that was established to set the aesthetic for PR in 2013 when it was originally launched, although now it has definitely grown beyond this. I design the pieces myself and launch three collections every year. We feature women’s wear, men’s wear, leather foot wear, and swimwear, bags and accessories. All products are made in Sri Lanka and this is something I work to maintain.
Studying to be an interior designer in Sri Lanka, there isn’t much opportunity to ‘make it’. What do you think are the biggest challenges?
I didn’t study interior design in Sri Lanka and at the time, I don’t think there was much of an option to do so. Today it is definitely different. Upon graduating however, it was indeed a challenge to communicate the skills of an interior designer vs. an interior decorator.
Interior design includes the manipulation of space, selection of interior finishes, design of bathrooms, kitchens, doors and windows, and interior details. Interior decorating is the embellishing of the space, and what most would think is the complete scope of an interior designer. With the development taking place in Sri Lanka and the exposure and design interest people have, there is so much opportunity to be had in the field of interior design for graduates. Being a relatively ‘new’ field in Sri Lanka, however, means finding design assistance with experience is a challenge.
Whom do you derive inspiration from?
I derive inspiration from everything around me, in my travels and in my surroundings. My first design inspiration was and remains to be my father, Shanth Fernando. Others include the likes of Christian Liaigre, Annoushka Hempel, and my first interior design boss, Meryl Hare of Hare & Klein.
Speaking to Saskia…
Why did you gravitate towards this path of being a gallerist?
I painted as a child at home. My formal education led me to study commerce and hospitality. However, I learned later that my parallel education at home in that sense subconsciously started early for me, with the interest in art and design instilled by my parents and the exposure they gave me. Some of the artists that I work with now, I’ve known since I was a child and representing them today is an honour and pride. It’s an interesting way of looking at things, in how a lifetime of relationships can turn into your work.
Although you and your sister have embarked on different avenues, the entire modern, abstract and minimalistic aesthetic is seen as a constant. Is there any reason for this?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it minimalism, more contemporary and abstract as a constant. Black and white isn’t necessarily minimalistic. Our aesthetic is very much connected to that of Paradise Road, which was a very strong influence. Our style could be better defined as controlled clutter and less is more, although more of less is good too!
Sri Lanka’s art scene has seen somewhat of a revival on the last few years. In your opinion, what are the public misconceptions about art and galleries in Sri Lanka?
This revival has taken a lot of work. We had a thriving art scene for a very long time, but one that was severely underexposed. After running my own gallery for ten years now and working with the art scene much longer than that I can say, the biggest misconception lies with our local community, and the way they perceive the professionals that create platforms for our art scene and the artists.
Galleries are assumed to be taking ‘from’ the artists and ignored for what they do ‘for’ the artists. Local collectors want to invest in those artists promoted by galleries, but approach artists directly in the hopes of getting a bargain; they don’t support the system that is to be accredited for the appreciation of art market prices.
Local architects are also very much to blame, they provide local artists with temporary platforms working directly with them on their projects and then give them no sustainable form of promotion or investment on a regular basis, often refusing to work via galleries and curators in order to keep prices ‘affordable’.
Unfortunately this results in a slower appreciation and growth of the industry. As a gallery we have grown our network internationally, and that has been the reason behind the success of the artists we work with. It is a shame that as a local community we cannot see the bigger picture and better support the local contemporary industry as a whole.
Do you think there’s enough support from the government and other official bodies in the promotion of Sri Lankan art?
I don’t think I’m positioned in a manner to comment on this. Although I believe the Colombo Arts Faculty has a brilliant programme set out for its teachers, and I believe is quite impressive.
Apart from this you have a jewellery line as well, care to tell us a bit about it?
It was a hobby I embarked upon after opening the gallery, creating pieces for myself, friends and family. When my sister planned the opening of PR, it seemed fit to focus the design into a label, which is called Papillon du thé which features unique pieces I enjoy creating. This design expression is very satisfying for me and I enjoy the evolving of the collections which has taken place in the past five years since the label was born.
By Chenelle Fernando