Never compromise. The things that we turned down, I think others would have jumped at because they were truly awesome opportunities, but it required some type of compromise on what it is that we’re wanting. I think when you start compromising it’s not your dream anymore- it’s someone else’s vision. –Nikki Salk
Any emerging entrepreneur will admit the difficulty of saying “no” to offered opportunities- more difficult for others positioned in a minute niche. Visionaries like Paper Cut Project founders Amy Flurry and Nikki Salk prove that staying true (and therefore holding out at times) can result in larger ventures without the back-bending.
The Georgia-based duo, both known for successful careers unrelated to paper art, have enjoyed a meteoric rise in the high fashion/luxury circle. These “paper couturiers” build intricate creations, usually wearable on the face or sur la têtê, inspired by the innovation of fashion and the malleability of paper. What was borne from a simple idea over casual conversation less than two years ago has brought demand from luxury staples around the globe- from exclusive Cartier and Hermes commissions to an upcoming spread in Italian Vogue.
Read the inspiring interview I had with lovely, humble ladies below and witness the powerful cycle of idea-making…to action…to breakthrough.
ML: Your first big break with Paper Cut involved fashion house juggernaut Hermes last year- how did the opportunity come about?
Amy Flurry: Hermes was specifically looking for “paper cut” when they found us, and they found us on a blog. Yeah, very fortuitous (giggles). The Hermes representative said she was looking in all of France to try and find paper cut artists, and nothing was really her vision of what she wanted. When she saw our work, it did. She saw the masks that we did for Jeffrey, and she really latched on to this idea. The Paper Cut Project headpieces are now being worn by models and greeters at the Hermes stores that are opening in Asia, Munich-
ML: So this is already happening?
AF: It’s already happening, as soon as they got them they were sending stuff out! When I met them over in Paris we learned they in fact already opened three stores in China, one in Munich and one in Antwerp, so they had been travelling and they were holding up well.
ML: Why do you suppose your work stands out amongst other paper/fashion artists?
Nikki Salk: We want them to always exist. Rather than being a store display that dies after a month when it’s taken down, we want what we created to always be something, and they would always exist…
AF: On their own!
AF: They’re not just quickly pulled together for effect. A recent Nylon Magazine issue called in a piece and it was for a beauty spread, and what we thought was going to be part of a larger story and not be mentioned actually turned it into the story.
ML: Nikki, tell us about your background in the arts.
NS: I was a physics major, but ended up shifting into interior design so I went to art school; I did that for a while and I liked it, but I always loved fashion. I shifted and opened a boutique, and closed it last year. But even while in school I started to work with paper and did it as a hobby. After I was done, Amy and I started talking and we had all these ideas…
AF: Man, the time just opened for us to work together.
NS: Right, right! Exactly.
ML: Amy, you’re more known in your industry as a writer and editor…how did it feel to break out of those titles?
AF: Sometimes you can get so comfortable- or not comfortable- with a title, and it doesn’t really serve you so well as a creative person, because it locks you into one thing. It’s been interesting to take a step back and really not be anything but exactly what’s in you…being title-less is very liberating!
I’m still doing a lot of writing, that’s not going to stop, it’s just adding to that- couldn’t be a bad thing.
ML: Adding more avenues to what you’re passionate about, that’s great!
AF: Quite honestly, this has been a passion of mines for a long time- I think back about my college dorm room and I had fashion spreads up [giggles]. I was writing for magazines, then fashion magazines, then producing and styling…
It’s a little evolution for me- kind of filling in what I may have thought was missing in fashion, knowing that somebody else would see it too and put their talent on it if we just make it.
ML: So how did this actually start- were you two in a room one evening and brainstormed everything was it gradual?
NS: It wasn’t any one moment so that’s it’s hard to really say!
AF: We’ve kind of talked around the idea, “Why don’t we do something we want to do without instead of everyone else’s parameters on them…why don’t we take this moment to maybe do something that we’re not seeing here [in Atlanta]?” You see incredible displays of creativity in windows, and it was just a thought. Then we decided to approach Jeffrey’s [boutique] in Atlanta and see if they would give us a chance, since they knew Nikki and I separately as professionals. And when they gave us an inch of room to think that we could- we took yards! [giggles] Because it was supposed to be a “We’ll just do the Atlanta window” stint and it turned into New York City-
ML: And Hermes. And now it’s going to take over the world now!
[We all share a table of laughs]
It’s incredible. Now that it’s a budding movement faster than even you’ve expected, do you have a certain mission that you hope to accomplish with what you’re doing?
NS: We have dreams of where we’d like to see things happen, but the whole reason it’s been what it has because we haven’t set out for things to have to happen, or objectives that have to be accomplished. I think the minute we do that, something would stop [giggles], like throwing a stick to the spokes of a bike- it would just flip over.
ML: So pretty much letting what you’re doing and letting what people are appreciating to let it take it course and just let it grow.
NS: There’s also certain kinds of pressure that could thwart your vision, so we’ve passed on a lot of things. After Jeffrey’s, we’ve been approached by some really interesting opportunities that could be big (including a high-end gift company in Dubai), but when they didn’t fit with the way we want to do it, our process, the time it would take when we work- it just couldn’t be for us, no matter how good it seemed.
ML: It’s pretty amazing that you have something like this and you’re not willing to let people put their own rules on it- it’s your own, something that you created, and you’re going to protect as much as possible.
AF: And it gives us a lot of pleasure. There’s a little give-and-take when we take a job though; for Hermes it’s a collaboration of sorts in that we have deadlines, but they’ve given us room.
ML: That’s a lot of inspiration for artists to stand their ground and to hold that standard for themselves and make sure it’s not being prostituted.
AF: And we’re not just sticking with the masks or the wigs. We’re going to test some different waters.
NS: When we started out, it was never like “We’re going to do wigs”- that’s the one thing we didn’t want is to typecast as “The Wig-ers” [we all giggle] and “mask producers.” Those were those projects, but it’s about fashion, paper, and wearable art. Seriously, I don’t want to do wigs for the rest [of my life] [giggles].
ML: What do you think about power of “ideas”?
NS: To think forward from ideas, you have to block out the idea of failure or regret. In my life, I’ve never regretted a single thing. I don’t even think about [failure], it doesn’t even cross my mind, and I think that’s the only way that you can go for anything. If you really are sure enough of what your ideas or thoughts are, you have already succeeded in some way.
ML: Any advice for other art and fashion hopefuls?
AF: I think that you have to do something. You can talk about it all day long, but sometimes you need to jump in and do something. Some good ideas never see the light of day because people just talked about them all the time.
NS: Never compromise. The things that we turned down, I think others would have jumped at because they were truly awesome opportunities, but it required some type of compromise on what it is that we’re wanting. I think when you start compromising it’s not your dream anymore- it’s someone else’s vision.
You can view more of the Paper Cut ladies’ internationally-acclaimed designs by visiting their website: www.paper-cut-project.com