Guest editor Christy Wright talks with designer Jill Malek on creating Rainshine, Cougar’s first design collaboration project.
7 min read
Cougar’s first collaboration with a designer had to be exceptional. That’s why we partnered with New York-based, award-winning artist and designer Jill Malek. Cougar’s love of art, fashion and design was perfectly in line with Jill’s affinity for natural elements and soft, luxurious colour palettes (you should see her gorgeous wallcoverings!). While Jill has designed furnishings for stunning residential and corporate interiors and is moving into spaces dedicated to wellness, we just can’t get enough of Rainshine – her interpretation of our best-selling Kensington boot. It captures light, movement and acts as a mini work of art you can walk in. We caught up with the designer to learn more…
You know we fell in love with your fluid approach to design and, in particular, your gorgeous wallcoverings. Why did you fall in love with Cougar?
My husband used to wear Cougar boots growing up as a boy in Ottawa in the ’80s. He reminded me that Cougar was (and is) a go-to for solid, warm boots during the harsh Canadian winters. I think it’s rare to find a brand that has such a lasting reputation for both quality and craftsmanship and, judging from the everyday use my Vanora suede winter boots have gotten all season, I can personally attest to this reputation.
That’s so nice to hear.
Yes, and I also get compliments on how stylish they are to boot (no pun intended!). Obviously, I am super excited to soon sport my new “Rainshine” rainboots as well; they’re lightweight and fun, while still being elegant.
As a fashion collaboration, did Cougar present any challenges?
Every day I spend time perfecting the look and feel of a pattern or design project I am working on. Scale is always a consideration and I think achieving the correct scale for the Rainshine pattern was a challenge, as I wanted enough surface area for the colour of the “rain” to make a subtle tonal shift at certain points: too big and you’d lose the colour transition; too small and the pattern gets lost. I think we landed at the perfect size to see the beauty of the rain motif fall across the boot.
Your products focus on making environments, from personal residences to hotels and offices, more human-centric. What does that mean to you
When you work or play in an environment that has soft lighting, warm colours and organic imagery, you feel calmer and, therefore, more productive. I’m always seeking to create designs that can make the end-user feel more connected to nature, and in turn feel recharged. To me, creating a more human-centric environment means creating one that is comfortable, warm and transformative.
I think we landed at the perfect size pattern to see the beauty of the rain motif fall across the boot.”
How is Rainshine an extension of your love of nature?
I’m moved by fluid forms in nature, like the migration of birds, the setting sun and shifting landscapes. Rainstorms are also interesting. There’s nothing more beautiful than the sun peeking through a rain shower at the end of a storm. The Rainshine pattern is an homage to that magical moment in nature when the light peeks through translucent rain. The pattern is also in line with my ongoing fascination to capture poetic moments in nature that make us smile.
And with Rainshine, you melded a natural element with a boot that’s a bit of an urban warrior – how did you balance these two worlds?
The Kensington boot’s main function is to protect your feet from getting soaked. I love the idea of embracing the rain, and seeing it as a beautiful object rather than something to avoid. The feeling of rain on your shoes can then be seen as something to celebrate. What if we could associate rainy days with happy times?
Any footwear fit pet peeves?
My feet are flatter than surfboards! If I don’t have any support in my shoe, it’s hard to spend hours walking the streets of New York. A little structure for me goes a long way!
I think people look best when they’re comfortable. I love a beautiful heel, but when I see a woman in pumps who can barely walk, it’s not so easy on the eyes! I think people should wear what feels right to them, although I understand that can sometimes be quite subjective.
Footwear aside, what do you think the biggest design trends are for 2021?
There seems to be a big move towards biophilic design: products and interiors that bring the outside in. As so many of us have been sequestered inside for a good part of the year, it only makes sense to connect our habitats with more natural elements.
Favourite Canadian city?
Montreal! A good part of my New York entourage is French-speaking (including my husband and son), so I feel quite comfortable in that city and love the European vibe there. Many of my extended Armenian family-in-laws also reside in Montreal, and I have fond holiday memories of gorging on a smorgasbord of Middle-Eastern cuisine at Christmas time. To date, I can’t find a better dolma (stuffed grape leaves) or lahmajun (Armenian pizza) anywhere else!
Dream design project in Canada?
I have an accent wall of my “Melt” pattern at Toronto’s Drake Hotel and would love to have more of my products there. The company is so eclectic and seems to really value innovation, so it would be fun to have some of my dimensional felt wallcoverings pop up in their interiors. I would also love to work with Nordik Spa in Chelsea, Quebec. That place is heaven on earth and I’d love to collaborate with them or a spa like them, one that personifies both luxury and wellness, and can incorporate some of my nature motifs into their settings.
What’s next for you?
I’m about to launch a new mural collection that is super textured and has vibrant pops of colours; I think it may be one of my strongest collections to date. I am also launching a new collaborative healthcare collection that will sport an elegant neutral palette and textiles that can work just as well in hospitality settings. The idea of positively contributing to environments where people are healing is very powerful. Finally, I’m in talks with companies about new collaborations and exciting project rollouts. I am so excited for 2021 in more ways than one!
What do you think people will love about Rainshine?
I think the pattern has a fun pop without being overbearing, which allows it to pair easily with many different accessories. Also, the metallic essence of the pattern has a jewel-like quality to it, so the boots, in and of themselves, will be their own accessory. When it rains, you now have the option of wearing “footwear jewellery” that won’t get damaged!
Describe Rainshine in five words.
Lightweight, functional, chic, shimmering, grounded.
Written and edited by Christy Wright christywrites.ca.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Werner Photography...