Best of British
How a passion for sweet peas launched a stationery star
A personalised-stationery business
AT 17, TAYMOOR Atighetchi became the youngest art dealer on Portobello Road in London – the world’s largest antiques market – and at 18 he began a history of art degree at the University of Cambridge. The art business, he says, runs in his blood. ‘Generations of my family have been art dealers, so I’ve always been exposed to a lot of art.’
Yet he went on to work as a management consultant – until two years ago, when he quit, at the age of 26, and started Papier, a personalised stationery business, inspired partly by his art-world background and partly by hi s love of do o dling. ‘ When I was young, I used to draw fire engines, sign the corner of the paper – as I’d seen artists do – then sell the drawings to my relatives,’ he says.
Papier started in a tiny office in south London with two employees, but sold more than 150,000 notecards in its second year and now has 10 illustrators, working out of a paint-spattered studio in Soho. ‘It’s like an artist’s studio, except with no easels,’ jokes Antighetchi.
Unlike the many stationery designers who create illustrations on computers using design software, Atighetchi prefers to paint, draw and cut out patterns by hand before scanning the re sults on to a computer. This, he admits, can be time-consuming.
His bestselling notecards, printed with a watercolour painting of sweet peas, took weeks to create. Atighetchi fille d the studio with bouquets of blooms, then laid out palettes of watercolours and set his illustrators to work. ‘They painted sweet pea after sweet pea,’ he recalls. Roughly 100 paintings later, he decided on his signature design.
Once the design for a notecard is finalised, it is sent to a factory in Barking to be reproduced by an inkjet printer that turns out 2,800 notecards an hour. Some are then sent for personal engraving at a factory in Essex . Atighetchi employs thre e engravers, who use a burin – a specialist steel instrument so sharp that, as Atighetchi puts it, paper cuts are the least of their worries. ‘A quick slip of the finger could completely flatten the thumb,’ he says.
Reflecting on his first years in business, Atighetchi is proud of how far he has come. There have been collaborations with designers and institutions (including Matthew Williamson and the V&A), but he is most proud of the traditional illustrating process he follows, which appeals to his artistic roots. He adds, ‘Two years on, it still feels amazing to see something that began as a pattern translate into a piece of beautiful stationery.’
Right Taymoor Atighetchi at his Soho studio, watercolour designs in progress, and sweet-pea notecards.