Tiff Manuell + conversations with bianca + wearable art

Tiff Manuell’s creations are absolutely divine. Her wearable art makes me very, very happy! They’re handpainted, handmade one of a kind clutches and accessories that bring much joy to those that rock them… I know because my Tiff pieces make me smile and bring me happiness every single day; wherever I go I always get compliments on them, same goes for my friends that wear her art too! I recently spoke with Tiff to get an insight into her magical creations and bright colourful world… read on to find out more. I find both Tiff and her work super inspiring.

BIANCA: How much of yourself and your personality shines through in your art?

TIFF MANUELL: That’s a very interesting question, maybe more easily answered by those around me. I think I approach my artwork in a fairly free flowing unplanned fashion, that is very me, I like everything to generally be spontaneous and am a very unstructured planner. I definitely have an affinity for colour, I think my work reflects my happy disposition, I am fairly easy going but I am also pretty driven and determined and I hate sitting still. I like to see results quickly and that is definitely reflected in the speed and flow of my painting style. I think it’s always happy and that has been the essence of my drive and passion, to create product that brings people joy.

B: What’s the most important thing to you about one of your creations?

TM: I don’t like compromising on quality, not so much materials but quality of colour and how clever it is. I personally want to be blown away by my own product, wowed or gasp in excitement when I see the final product completed. I like to push myself to create a product that is unique and beautiful but functional at the same time. I am a huge believer in being inventive not just creative.

Tiff Manuell clutches

B: What is your design philosophy?

TM: I don’t have a clear philosophy really, it’s probably a moving target but essentially it’s to always be true to myself and remain experimental, be forever moving and keep developing, that’s what makes life creatively interesting and brings new opportunity and fun. Always have fun.

B: Looking at your creations you obviously have a strong affinity for bright colours and bold patterns; where did this come from?

TM: I grew up in Alice Springs, a hot desert town, it’s a colourful place, surrounded in amazing landscapes of intense colour and amazing cultural artwork. My mum filled our house with bold artwork and decor and I guess this all affected me, I remember moving to RMIT in the fashion course and felt like a fish out of water, no one used colour like I did and it took ages for me to settle into the Melbourne sense of style. I have always just had a passion for using colour and have never been timid with it but think I also know when too much is enough!

B: Your latest collection takes inspiration from art period the Memphis movement and modern designer artist Camille Walala; how did you first discover Camille’s work? What was it that resonated so strongly with you?

TM: I remember a couple of years ago walking past a piece of her street artwork in Melbourne in Brunswick and loving it and then slowly she started popping up on my Instagram, obviously following her I was strongly influenced. Like a lot of my work, I just get excited by a range of influences, whether it is culture, an era, a sci-fi movie etc, it does not matter what it is I guess I just absorb it and then develop it in my own way. Her work was probably more deliberate as it is so distinct but also reminiscent of a really 80’s era and also Memphis look which somehow resonates with me. It’s funny how growing up in the 80’s has really come full circle in my current work.

Tiff Manuell studio late nights

B: Your collections are made here in Australia and are handmade (I love the hand numbered touch on the Tiff tag. Also congratulations for making 10,000+ pieces—that’s amazing!); what inspired you to make them here rather than sourcing off shore? Why handmade? I understand that, this was important to you from the beginning?

TM: I am passionate about these products being and retaining the handmade, hand assembled touch. I have a long history in commercial design and a whole business that was built on overseas manufactured product so to have something produced locally just feels right at present. I know it’s not practical for all products but for my current accessories it’s perfect and people really love and appreciate that aspect. The individual numbering system just allows the customers to feel and understand the unique one of a kind nature of my products. I want also to not lose sight of how important this was to me when I started so want to keep it continuing it regardless of how many we make.

B: I’ve read that the first bag you made was for your friend Anna; why did you decide to make a bag? What did it look like?

TM: My bestie Anna often brings out the best in my creative projects. I always make her birthday presents, so I guess this was just another experimental present. I made a iPad cover for her really, it just so happened to look like an awesome clutch. I had though made a couple of pencil cases before that for my girls and the PVC idea seemed like a great protector….. all went from there. Anna’s bag was more a layer of amazing solid colours collaged in shapes on a natural material. Girls just started asking about them and away I went…….

Tiff Manuell studio

B: What’s your creative space like?

TM: It’s a bit squeezy at this stage, we are growing out of it but it’s cool, light and bright, I have a small studio store in the front where anyone can come past and browse which is really fun for us and them as they can see into our busy little work space which is usually lined with painted canvases in action….. at all different stages of making. From here we make the accessories, cut and dispatch. It’s a busy place but fun.

B: Do you listen to music while you work? What would we find on your playlists?

TM: Music yes we love music….. sometimes triple J for ease but all sorts after that, I think everyone gets a little challenged by my playlist as I am into the slightly moodier artists that can get a little sad after a while but are so easy to work to, but we have Pandora playlists going as well, everything from hip hop, vintage and new, a bit of Chet, some Jazz, RNB and indie, everything I guess…… when I am here on my own I pump up Damien Rice which no-one else likes but makes me rush in emotion and helps me to focus! I am always open to everyone else’s playlists but I don’t necessarily love them!

Tiff Manuell details

B: You’re a business woman as well as an artist, I know that this can be a tricky balance; how have you reconciled the two worlds?

TM: Truthfully I am as passionate about both, business is reality, money brings ease and helps a family to get on so I have to be sensible about business and practical at the same time. This does not mean I’m great at it but I do have a feel for it I think. I am an advocate for making a business out of creative design, I like to encourage young people into it but it’s not for everyone. It’s important to never be complacent, I have lived some true horrors of small business mishaps but also enjoyed the joy ride which it can bring. My businesses has taken me all over the world and I have met amazing people along the way, but you have to work hard and risk everything with it. Running my own business gives me flexibility and inspiration, I really love it actually.

B: Tell us a bit about your current inspirations as both an artist and a business woman.

TM: When it comes to business I think I’m fairly laid back, I don’t get too much caught up in networking and or what others are doing or what I should be doing, this is probably because of my age, I used to be very passionate about driving a very serious business when I was younger, I am much more chilled these days so in principle it’s to just grow and maintain a balanced and enjoyable business that I love. Inspirations as an artist or designer is to just immerse myself in things that make me feel good and be inspired by them. I love being more reactionary and painting and creating things that feel right on the day whether it’s taking inspiration from an image I have spotted on Pinterest or in a mag, a film or something I have seen in my daily travels. I must admit my work does reflect an ongoing 80’s look but then spotted with small creative wanderings into mid-century styling, a bit of punk, and whatever else…. probably most of it is just a mish mash of new and old memories. I am inspired to grow my business though and dream of it featured in upmarket stores spotted globally, I know that’s a bit pretentious but I really believe in the product and can see it working in great gallery or fashion stores. It’s not for everyone but I feel that’s it’s a very versatile product that most girls could carry. We are selling them via the online store to some wicked spots so that is such a great feeling. OH I would also love to do some street art one day!

Tiff Manuell handmade

B: You’re a mum to two teenage daughters Indigo and Macy; has being a mother changed anything in relation to your art or your practice of art?

TM: OK Yes and yes, my girls influence me weekly, more directly my work is very feminine in nature, they are both so unique from each other as girls/women but influence my style. My eldest grew up in our design studio surrounded by a heap of young designers, hence she is now fairly sure about her own sense of style, and her own creative ability, she steers me all the time as she has a very different aesthetic to my own which means I get a balance of what different girls like. She educates me about pastels and subtlety. Macy is a powerhouse of energy and is such a supporter and promoter of my work, I can do no wrong in her eyes which gives me confidence. I think as a mum it helps me to drive my style and make them proud, to continue to grow and show them both how hard work and passion can pay off. Their presence in my life has influenced me enormously.

B: What were you like as a teenager? You grew up in the 80s, right? (There’s a definite 80s & 90s vibe in some your work which I adore! I grew up then too).

TM: Hmmm, quite honestly I was a pretty serious teen, I was very creative and started making and selling at the age of maybe 15 to earn money. I had two jobs to feed my obsession for clothing and loved spending money on big earrings and plastic broaches….. all the rage back then. I was pretty driven as a teen I think, I used to read about Australian fashion designers and dream about owning my own business, I fell in love at 16, Dave (husband and partner) introduced me to fun and music and all the things that maybe I had partly missed out on….. we were definitely kids of the 80’s, it was all about music and cars, hanging out at KFC, getting into nightclubs underage to dance and wearing amazing outfits laden with pearls, mesh and lace gloves. I think back to iconic Australian fashion designers back then, Jenny Kee, Linda Jackson, Stuart Membry, it was all about print pattern and colour. They were seriously amazing. Funny how I can relate to that all now.

Tiff Manuell art

B: I’ve notice on your social media that you often engage with your followers and thank you for support, it’s really refreshing to see that.

TM: Really that is nice of you to notice and say. It’s an amazing world we live in, to have this contact directly with your followers is so awesome, it’s empowering but humbling and also such a real time connection. It helps to drive my work and inspire my direction. I am so blown away by the following, I meet people who mention they see my posts daily and how much they get out of them, that is just such an incredible bonus to what I do, not only is it about product it’s about perhaps being able to inspire others. Such a different landscape, I hope everyone appreciates the value of what we have at our fingertips today. Years ago you had to pay 10 K to put an ad in mag to express your brand to people. God I love technology!

B: What’s the greatest thing that’s happened to you so far this year?

TM: I’m not sure, it’s too many things, I get pretty easily excited and often just love the simplest things for what they are. This can range from sending an order to Belgium or New York (exciting), to dining at Marmasettas in Melbourne with Dave to getting UGG boots on mum’s day from my girls, to meeting people like you, everything in its own context. I have lived a few nightmares so I am just grateful in general for a smooth happy year so far!

conversations with bianca + happy tiff

To get your own piece of happiness go to TIFFMANUELL.COM. For inspiration follow Tiff on IG: @happytiff

Life’s too short not to be joyful!

I heart you




Photos courtesy of Tiff’s IG. Last photo is a self-portrait by me.