– Jen and Michael Bouchard –
Jen and Michael met at an Italian bakery in Los Angeles and immediately bonded over their love of language, culture, and travel. A decade and many adventures later, they are pursuing their dream of designing and collaborating beyond borders. Jen’s academic background in international aesthetics and literature and Michael’s unconventional understanding of art and invention inform their design process. Bouchard Design Co. collections are an amalgamation of their experiences observing, connecting to, and allowing themselves to be changed by the places they’ve been and yearn to go.
Bouchard Design Co. pieces are imbued with personal value, cultural significance, and aesthetic appeal. Created with internationally sourced vintage and antique elements, each one-of-a-kind piece reflects the interplay between past and present, here and there. These custom pieces for individual clients and capsule collections for boutiques are carefully and imaginatively handmade by Jen and Michael Bouchard in their studio located just outside of Minneapolis, MN.
Through product and financial donations, Bouchard Design Co. is committed to supporting organizations that facilitate international education, work to ensure human rights, and help our fellow global citizens thrive.
We had the opportunity to talk with Jen about her and Michael’s experiences through Bouchard Design Co. Read on to learn about her unique design perspective, tales of acquiring elements around the world, and their appreciation for history and culture along the way.
Talk about the beginnings of Bouchard Design Co. What inspired you to begin this endeavor?
Bouchard Design Co. evolved out of my solo jewelry business (Litany) as Michael and I began to collaborate more on design and product development. The origins of this collaborative endeavor are rooted in our travels together and long conversations at the dinner table. Bouchard Design Co.’s products reflect our passion for discovery, both at home and abroad.
It sounds like travel, and all of the self-reflection and growth it inspires, plays a significant role in your creative process. Can you speak to that a bit? Absolutely—Michael and I are very curious people (in both senses of the term!). Any chance we have to discover a new place, a new design concept, or a new way of thinking, we go for it. Our most recent trip to Chile provided plenty of opportunities for cultural, intellectual, and aesthetic awakenings—from pouring over the stylistic details in Pablo Neruda’s homes to discussing the relationship between oppression and the creative process with Mapuche artists to scouring flea markets for unexpected elements to use in our design work.
That sounds incredible. Are you seeing the influence of that trip in your work now (either thematically or literally in the elements you acquired)? Yes—we sourced some wonderful antique hardware components—keyholes, drawer pulls, etc. at a flea market in Santiago and we’ve been incorporating those into our spring collection. Malachite and lapis can be found throughout Chile as well. We’ve been pairing those stones with toned-down neutrals (creams, tans, browns) to reflect the contrasting landscapes found throughout the country.
What do you find special about using internationally sourced vintage and antique elements?
There’s something exciting about merging time periods, cultural references, and aesthetic elements into a piece or collection—it keeps things current, yet rooted in history. Each collection opens up a dialogue about the interplay between past and present, here and there.
Is that a goal of yours through your pieces—to open up a dialogue on our preconceived ideas of past and present, here and there? When I first started creating, there was definitely a lot of nostalgia present in my designs. In addition to making pieces with elements I’d collected over the years (each one containing a memory), I had the chance to work with clients on transforming heirloom pendants, chains, etc. into more contemporary, wearable pieces—so yes, the goal there was to bring pieces of the past into the present. Collaborating with Michael has been good for me and opened up my aesthetic vocabulary quite a bit. We’re both excited by the idea of merging materials and references from different areas and time periods to push that discussion even further. A year ago we fell in love with the antique and vintage tile patterns we saw throughout Barcelona (on the sidewalks, walls, etc.). We’ve been working on a way to incorporate those motifs into our leatherwork (which tends to be pretty simple and modern). Adding this aesthetic reference from another time and place to a belt or bracelet you wear everyday reminds us of all there is to see, do, and connect to in the world. Being a language and literature aficionado, I also look for ways to incorporate text into our work. Our new mirror image rêve/réalité tees play with the 1920s surrealist idea of merging dream and reality. We used a contemporary font to bring that concept to 2017.
Does the creative process you experience in making Bouchard Design Co. pieces call upon a certain aspect of your creativity? Do you find the process satisfying? Absolutely. We both find a lot of peace and enjoyment in working with our hands. When we’re working on a new collection, we’ll each go into our own studio space and experiment with combinations and techniques and then meet up a couple of hours later to talk through ideas together and play off of each other. This collaborative process, the ebb and flow of working individually and as a team, is really satisfying.
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey? Michael comes from a family of visual artists, scientists, and engineers, so his creativity manifests as functional and design-friendly solutions around our quirky midcentury house and beautifully handcrafted surfboards (he’s originally from L.A.). I come from a family of musicians, community builders/activists, educators, and writers, so my mind is constantly at work looking for ways the arts and language (verbal or text-based) can open up pathways of communication, reveal our differences and similarities, and build a greater sense of community.
In terms of living and making in Minnesota, do you feel connected to this place? After living together in L.A. and traveling a lot in the early years of our relationship, we decided to make a permanent home in Minnesota. We’re now raising our daughter and housing our studios in a home that’s been in my family for three generations. There is so much creative energy in Minnesota that inspires us and keeps us going. We’ve also found there to be an openness and collaborative spirit between artists and entrepreneurs in this area—this creates synergy that’s really exciting and we’re grateful to be a part of it.
Why is local important? Every city in the world is unique in terms of how its history and culture(s) have shaped current realities, and the Twin Cities are no different. The small business owners, artists, and designers in this area are an essential part of what makes Minnesota unique. One of the things I love about the Twin Cities area is that our local is global—this convergence of cultures drives innovation in all sectors, and it’s especially noticeable in our small businesses.
How has Bouchard Design Co. evolved? How have you evolved alongside it? We enjoy working closely with boutique owners and individual clients to create unique collections for them. This approach allows us to evolve organically in our aesthetics and in our relationships with our clients. There have also been opportunities along the way that have required us to rethink the way we design and produce. One of the first large-scale projects we worked on together was a collection for Jack White’s Nashville-based label, Third Man Records. In order to produce 1000 custom leather bracelets in two months, we hired on eight wonderful contractors to help us complete the project. It was a learning experience for both of us, and one that we definitely welcomed.
What do you see for the future of your business? In addition to product expansion in our leather accessories and t-shirts, we hope to continue to work closely with museum shops and boutique owners across the country to create capsule collections comprised of one-of-a-kind pieces. We’re excited about upcoming research and sourcing trips to Dakar and Paris.
Do you feel like making and creating through your business allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself? I’m incredibly grateful for all of the people we’ve met around the world and in our local community through our sourcing and design projects. The nature of this work is very interconnected, and we enjoy establishing and growing these relationships. We also use BDC as a vehicle for supporting initiatives that shape a more just and equitable society. Each year, we donate a percentage of our profits to organizations that facilitate international education, work to ensure human rights, and help our community members thrive. The future of our communities and innovation within creative industries depend on diverse perspectives. To that end, we are thrilled to be involved with organizations like Minnesota Youth Community and Young Fashion Fund that foster creative development and access to educational and professional opportunities for our next generation of innovators.