Creative Complementarity: A Chat with Jean and Dylan, the Dynamic Duo behind L&G Studio
February 14, 2024
Join us for an intimate chat with Jean Lee and Dylan Davis of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio in their beautiful home in upstate New York; whose journey as partners, in every sense of the word, began with a shared passion for design while at university. Twenty years later, their life stories are very much intertwined with their design practice - a testament to the power of collaboration, complementary differences, and a playful curiosity that fuel both their lives and their art. Dive into their world as they share with us how their mutual love for design has blossomed into a beautiful partnership, both personally and professionally.
[All photos featured in this article are styled and shot by Jean Lee.]
Take us back to the beginning; could you share the story of how the two of you first met? How and when did you realise that you could work together as a couple?
It all started long ago in design school. We were classmates in the University of Washington’s small Industrial Design Department. There were only 11 people in our class and the intensity of studying design has the tendency to bring those with like-minds together. We quickly learned to appreciate each other’s similar ethos and rigour around design and when we started working together on group projects, things just sort of “clicked”. And then a romance also blossomed over time from that.
By the time we got to our senior year, our class travelled to Rome for several months. We had only been dating for a short time at that point, but we were able to get our first apartment together in the Trastevere neighbourhood on that trip. It really was a very transformative experience for us as designers and as people, and that cemented our alignment with one another. This year will actually be our 20th anniversary!
Balancing personal and professional lives can be challenging, especially as a couple working together. How do you maintain a healthy balance, and are there any strategies you have found particularly effective?
Since the beginning of our relationship, design has been an essential part of who we are together. So in a way it is hard to turn the “designer” side of us “off”. Instead of fighting to balance work and life (where the two are in some form of opposition), we have found it much easier to look at it as a flow. One of the things that this translates to, for us, is a flexible schedule. We both work best at very different times of the day, so we do not force ourselves into a 9 to 5 schedule, instead working on individually focused work when we are best suited for it. It is one of the benefits of operating our own practice. It does not mean we work more. It means that work and life is more intertwined with our lifestyle.
Secondly, it means that we have become more intentional with our “downtime” as something that still relates to us as creative people. We regularly do non-design activities that can be very rejuvenating and indirectly inspiring. For instance, we recently got into surfing during COVID, and found that not only is it a nice break from our work, but it is also incredibly revitalising being active in nature. Surfing has even influenced the ways we approach design and how we work, which was totally unexpected.
Did your creative styles converge over time as a design couple? For example, did one of you have a particular way of working that then transitioned to a different style influenced by your partner?
Our work and our very relationship have always been centred around the idea of “complementary opposites”. That is what the name “Ladies & Gentlemen” means to us - a celebration of a fluid intermingling of ideas that might not immediately seem related or harmonious but are. It is a bit like Yin Yang where the opposites flow around each other and also into each other. There is no doubt we have impacted each other, but more so than changing each other’s ways, we have found the most peace in celebrating our coexistence than merging into one thing.
How do you mutually inspire each other?
Travelling is a big source of inspiration for us. Getting into a new environment really helps us refresh our thinking and expose us to new creative inputs. With that said, the fact that we have known each other for more than 20 years now, we also realise that having some time apart is also equally important. This allows each of us to explore different hobbies and interests separately and then be able to share new insights, skills, and knowledge with each other.
In what ways do you differ the most?
This is where our philosophy of embracing complementary opposites comes into play. There are a lot of specific ways we differ, but our core values align.
Jean: I’m a very non-linear and an adaptive person - everything from how I get inspired to how I structure my schedule is pretty indirect and less structured. This way of working isn’t always easy to understand or accept, but I’m a very good divergent thinker and can seek inspiration, make connections in unexpected ways.
Dylan: I’m more linear and structured - from my early morning routine to my love of spreadsheet formulas, to my goal to be creative everyday, I’m good at following through on things that take a lot of rigour and persistence.
These qualities at first can seem quite at odds - and to be totally honest they have been at times when we first started our studio and were expecting to work the same way - but we have come to embrace and respect our own ways of working and believe that those qualities are more like our own “super powers”.
Learning this overtime has allowed us to have a greater respect for each other while also applying our skill sets to fill each other’s gaps when needed.
Do you have any creative rituals or routines that you follow separately or as a couple when starting a new project? How do these rituals contribute to the overall creative energy of the collaboration?
This is actually a great question because it has been our new year resolution to expand ourselves on this front. To be 100% honest, it can be challenging to find time to be creative while running a business when other more practical things take priority. This is a real shortcoming when your business centers around creativity!
So one of things that we are trying at the moment is to simply “be creative for the sake of creativity”. That could be as simple as making pointless doodles to playing with scraps or journaling - just setting the intention that “I’m going to be creative today”. Despite being creative for a living, it is actually quite challenging to do so every single day, but we are making that a big priority to get back into the practice of reconnecting with the more playful and creative sides of ourselves.
How did the collaborative process with Origin Made unfold? Were there specific elements or themes that influenced the creative progress of the resulting pieces?
Our process is very focused on materiality. Whenever we set out to work on something new, we set our focus on understanding some sort of “essence” of the material or the process. We really like to engage our creativity at this stage by being very observant and inquisitive in the discovery process. This is what made the Origin Made project so appealing and ideal. The actual journey of going directly to the maker, seeing the process and understanding how the maker and the material relate to each other is very fascinating to us. Really, the objects are a result of a sense of wonderment for the material and the maker’s process. We hope that anyone engaging with our pieces will feel some of that spirit as well.
Have you ever designed something specifically for the other? If so, what was it? Who, between the two of you, is more challenging to find the ideal gift for?
Because we live and work together we feel like we do not really need more things. So instead of making things for each other, we found that gifting each other experiences really works well for us - things like surf trips, weekend getaways, special dinners, going to music concerts, or even exploring a new neighbourhood in the city together can be pretty invaluable. We spend so much time thinking about design for our studio that these types of experiences give both of us more of a break from design while allowing us to create new memories through exploring new experiences together.
Playfulness infuses your work. Is playfulness a key ingredient in your love story too? Can you share an anecdote or a particularly meaningful moment that exemplifies this joyful approach to life together?
The main thing that attracted us to one another is our curiosity and sense of wonder for the world, which we view as an inherently playful endeavour. Curiosity allows us to not take anything too seriously and allows us to be more open to finding new inspiration - even in familiar mundane things. Curiosity also allows us to continue to be a student of the world or of the cosmic universe. Not only do we get to learn more, we also get to discover and continue to expand our horizons, and evolve, so we don’t become too fixed or too complacent about what we do or who we are.
This is why we have shaped our studio to be multifaceted so that we can explore designing things together as well as enjoying creative experiences such as workshops, exhibitions, teaching, or installations that fuel our collective desire to stay curious.
Are there any dream projects or collaborations you both aspire to undertake? What is the next step for Ladies & Gentlemen Studio?
As we mentioned earlier, we really enjoy travelling and exploring new places. We have done many short week-long workshops in exciting places like Cuba and Portugal (for Origin Made!), but we have never done a longer-form residency where we are embedded in a new place for multiple weeks or months, creating based on the location and environment. It is something we would really love to do, perhaps in places such as Taiwan, Japan, Italy, Scandinavia, Mexico, etc. where we have some connections there and feel a pull to spend more time in those places that can allow us to gain new experiences, make new connections, and undertake new collaborations. We do not have anything specific lined up, but this is definitely on our bucket list!