Emily Dupen-Hopkins Interview: Beautifully Burlesque
Trends & Events
If the thought of adorning your living room walls with black-and-white wallpaper depicting 1940s-style women doing household chores in stockings and suspenders – or serving a traditional British tea topless – doesn’t appeal, then look away now.
The wallpaper is the creation of Emily Dupen-Hopkins, who has designed what she calls a “cheeky” collection of not only wallpaper but also cushions, ceramics, wall tiles and lampshades, all embedded with a strong retro feel that hearkens back to a more innocent era.
Dupenny, the company she launched in 2009, doesn’t seek to offend. In fact, it has only one mission, according to the 29-year-old designer from Brighton in southern England: “to make the world smile”.
“Most of my inspiration comes from retro and cheeky retro things,” says Dupen-Hopkins, who studied illustration as an undergraduate at Brighton University.
“I especially like the old illustrations Gil Elvgren, an illustrator from the 40s and 50s who did ladies with their skirts caught in things and stuff like that. He has been quite inspiring to me. I just love the cheekiness, really.”
Alternate Career Path
Dupen-Hopkins didn’t always dream of becoming a burlesque illustrator. In fact, she originally studied music at college but then lost most of her hearing in both ears, and so had to take a different career path.
“I started going deaf when I was 18, and over the next four years my hearing deteriorated more and more,” she recalls. “I think it was the result of listening to too much loud music. There was a club I went to that was really loud, that sort of triggered it off.
“I used to do a lot of singing and unfortunately I found that I couldn’t play anymore, so I had to change direction. I thought about doing illustration but I didn’t really know what it was, as it was a new course. But as art was my second love after music, I sort of fell back on that.
“I switched on the recommendation of a teacher, and I took my teacher’s advice, although I didn’t know when I was letting myself in for. It just all went on from there.”
In her final year at university Dupen-Hopkins “finally” got a cochlear implant and miraculously could hear almost normally again. But by that point she had decided to continue in the field of illustration, and it was all uphill from there.
“I support myself doing it, just about. At the moment everything that is coming in is being spent on building up the business even more, and it has been moving quickly. There is always more to do to grow the business – but it is definitely getting there and moving forward.”
One of Dupen-Hopkins’ most popular products is her Call Girls wallpaper, which she describes as “one of our naughtiest designs to date”. It actually started life as a university project celebrating the anniversary of the traditional red English phone box (booth).
The idea to do the wallpaper came to her when she was visiting the neighborhood of Soho in central London, which is not the most wholesome of areas. “I used a phone box and the inside was covered from head to toe in call girl fliers. I thought, ‘Oooh, I could do something with that!’” she recalls.
After looking at the wallpaper that was currently on the market, she realized there was a “huge gap” as virtually all the wallpaper was boringly traditional. “Even the modern stuff was based on floral patterns,” she says. “So I thought, ‘Why not do something with the call girl fliers, so that you can hang them on your wall at home?’”
The result: Call Girl wallpaper in black and pink, depicting fliers advertising the women’s services with green sticker stars you can stick over the rude bits. “Elegant Mature Busty Blonde” says one; “Spanking by Angry Miss,” reads another.
Other cheeky wallpaper designs, which are digitally printed but can also be hand-screened, include her Burlesque Wallpaper design with traditional black-and-white burlesque characters; Housewives Wallpaper depicting women vacuuming, ironing, putting food in the oven, hanging up clothes and performing other simple household tasks in suggestive poses, and Time for Tea, which shows topless women holding pies, cakes and teapots in front of their bosoms.
What kinds of people buy the wallpaper? “Mainly women, or women buying for ladies,” says Dupen-Hopkins. “That said, often men buy the Call Girls line for their bathrooms.
“The Burlesque one is cute and definitely geared for women. They put it in their kitchens or bathrooms, although some people will even line drawers and wardrobes with it, it shows up in sneaky places you don’t expect.”
Less suggestive imagery includes the English Garden wallpaper; Circus! Circus! with childlike circus figures; Splash! featuring synchronized swimmers, and Geometric Wallpaper in either color or black –and-white.
Ceramics and Tiles
While wallpaper is Dupen-Hopkins most popular product, she has started branching out into other lines of homeware as well, such as lampshades and ceramic plates and mugs. She is planning soon to launch her own line of wall tiles.
“We are trying to find other ways to get into more interior decorating,” she explains. “Tiles are quite a big thing at the moment; they are making a comeback so we are doing a range of those at the moment.
“We plan to have the same types of designs but adapted with a different girl on each tile, for example, maybe they could order a picnic range to get all the different characters.
“We are still having a play around with them at the moment, but they are coming soon, probably in the New Year.” Other homeware products include cushions, lampshades and upholstered antique chairs.
Design with a Conscience
Dupenny’s products are described as having a “fun design with a conscience”, and all are hand-made in Britain using traditional printing and manufacturing techniques. Dupen-Hopkins strives to use sustainable products “as much as possible”, which includes the packaging.
It appears to be a recipe that’s working: Dupenny has received numerous awards since its launch, including the Shell Livewire Grand Ideas Award in May, 2009 and the 100% Design Bursary Award in September, 2009. It was also short-listed for the Elle Decoration British Design Awards that same month.
And in case you’re wondering if the designs are a bit sexist, worry no more. “We are going to move on to do some men at some point, some gentlemen with moustaches in particular, so we can start taking the mick out of them,” Dupen-Hopkins says. “I get asked quite a lot when we are going to put men in our wallpaper and other designs, so they’re definitely on the list.”
Alex Levin is a writer for Granite Transformations, a green remodeling company that advances sustainable construction practices by finding new ways to reduce waste and recycle such as using broken Skyy vodka bottles to make countertops.