To say that Eny Lee Parker is busy is an understatement. At the moment, the Savannah-based designer is dyeing canvas in clay in preparation for a solo exhibition slated to open in January, and packing for an imminent move to New York City. Lately, she’s been testing the structural limits of a box of banana leaves.
“A little while ago, I found a Filipino brand online that aligned with what I believe in—traditional methods of fabrication and materials,” Parker relays over the phone. “We talked about collaborating on mobiles and lighting using banana fibers. They sent me some samples, and I’m trying to figure out if they’re strong enough for the concept.”
This spirit of material experimentation and collaboration has been a driving force in this younger designer’s emerging career. Parker grew up in Brazil, where her parents owned a clothing store, and where she was exposed to the country’s artisanal craftsmanship. At age 13, she moved from São Paulo to Los Angeles and spent her high-school summers working with her mother in L.A.’s Fashion District. Turned off by the rise of fast fashion in the clothing industry, she opted out of the family business and set her sights on furniture design, completing a masters degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2016.
“She has a wonderful minimalist quality about her work,” says Susan Laney of Laney Contemporary, the Savannah gallery presenting Parker’s solo show of wall-mounted mirrors with ceramic chains, the aforementioned clay-dyed canvases and sashiko embroidery and glass-and-ceramic furniture. “The shapes are unique, and they bring together qualities of time, history and place to tell a story.”
Parker’s most recent works are high-fashion takes mixing wiry, powder-coated black steel with the ancient medium of terra cotta. “It’s been known for centuries,” says Parker, “and I love using a traditional material in a contemporary atmosphere.”
Perhaps because fashion had always stayed in her subconscious, it eventually made its way back into her body of work, which now includes earrings, jumpsuits and other accessories. “I’m learning that designers are no longer selling a single product typology, but marketing a complete lifestyle,” says Parker. “Our older generations didn’t have the luxury to explore that breadth. You had a trade, and you stuck with it. Today, we can try different things and not feel pressured if it doesn’t work out.”
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