How Andrianna Shamaris Went from Dressing Princess Diana to Becoming the Indiana Jones of Design
By: Barry Samaha
Andrianna Shamaris is the real-life Indiana Jones of the design world—and that’s not hyperbole. Evidence: the London-born, New York-based designer is leaving for a four-week trip to Sumatra to unearth petrified wood. She’ll rifle through the jungle and villages, working with (and sometimes bribing) locals, driving in a heated caravan to get her hands on these million-year-old fossilized materials. It’s a journey that sounds so cinematic, so swashbuckling that it’s no wonder why the New York Times dubbed her “The Furniture Hunter.”
After the perilous trek, she’ll bring the petrified wood back to her studio, where she’ll polish them and create masterful pieces that are truly unlike others. Indeed, upon walking into her expansive store at 261 Spring Street, a location she has had for five years, one gets struck by the sheer magnitude and ingenuity of her designs. They are sinuous, wildly imaginative and have heirloom, Southeast Asian quality to them. And yet, they also imbue modernity in a profound way. It is a recipe that has attracted the most reputed fashion brands, hotels and decorators, all of whom call on her to fill up their interiors. They perhaps see the reverence that Shamaris brings to these materials—the way she highlights the natural forms, but tweaks it by adding varnishes or scorching the surface.
This clear-cut aesthetic, which she formulated over her 20-plus-year career, originated after a spur-of-the-moment trip to Bali with her then-husband. Many years and a divorce later, she opened a string of antique stores throughout West Coast cities in the U.S.—primarily in Santa Fe, Malibu and Santa Barbara, where she met retailer Fred Segal and went into business with him—and garnered a celebrity following. But before all this globetrotting, Shamaris was English girl who had forgone school to work as a young sales associate at Brown’s and later at Ralph Lauren’s first London store. It was at the latter where she had a chance meeting with Princess Diana, and eventually became her personal buyer for the brand.
As if being a virtual Indians Jones isn’t enough, Shamaris has the distinction of dressing one of history’s most celebrated style icons. It is a trajectory that’s undoubtedly exotic and lauded with enthralling elements—but as previously mentioned, not hyperbolic in the least .
Here, Shamaris elaborates on her background, her growing brand and how she creates some of the most interesting collections in the design world.
What is your background?
I started working in retail when I was 17 years old in London. I decided to start at the top and went to the most prestigious store in London, Browns, on South Molton Street when I was 16, but they said I was far too young. I called every week and finally at 17, they allowed me to start in their smaller store in Knightsbridge. Within months, I went to work at the opening of the very first Ralph Lauren store—at the time owned by Browns and located at 143 New Bond Street. Here, I accumulated a VIP client base starting with the late King Hussein of Jordan and Princess Diana.
What was it like being the personal shopper to Princess Diana?
I was her personal shopper at Ralph Lauren only. When Princess Diana first came to Ralph Lauren, she was unable to leave seen carrying bags from an American designer, so we had to send packages at a later date. As I’m sure you are aware, Princess Diana had a model figure and was a dream to dress. Everything looked amazing on her.
How did it feel leaving work life behind and just traveling the globe?
There was a lot of pressure being married and traveling the globe with a husband and a two-year-old. We were not traveling the globe on a five-star budget, but it worked.
How did you end up in Bali?
We travelled all around Southeast Asia and ended up in Bali, where I had visited one time when I was 18. It’s a very special place due not only because of its natural beauty, but also the people and their culture.
Why were you so inspired by Southeast Asian design?
I’m inspired by anything with a history. I’m inspired by the jungles and the natural beauty of Indonesia—not so much Southeast Asian design, but by the scale and beauty of the wood found there, which I turn into furniture. I call them my ideas, but Mother Nature is the true designer.
What led you to open a store in Santa Fe and later in Malibu?
Santa Fe was the first store I ever had. When I worked at Ralph Lauren, during his Santa Fe-slash-Prairie Collection, I was so mesmerized by the images and the story Ralph Lauren told. We literally decided to move there without ever visiting. It was huge culture shock after spending a year traveling through Southeast Asia. It was beautiful, but extremely different. Fast forward six years, getting a divorce and moving to Montecito, Santa Barbara and then a chance meeting with Fred Segal who owned the eponymous stores in Los Angeles. He invited me to have the first ever furniture store at Fred Segal, Andrianna at Fred Segal. Malibu happened a year later, and I never looked back. In Malibu, I had a tiny store that had furniture, gifts and my own clothing line. It was wild with so many celebrities walking through daily. Then I moved to New York and opened a store in 2004. It was a huge risk but it paid off from day one.
When did you decide to start creating your own pieces and why?
I started designing my own pieces primarily because antiques from Bali, the real antiques, were drying up, and lots of fake pieces were being made and sold as antiques, which I refused to buy or sell. So, I would find a piece of wood with a live edge, for example, keep the live edge and then add modern legs. People started copying my ideas, so I moved my studio to Sumatra.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
My pieces are for clients that see each item as an heirloom. Organic with a modern twist; the old with the new.
What drew you to petrified wood?
It is so versatile and each piece so unique. They are perfect for inside or outside living. I also love the natural process. Of course, it takes a lot of work to get the wood polished. Before the process of polishing, it’s a rough fossil. I recently invested in a new piece of machinery that polishes the petrified wood so that it looks and feels like glass, hence the name of my collection: High Quality Petrified Wood. I also introduced the Super Smooth Petrified Wood collection in 2018. I like to compare petrified wood to rough diamond that needs polishing to enhance the natural beauty. Nobody has the same quality that we produce.
How would you describe the process of finding these pieces in Sumatra?
Probably very different to what people will expect. This is not a glamorous job, where I troll through and pick out pieces. I source the wood myself with my team in Sumatra: we go to the jungle or meet people in villages who have beautiful old wood buried. And then I bring them back to my studio and the process begins.
How, then, do go about refurbishing these materials?
This is the most important part. I always say that it’s all about quality control. It’s one thing to source a stunning teak root, for example, but how it is treated after is of the utmost importance. I’ll never add wood filler to any of my pieces. It’s all about respecting the wood and the natural shape, cleaning it and nursing it back. I said before, as an example, that it feels like I’m bringing soldiers back to a hospital when we work on pieces that have been destroyed in the jungle by volcanoes.
The New York Times has coined you “The Furniture Hunter.” Do you think this is an apt description?
I think it’s pretty spot on, yes! Though, I’m not really hunting. Maybe the furniture whisperer, but hunter sounds better.
How would you describe your customer?
I like to describe my customers as super cool. I’ve sold to royalty, celebrities, architects and designers as well as to the public. We ship International. I’ll say 99.9% of the time when someone enters the showroom; the first thing they say is wow. It can be very overwhelming when you enter the showroom for the first time. I have a large collection and it is pretty clear it is curated with attention. Everything is in-house, designed and developed within my studio.
Why do you think fashion brands are so attracted to your designs?
I’ve produced for fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Fendi. The pieces are strong and important, much like the fashion brands themselves. My pieces are unique and have a wow factor, and I myself am an established brand. This, I believe, is very important. When you are working with the top architects and designers, they want to feel secure and know that they are working with someone that will deliver and bring the highest quality.
What are you doing to grow brand awareness? And did the change in store location help?
I’m focusing on producing collections and always curating my Wabi collection. I am also working on collaborations with fashion brands, artists, designers and architects. I’m always one step ahead. My new location has been fantastic. From 2004 to 2013, I was in the center of SoHo between Greene and Prince Street. I loved being there, and it was a great start to getting established in Manhattan. In 2013, when my lease expired, I moved west of SoHo to 261 Spring Street. I now have a complete wall of windows instead of just one, and I’m working more within the design industry. In my first week, I secured a huge hotel project. Within eight months of moving, I leased an additional 4000 square feet directly next door, so now I have 8000 square feet. When I was located on Greene Street, I had 1800 square feet. I now have a lot more for clients to select from, and it is easier to display my larger pieces.
How do you see your brand evolving in the next five years?
I would like to work on various collaborations and design for other brands and work on hotel projects. I have a clothing line that I started when I have my store in Malibu that I am going to invest more time in. I am also building a house on the island of Ithaca, Greece, the home of Odysseus, and looking to be based more globally: New York, London, Greece and Sumatra. It’s bliss.
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Full story here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/barrysamaha/2018/06/29/andrianna-shamaris-furniture-designer-interview-indiana-jones-princess-diana