LUMBERTON — Thomas Ard has become a well-known figure in the world of art, fashion and design, and he can now cross off his list of accomplishments being featured as the artist in residence for Kate Spade.
On Oct. 5, Spade opened a mock studio, with leopard theme, at her Fifth Avenue store in New York City, where Ard was the guest of honor. During his time there, Ard, dressed in leopard pants, met and greeted customers and hand-painted cats on purses for them, turning the purses into collectors items on the spot. The event was so successful that he was invited back to the store for more events.
“It’s been a whirlwind but it’s super fun,” Ard said. “We had a great turnout.”
Ard hand-painted more than 60 bags during the event, according to Chelsey Biggs, Ard’s best friend.
Biggs assisted Ard in New York City.
“He painted angry cats, sad cats, and I’m talking detail,” Biggs said.
Kate Spade is an international retail company with 140 retail shops and outlets across the United States and 175 shops around the world. It’s known for its crisp color, graphic prints and playful sophistication with handbags, clothing, jewelry and other items.
The company found out about Ard and his work through social media.
Ard said that working with the Spade group wasn’t difficult because its brand and style are so close to his own. Most of Ard’s work is bright, colorful and with a touch of playfulness.
“I would describe my art as whimsy and positive. It’s very lighthearted,” he said. “Art should reflect who you are and that’s just who I am.”
Ard, 31, is a native of Lumberton, but he is well-traveled. Ard studied sculpting at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, but he says that he is self-taught. Ard uses all media, including water, acrylic, ink and digital.
“I could paint before I could write my own name,” he said.
Since late 2011, Ard has worked for various national companies that license his designs, which are applied to bowls, fabrics, lamps and other decor items.
In 2010 Ard opened The Desperate House Wife in Lumberton’s Biggs Park Mall, a niche gift shop where he could sell products sporting his designs. Ard later decided to focus instead on developing designs at his own pace and selling the work to area businesses for resale.
A large part of Ard’s job is being ahead of trends, spotting them before others do. While everyone else is thinking of what to put on our trees in December, Ard is planning design for holidays in December 2019.
He travels often to Atlanta and New York to search for the next big thing in fashion. Ard said all aspects of design ultimately comes from fashion so it takes about four years for a fashion trend to be translated to home decor.
“It all starts with fashion and then trickles down to interiors,” he said.
So Ard is sure to pay attention to the what’s on the runway.
“Atlanta is really becoming a hot spot of the trends so far,” he said. “That’s why I can’t discuss my projects.”
A trend that Ard said is showing a lot now is Chinoiserie in blue and white, which is what you will notice in a lot of his current work. The design is a Chinese motif style technique that Ard hand paints himself.
Ard recently returned from a trip in Paris where he and four other creative people were sent to get inspired by trends in architecture.
Now his work is in high demand. Because of that demand, Ard can be facing two or three deadlines a week.
“My deadlines create my hours,” he said.
Ard’s work has been featured in more than 200,000 stores across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. He also has licensed work to other companies and developed his own brand under the name Tom Tom Designs.
“I have gotten some of his pieces and I’m holding on to them because I know he’s going to be so big one day,” Biggs said. “I can’t wait to see what comes next.”
Ard said he doesn’t get down time; all he does is work, but enjoys every minute of it.
“I’m married to my career,” he said.
As for the future, Ard sees himself as being his own boss.
“I want my own cooperation, my own company,” he said. “It will happen soon.”
Ard will head back to the Fifth Avenues Kate Spade store for a holiday event on Dec. 5.
Reach Tomeka Sinclair at 910-416-5865