Travel is a rich source of inspiration for Alice Oehr, a graphic designer-turned-illustrator from Melbourne. “I like to travel a few times a year and usually try to align my trips with a work meeting, event or project,” she says. But she makes sure to always “clock off” on her travels and look at the world with fresh eyes. “It’s where I get heaps of my inspiration,” she says.
Oehr’s offbeat illustrations have appeared everywhere from books to beauty products, tea towels to gallery walls. Her most recent exhibition, Freshly Wrapped, just finished at Lamington Drive in Collingwood. “I love collage, bright and unusual colour combinations and ornamentation,” she says. “Anything a bit kitsch. I love drawing faces and food more than anything.”
When she travels, she finds herself returning again and again to the same places – namely Italy, France and Japan. “I'm interested in the design language of pretty much anywhere I go,” she says. “But Japan has an incredibly strong sense of style deeply embedded in their culture. Bright graphics, mascots, patterns and fantastic logos are everywhere. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it.”
Oehr has travelled to Tokyo every year for the last decade. “Even though it's a vast city, I know some parts quite well now,” she says. We asked her to share her insider knowledge of where to shop in Tokyo, Paris and Milan.
Tokyo – a stationery mecca
Tokyo is a paradise for stationery nerds says Oehr. “When I'm there I always stock up on beautiful paper, pens and pencils, as well as all sorts of unnecessary things impossible to get at home,” she says. “Things like washi tape, stickers, coloured envelopes, stamps – the list is endless.”
Her three must-visit destinations are department store chain Tokyu Hands; Loft, a seven-storey store in Shibuya; and Itoya, a 100-year-old stationery shop in Ginza.
When she’s not trawling Tokyo’s incredible multi-storey stationery shops, Oehr is roaming the city’s open-air shopping precincts. “In general, I prefer to not shop in malls but wander around smaller shops where I can still see what the weather is doing and know where I am.”
Her favourite areas to explore are Omotesandō, a tree-lined avenue that traverses the Harajuku and Aoyama shopping districts, the buzzing neighbourhood of Kichijōji, and Shimokitazawa, home to a thriving community of independent retailers, bars and cafes.
“In France, they really cherish art and design, so it's a great place to go for exhibitions and bookshops,” says the illustrator. The bookshops at Centre Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo museum, as well as 0fr, a famous literary hub near the Republique Paris Metro station, are among her favourites.
“They love their pencils and paints as well,” she says. “I like to get stationery supplies at a little art shop in Republique, called La Palette du Faubourg. It's always one of the first places I go.”
Oehr’s love of food is plain from her illustrations of the plump papaya, fresh figs and speckled pears that populate her work. That passion comes to the fore when she visits Italy. “Nearly everything I buy in Italy is food, and if it isn't edible, it relates to food,” she says.
Oehr is an avid fan of Alessi, Italy’s famous kitchenware manufacturer. Its outlets are found throughout Italy, but Oehr often visits the Milan store, a stone’s throw from design museum La Triennale di Milano and the sprawling Sempione Park. “I love to visit the Alessi stores to buy kitchen items from their natural habitat,” she says. “Alessi's classic and playful designs for bowls, cutlery and tableware are something I never tire of, and find to be so Italian. I always need a little souvenir from there.”
On the World Wide Web
If you can’t jump on a plane, online shopping can be a salve. “I love international eBay and AbeBooks for secondhand and rare books,” she says. “I also like Commune in Tokyo and Case Studyo for artist publications and editions.”
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