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Souvenirs Souvenirs Ep. 6 - Karla Sutra
Souvenirs Souvenirs Ep. 6 - Karla Sutra
03 December 2023

She loves to reminisce about the good times, usually around a table, a place where she has felt comfortable since childhood. Today, she supplies and collaborates with many chefs and restaurants, creating memories for people. We find that impressive. A "Souvenirs, Souvenirs" conversation with artist Karla Sutra, in her Parisian apartment in the 18th arrondissement.

Can you tell us about your job?
I am an artist. I create erotic illustrations adapted to mediums that allow for optical illusions. Everything is based on the principle of trompe l’oeil. I work with table art, tiling, and interior architecture along with my craftsmen in Catalonia, for both private clients and restaurateurs. I am both the creative force and the director of my small business, Karla Sutra.

Combat Belleville scarf / Glass in collaboration with Amélie Pichard / Wine tasting glass from Jura “Le nez dans le vert” / “Verre Volé” Paris corkscrew / Label for “Orgie” bottle by Marius Bielle and Les chemins de l’Arkose.

Do you often collaborate with other entities?
Yes, I have collaborated with many chefs, restaurants, and brands, like one of my recent projects with Eminente Rum. I also recently collaborated with Amélie Pichard. What I love about my job is the freedom to work from anywhere. I create offices wherever I am. I meet extraordinary people through my work.

Are you based in Paris?
Yes. I'm originally from Paris, but I grew up in the south of France in Perpignan. My family is Catalan, and I've kept that identity.

Special design for my talented friend Thomas Chisholm, his restaurant Chocho in Paris, and his dish perfectly suited for the surprise plate, the 'Saucing Dish' / CD press review to listen to while reading.

What is your relationship with travel?
It's one of the most important things in my life. Since my twenties, I've spent a decade traveling. I left permanent jobs to be able to travel, a lifestyle I wanted long-term, which led to the development of Karla Sutra. I'm often between Paris, where I have my studio, and the south of France to recharge and visit my craftsmen.

What's your take on merchandise? What kind of place makes you want to buy merch?
I want to keep a memory of that day, of that place. I bring back a tangible souvenir of it all. That's what I find interesting in restaurant merch. That temporality, creating a physical existence for a moment.

Special bowl creation for Gramme 11 by Marine Gora and Romain and Alexis Tellier, I worked, at Marine's request, on the cereal bowl and milk concept / The Gramme recipe book, photos by the talented Social Food team / Silk scarf packaging in collaboration with Pâme

So, you buy a souvenir?
Yes. When you see the item again, it reminds you of the moment, the people you met, and the effect it had on you. Or because I like the design, the logo since I remain an illustrator.

Can you buy merch without having an emotional connection to the place?
Yes, it's possible.

Passion for museum merch! Andy Warhol banana candy box / Guggenheim New York postcard / My travel journal 'I AM A MAN' (Artwork against segregation by Glenn Ligon, 1988) bought at the MoMA / Kaleidoscope camera from the MoMA as well / Inspiring artwork 'Tendre secret' (Tender Secret) by JMO from Maison Rouge in Paris / 'Surprise Seinte' plate.

Would you wear merch from a place you've never been to?
It depends if there's a story behind it or not. If it's a gift from someone I love, for example. Or if I found the piece in a thrift shop.

If you could choose just one piece of merch from all your travels, what would it be?
The matchbox from Grandfather's bar in Tokyo.

Combat Belleville socks, painting by @dalbissin

Do you remember a merch collection that struck you in recent years?
Not to flatter you, but I find the collection from Bistrot Paul Bert well done. A good balance between the traditional aspect of the institution and a more modern approach, especially the Tontine Bistrot t-shirt with the Paul Bert plate logo and the illustration on the back.

What led you to work so much with restaurants?
First off, I have a serious passion for food. I'm a child of restaurants, through my mother's work. The kid who wanders around the restaurant and falls asleep at the table, that was me. People eating, it reassures me. It reminds me of all those dinners from my childhood. For an important conversation, I often go to a restaurant. It's where I feel comfortable.

Mashi sauces and a cookbook from the great friends Shirley Garrier and Mathieu Zouhairi, the talented duo from The Social Food! / 'come on me' chopstick holder / Vase by @solo.chaud

Have you worked in catering?
Yes, to finance Karla Sutra and travel, I worked at Georges, at Hôtel Costes, and then I was a manager at Hôtel Grand Amour. I enjoyed working as a team, trying to make sure things went well, with good vibes, even though it's a tough environment. I've met many people I collaborate with today. There are also life's coincidences, like chef Thomas Chisholm, a long-time friend who trusted me when opening his restaurant Chocho in Paris. I'm also close to my childhood friends Shirley and Mathieu from The Social Food, who also helped me a lot. In the end, Karla Sutra developed very naturally.

Were you later contacted a lot for collaborations?
Yes, notably by Margot from Combat, but also places in Bordeaux, Germany, Bangkok, Japan.

Restaurant kimono found in a thrift store in Tokyo

The first time I saw your work was for Haikara restaurant in Paris.
True, I had made bowls for chef Sho Miyashita and his dessert, 'the erotic strawberry.'

If you had the opportunity to create your dream merch product, can you describe it?
I would like to work on a 'fine dining' project and create pieces that extend the vision of chefs, incorporating a bit of eroticism everywhere. Currently, I am developing sauceboats and knife rests, for example.

Haikara Deep Fried napkin / 'Surprise' plates and bowls

Do you wear the merch you create?
Yes, absolutely.

If you had to pick an item from the GiftShop site, what would it be?
The Lipp shirt.

Have you ever stolen merch?
It was in Switzerland, in Geneva. There was a festival celebrating... the vulva. 'Viva la vulva', a guy handed me a t-shirt asking if it was mine. I said 'yes, absolutely.'

Your last meal?
The Chungking Noodles and Haikara Deep Fried pop-up.

And the next?
The Ha's Dac Biet pop-up in New York, I leave tomorrow!

Dinner menu for my solo show by Marine Gora / Intimate Party by the best @phamilyfirst 2022 / Menu from the incredible restaurant Pujol, CDMX / Matchboxes from Septime Paris and Grandfather's Tokyo / Paper from the 5-story art supply store in Tokyo (paradise) SEKAIDO / Ceramic gifted by Sho Miyashita's uncle during the discovery of soba making at his home near Mount Fuji / Coaster "Flowery Booty.

Words: Julien Pham
Pics: Mathieu Lebreton

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