Meet Clementina Calleri, founder and designer of Milan-based The Palmist, a Kenya-inspired brand making embroidered pillows, natural fiber lamp shades, antique wall hangings, engraved backgammon tables and fishnet market bags. Calleri is interested in using recycled materials to give interiors warm, eccentric touches. Deeply inspired by Lamu, Kenya, she supports Lamu locals through craftsmanship, often partnering with artisans to make the pieces she designs. Everything about Lamu inspires her from its sand-colored floors to its simple, yet sophisticated architecture to its palm trees.
We sat down with Clementina, wearing our Tiered Ruffle Dress in Blue Hibiscus, to discuss Lamu, interior design and her sense of duty when it comes to recycling materials.
What inspired you to start The Palmist and, from wall hangings to lamp shades, how do you decide what you're going to make?
My journey started a few years ago in Kenya, while I was working in a beautiful lodge in Samburu. I started designing pieces for Samburu Trust, which empowers Samburu ladies by giving them a salary for their beading work. From Kenya, I moved to the Yucatan Peninsula to work with Nicolas Malleville, founder of Coqui Coqui Residences and Spa, and created my first home and travel collection made in Mexico with 100% Mexican materials by Mexican artisans. Then, I moved back to Europe and decided to dedicate my time and spirit to creating a collection that integrates recycling, revisiting and innovating practices. The Palmist is an ever-changing collection of Graceful Objects, each unique as they are 100% handmade. The latest additions are two lines of painted and embroidered cushions, in collaboration with an amazing artist, coming out in December.
What brought you from Milan to Lamu and what are your favorite things to do or places to go when you're there?
Kenya has been part of my life since the tragic accident of my brother Seba, who was killed in 2004. In his memory, my family and I created a foundation in Wamba, Samburu County, where we built a community school for children ages 2 to 7. The full revenue from my Narlai Sea Sacs are donated to school bursaries for the 7 year-olds who graduate. Lamu has been a peaceful place of inspiration and tranquility after my times in Wamba. It is a special island, where you feel lost somewhere magical and mystical.
To me, Shela is the best spot for your stay. There are so many possibilities from the famous Peponi Hotel to the beautiful Forodhani House or the romantic Baitil Aman. If you are a group, book the Bembea House or, if available, the Lamu Fort. Lamu Old Town is the mystical part of the island with a market selling exotic spices, fish and gorgeous fruit and tiny roads leading to workshops like Lulu, a wooden workshop. I love sitting on the edge of the main square and observing life moving slowly before my eyes. Moving from the Old Town to Shela, you can choose to either walk, take a boat ride on a beautiful dhow or be accompanied by the donkeys. Everything about Lamu is unique. It has managed to keep its authenticity, which gives every visitor the feeling of being the island’s discoverer.
Were you always interested in interiors?
Textures and colours have always been part of my life because of my mother. Having the incredible chance to travel a lot since I was little, I was always drawn to anything made of palm fibre. This explains “The Palmist” and my fairly extensive collection of baskets and palm fibre rugs. I must say my experience in Mexico has pushed me to explore craftsmanship and become an artisan myself.
As a relaunch, Coco Shop is interested in the idea of taking something old and making it new again. From recycling natural materials to transforming spaces, how do you implement renewal in your own business and is it something you think about often?
The Palmist started with the creation of my Narlai Sea Sacs, lightweight bags made of recycled fishing nets found here and there around the Kenyan coast. Each one is unique and easy to carry for any adventure around the world or simply for market groceries around the corner. Then, I started to create the banners, reusing old fabrics found in different upholstery workshops, which were to be thrown away. Revisiting is one of the most important aspects of my brand as we live in a world of waste and overproduction. I guess it is our duty to reduce it and change the way we shop and live.
What makes you feel personally renewed and ready to take on what's next?
I must say travelling lots is my way of finding inspiration and boosting creativity. Visiting tiny villages, talking to the local people and trying exotic food is always enriching. I am very grateful to be able to explore different areas of the globe and, when not travelling, I walk around antiques markets during weekends, where there are treasures to be found and new ideas come to me. My in-the-making collection of vases is an interpretation of the Pompei frescoes drawn on an old postcard I recently got at the Sunday antiques market.