October 18 2010
Lucia van der Post
I remember to this day the first time I saw Bernie de Le Cuona’s fabrics. I was wandering round the old General Trading Company store in Sloane Street and was stopped in my tracks by what I can only call their sheer elegance. Here was a series of exquisitely understated, ineffably chic fabrics in linen and wool.
Mostly the colours were plain – whites, creams, tomato red (a terrific colour for upholstery), pale aquamarines – but it wasn’t so much the colours as the textures, heavy, dense, floppy and rumpled, that made them so special. And then there were the paisleys, first made famous as we all know by Empress Josephine’s penchant for them, but in de Le Cuona’s hands recoloured subtly and beautifully.
I wasn’t the only one to be taken by her “eye” and her talents. It wasn’t long before Ralph Lauren’s scouts came calling and ever since she has made a whole range of special paisleys and linens for the Ralph Lauren Home line. She’s mostly known by very superior interior designers but any of us can buy from her small shop in Walton Street or from Harrods.
This autumn she’s expanding her collection and the linens, primarily used for upholstery, are heavier and denser than ever at £148 a metre. “They’re washed,” she says, “so that they look like a beaten-up old buffalo and they all come with subtle differences; some are streaky, some not so streaky, and you just have to take them as they come.”
There’s also a new line of embossed linens which she created after tracking down a retired master dyer in France who still had a cache of the old copper cylinders used to make the patterns found in royal and aristocratic households in France. The pattern is caused by a difference in the density of the cloth and looks more like a shadow, an effect which is beautiful but subtle. There are two of these patterns – Baroque (£111 a metre), and St Petersburg (second picture, £113).
She’s enlarging her line of paisleys (third picture shows paisley fabric made into cushions) and also bringing back her gorgeous paisley throws (£150 a time), but she also sells some lovely wool throws (a grey and white very chic pinstripe wool; a leather-trimmed, green tweed, perfect for a country house, both £310) . The plain linens (first picture) are sold by the metre and some people who have no need of new upholstery love them so much, they just buy lengths to have and to hold; but some have been made into wonderfully big, floppy throws as well.
“These linens,” she tells me, “can only be woven in batches of 12 metres at a time. The real secret of them is in the washing, the treatment, after they’re woven, which is what gives the really subtle colours.”
While these linens are necessarily quite expensive – and they have to be seen to be appreciated – she has some beautiful soft linen which drapes floppily to make charming blinds and which sells in a range of lovely colours for just £39 a metre. Bernie uses them for Roman blinds but takes out the struts to give a softer, less formal air.