That Erdem Moralioglu is a fan of chinoiserie will come as no surprise to those familiar with his fashion label. “The Victorians were obsessed by it – and I love it,” says the designer, who has experimented with print since his launch collection in 2005.
His spring/summer 2018 show, for example, riffed on Queen Elizabeth II’s enraptured 1958 meeting with jazz master Duke Ellington, with florid prints inspired by Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. “The Centre Room at Buckingham Palace, which leads onto the royal balcony, is full of beautiful chinoiserie,” says Moralioglu. “The idea of a space being wrapped in a motif that’s totally bespoke for every corner completely captivated me.” With its lush botanical brocade dresses and voluminous beribboned gowns, Moralioglu’s collection caught the eye of Hannah Cecil Gurney, director of business development at handpainted wallpaper maker De Gournay. And from there a collaboration blossomed into a collection of wallpapers and clothes in designs that echo Erdem’s main spring/summer collection, and form three separate capsules – with a white background for Net-a-Porter, navy for Bergdorf Goodman and black for Erdem’s own South Audley Street store and e-site. All three will launch on 19 March.
“I’m pretty Erdem obsessed,” admits Cecil Gurney, who today helms De Gournay alongside her father, cousin and sister Rachel. The company, which was founded by their father Claud Cecil Gurney in 1986, started out creating designs based on antique wallpapers for historic houses – including Woburn Abbey and recently Houghton Hall in Norfolk. Lately, however, it has developed into its own decorative niche, creating wholly bespoke and original papers as well as fabrics. “There’s a real romance to both our brands,” Cecil Gurney continues. “They’re rich with history and storytelling.” A collaboration was pretty much inevitable. “It seems completely obvious that De Gournay fanatics will love Erdem and vice versa,” she says, looking, when we meet, preternaturally pulled-together – especially considering the recent arrival of twins Oscar and Scarlet – in a pale dress by the designer. “We share an intense love of pattern, colour and texture.”
Moralioglu was in the midst of a top-to-tail renovation of his new Bloomsbury home and had wallpaper on the brain when the pair were first introduced – he was actually eyeing a set of exquisite 18th-century Chinese wallpaper panels in the Pierre Bergé sale at Sotheby’s. “I’ve always been fascinated by the De Gournay world,” says Moralioglu, from the brand’s sumptuous headquarters, surrounded by its panoramic 19th-century L’Eden design. “Particularly the fact that everything is created with a human hand.”
What ensued was “a wonderful dance”, says Moralioglu, who started by studying rolls of textiles from his archive with De Gournay design director Jemma Cave. She then produced, over several months, a set of large-scale sketches onto which Moralioglu would scribble notes and amendments. “A fashion designer has a different eye,” says Cecil Gurney, who studied physics and trained as an accountant before switching to the creative side of things. “We work mostly with decorators, who immediately think about the technical application of a design within an interior. Erdem’s focus, though, was on the aesthetic and the texture, and how it feels.”
True to sartorial form, the resulting wallpaper pattern is a romantic rendering of the Erdem aesthetic. “I wanted to bring aspects of myself – this odd mixture of everything – into the wallpaper,” says the designer, who was raised in Canada by Turkish-English parents. Thus the design is grounded in an earthy garden, germinating into an elegant entanglement of blue hydrangeas, roses and deeply saturated berries. The flora is inhabited by a flock of sparrows, warblers, egrets and pheasants in a botanical scene rendered on silk and Xuan paper in three colourways: vivid Kelly green, pale grey and muted yellow. “I love that the finished paper could have existed 300 years ago, but there’s also something incredibly modern-looking about it,” says Moralioglu. “I imagine it in a room with a beautiful cement floor and furniture from modernist designers such as Eileen Gray. It would look extraordinary.”
Each panel (91.5cm x 150cm-350cm) takes around 120 hours to produce and is handpainted in watercolour at De Gournay’s studio in Wuxi, outside Shanghai. It’s this methodical, artisanal march that threw the differences between the Erdem and De Gournay worlds into sharp relief. “I create four collections a year by making quick, gestural line drawings. It’s a very fast process,” says Moralioglu, who, to his surprise, relished De Gournay’s protracted pace. “It meant we could really feel our way through and let things unfold.” It was only when tinkering with the wallpaper design on fabric that the notion of creating an accompanying clothing collection emerged.
“Somehow, the clothes are so different in feel to the wallpaper, although it comes from the same place,” says Cecil Gurney of the series of tiered gowns, poplin summer dresses, simple fluted skirts and frilled tops that accompany the paper’s launch. “There’s a real lightness to the designs, with a thread between the two worlds. It’s recognisably both Erdem and De Gournay.”