To enter Robert Kime’s furniture, fabrics and antiques store in London’s Belgravia is to be transported into an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Gilt-framed mirrors and paintings hang with tapestries on the walls, bookshelves heave with antique vases and hardbacks, oriental rugs line the floors, and exotic fabrics unfurl temptingly in inviting nooks. The aesthetic, pulled together from different eras and cultures, somehow miraculously remains refined and one is instantly struck by how familiar and homely it all feels.
The Prince of Wales, Kime’s most illustrious client, for whom he has transformed Clarence House and Highgrove, remarked on this talent in the forward of a 2015 monograph dedicated to the designer, declaring that he had the “best eyes in the business” and that he conceived spaces that were “welcoming, interesting and, above all, comforting”.
Kime, an antiques dealer and interior designer with half a century of experience under his belt, is also a passionate collector (and, more recently, creator) of textiles. It was this that led to his latest venture – a perhaps unlikely collaboration with American fashion designer Tory Burch, resulting in a new collection of 10 fabrics, one weave and one wallpaper design named Nara, inspired by the artistry of Japan.
“I think she’d been tracking me for a while,” Kime jokes, when asked how the two met. “She is incredible – a very kind, pleasant and clever woman. I trust her completely.” The pair’s relationship was cemented when Kime oversaw the 18-month renovation of Burch’s Normandy home, a manor house she shares with her husband Pierre-Yves Roussel (who is also CEO of her company). As one might expect, the interiors brim with character and colour. “I have always loved Robert’s work. He can make any room look perfectly imperfect,” Burch says. “His approach is eclectic and I love how he has no rules.”
As this partnership came to an end, she suggested a trip overseas to hunt for new inspirations. “I said that I would like to go to Japan to explore the history of its textiles, so I took two colleagues with me on a 10-day trip and met Tory there. We had the most wonderful time buying pieces,” says Kime, who draws on vintage textiles from his personal archive to create his fabric designs, adding to his collection on his travels. He found many suitable archive examples in Tokyo before meeting Burch in Kyoto, where they continued the search together.
As Burch revealed in our recent Aesthete interview, a book of 17th-century fabric swatches from an antiques shop in Nara was a top find. “It’s filled with all these Japanese textiles, but some look almost like a combination of shibori and batik, which I thought was an interesting dichotomy,” she explains.
Kime believes Japan to be an exceptional place for textiles. “None of the designs have any European references and yet they fit so beautifully into every type of decorating that one is doing.” Rather than hunt out the more colourful kimonos, the designers gravitated towards indigos and artisanal cloth and, as a result, the collection is strikingly understated. “I loved the wonderfully simple designs, many of them indigo, of course, because that was a natural dye,” he enthuses. “The designs have a brilliant graphic sense too, which is totally un-European.”
Kime and Burch had equal input into the choice of designs that underpin their collection. “The dialogue between us never stops,” Kime says, laughing. “It was a wonderful journey into textiles. I’ve been looking at them for 50 years now, but somehow these ones just came off the page in a different way. They are subtle, but somehow really hit me.”