The true visionaries of fashion design have always been obsessed with their raw materials. They start with the cloth before they think about the cut. And, in the case of the most influential and celebrated designers, their innovation with textiles is an integral part of their aesthetic. Think of Balenciaga and the sculptural qualities of his silk gazar. Remember Halston? Ultrasuede not only defined his catwalk, but also his Manhattan apartment and his whole fabulously glamorous, louche universe. It was the fabric of the future – and continues to be the textile of choice for the most luxurious loft‑style sofas, while being revived repeatedly within mens- and womenswear.
The natural affinity between fashion and home furnishings has grown over the years with varying degrees of success. While some otherwise credible fashion designers launched collaborations with questionable overt branding across cushions, throws and teacups, others – such as Armani, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren – have long developed appealing and restrained interiors products under their own names that sit well with their core aesthetic. And we’re now seeing niche collaborations between big-name interiors brands and smaller directional fashion labels.
Knoll has been a major player in fashion textiles for decades. The brand has ensured that Ultrasuede is still a phenomenon and its work with the late Stephen Sprouse – a range of textiles based on his neon-camouflage and graffiti prints back in 2003 – was both radical and groundbreaking. Sprouse was a maverick, beloved of tastemakers but far from mainstream. New to Knoll this season is a range of six different textiles (from £98 per m) designed by Maria Cornejo. Cornejo’s 100 per cent independent, New York-based Zero+Maria Cornejo label is known for its architectural pattern cutting, elegant draping and dramatic way with print – much of it abstracted from images Cornejo shoots with her iPhone while travelling overseas. Her work is celebrated for being as intellectual as it is chic and elegant and has a strong following among women in art and design. The collaboration with Knoll is a significant and credible marriage for both brands.
“Some of the imagery comes from trips Maria made to Chile and Tokyo,” says Dorothy Cosonas, creative director of Knoll Textiles. “The way she works with her own photography translates beautifully into prints on her clothing, but with us she worked on weave rather than digital print. The Digi Velvet design came from an out-of-focus photograph with the look of an ikat. When translated into a weave it took on the texture of a velvet.”
As well as the five colours of Digi Velvet, there is the rich, ethnic Ita pattern, Metallic Gloss (£143 per m), which resembles a tweed coated with liquefied gold or silver, and Big Fringe, which was inspired by an ostrich-feather jacket from the Zero+Maria Cornejo archive and has yarn woven through the fabric with the ends extending to form a long fringe.
One of the biggest differences between fashion and interiors is pace. “In terms of inspirations, the process is the same,” says Cornejo, “but you don’t change your home environment every day, the way you can a garment.” Cornejo’s Knoll collaboration features textiles that are strong but also quiet and thoughtful. They feel fresh but classic. Which can also be said of Raf Simons’ debut textile collection with Kvadrat. Simons is a designer with a bold sense of palette, silhouette and styling. He wouldn’t necessarily seem an obvious choice to work on a textile line, but that’s what makes the result so sophisticated. Currently creative director of Dior as well as his own line, Simons has a background in industrial rather than fashion design and is deeply immersed in the language of colour. “It is an obsession for me,” he says. “About six years ago I started looking at colour in terms of its juxtaposition in nature and how you can miss those juxtapositions unless you look very closely. There can be a tiny pigment of an extreme colour next to another that might be thought of as ugly, but the eye perceives the combination differently.”
The result of these experiments can be seen in the rich tweeds that Simons has created with Kvadrat, including Pilot (from £119 per m) and Sonar (£201 per m), which come in a series of colours, weaves and flecks that conjure up the splayed wooden table legs and Saul Bass imagery of midcentury modernism – an era that fascinates Simons – at its most pronounced. “These are really classic tweeds,” says Simons. “You can have a yellow pigment sitting next to a grey beige. It becomes abstract. And the depth of colour and quality that’s possible at Kvadrat is mind-blowing.”
While these new textiles are coming from some of the hottest names in fashion, it’s their close-to-classic nature that makes them so appealing. They are soigné. There is no novelty. Before Maria Cornejo’s new line, Knoll Luxe launched a collection by Proenza Schouler that included Sandis (£158 per m), based on a wood-grain pattern that was a feature of the fashion house’s 2008 collection; another by Suno, which included Arber in Raindrop (£174 per m), a pattern based on cells seen through a microscope and used on a dress in its spring 2012 collection; and six textiles by Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters named after literary greats such as Cummings (£142 per m), a beautiful combination of matte and reflective yarns. Last autumn, the sisters worked on a line for The Rug Company, bringing their instinctive (neither is formally trained in fashion) way with pattern to floors as well as soft furnishings. Their Ember rug (from £835 per sq m) abstracts the tonal qualities and landscapes of Death Valley, while Cobalt Motif (from £1,535 per sq m) is based on the blue and white porcelain in their parents’ home.
The most recent name to join The Rug Company’s stable is Jonathan Saunders, the London-based designer known for his flair for vivid prints. His Nouveau design (£935 per sq m) in rich green and blue, and his Herringbone one (£735 per sq m) in rust, pink, blue and green, inject his own wild but always coherent sense of colour into what might have been more staid textiles.
While textiles companies such as Knoll and Kvadrat are exploring collaborations with fashion designers, major fashion houses continue to take the initiative in-house with ranges that riff on their design DNA. And whereas once it was the case that fashion brands relied on the people who bought their clothing to follow them into interiors, they now have standalone, highly developed lines, including textiles and wallpapers, with their own customer base.
Etro recently launched a flagship store in Milan devoted to its ever-growing interiors line. There are myriad lush paisley textiles (price on request), including the red-on-red Giasone Rubino (£124 per m), which would look sensational dressing a vast overstuffed sofa. The Tessalo Luna fabric (£220 per m) has the dark tonal qualities of madder silk and would look equally at home in an English stately home, a mahogany-lined urban study or a crumbling palazzo overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal.
Jacopo Etro, creative director of Etro’s accessories, leather, home and textiles collections, says the latter is at the core of all they do: “My father, Gimmo Etro, started the company in 1968 as a producer of high-end textiles. Today we work on totally handmade paisley designs to keep them elegant and exclusive. We avoid digital techniques. Every season the paisley is new and different; it is evolving continuously.”
Few high-end companies have a heritage of print as strong as Hermès and last year the company released a range of upholstery textiles and wallpapers that gave free rein to their customers to mix and match across walls and soft furnishings. Some of these customers will have been using Hermès’ lavish silk scarves as interiors objects for years – often stretched over a square frame and hung on a wall. “We knew we could bring something unique to this market,” says Hélène Dubrule, managing director of Hermès Maison. “We have a rich heritage of printing illustrations on silk scarves and accessories that’s lasted more than 75 years. We wanted to offer the possibility of dressing the home with the same Hermès quality and style. Some patterns are illustrative and tell a story, and some, inspired by Hermès’ tie collections, are more graphic.”
And so the new Hermès Maison line is both sophisticated and diverse in its imagery – the charming folk-art style of Christine Henry’s L’Arbre de Vie (£329 per m), with its horses, leaves and blossom, sits in contrast to the simple, coloured lines of Chevron Abaca (£187 per m). What Hermès does so well is adopt narrative imagery and turn it into flawless luxury. Ottoman (£185 per m), with its mixture of chevrons and coloured stripes, takes something of the Indian trading blanket and wraps it around a Parisian salon.
As well as the textiles, there is a collection of Hermès Maison wallpapers – an area that grows in tandem with upholstery. Last year Maison Martin Margiela released five wallpapers (from £40 per m) with Omexco, including oversized abstracted florals, optical illusions (La Mosaïque £40 per m) and a version of the trompe-l’œil the house is famously associated with. Eley Kishimoto also plundered its fashion archives to create 12 different papers; the design duo’s graphic, playful patterns sit, with great success, somewhere between the 1951 Festival of Britain and early-21st-century Japanese video games (La La Lyon, £160 per roll).
Matthew Williamson’s opulent style has also made a smooth transition into interiors in his ongoing collaboration with Osborne & Little. His new Shimmer fabric (£54 per m) in jewel-like colours has a subtle stripe lending it a pretty, reflective quality. Then there’s Cocos with an artfully faded image of swaying palms, available as both wallpaper (£64 per roll) and fabric (£55 per m). Williamson’s exotica is fresh and modern – like an update of Dorothy Draper.
There is a clear demand for fashion textiles and wallpapers, as homeowners grow in confidence when creating their own finished product, editing together innovative elements from a variety of designers to create something unique and individual. It’s made to measure. And it’s less about fashion, more about style.