Textiles that inspire: Fabrics enter the digital era

04/05/2014 12:00 AM

04/03/2014 1:14 PM

Like a piece of furniture, fabric can sit quietly in a room, barely noticed. Or it can light up the space, pulling the eye like a magnet to a vibrant color or distinctive pattern.

It’s the softer side of interiors — literally one that takes the edge off strong architecture or furniture. Fabric panels frame windows in a flowing or tailored way that quietly complements. For many designers, the colors in a pattern can launch a room’s palette, even a particular paint color to match. Textiles, by their hand or shimmer, can totally dictate mood. A cashmere, silk or velvet suggests lushness and elegance. Chenille and linen present a more casual, sporty vibe, even though these, too, can also be considered dress-up. In combination, they can be most dynamic, as foils to one another: supple to textural, shiny to matte.

We sort of take textiles for granted. We sit on them, sleep on them, dry ourselves off with them, and, of course, wear them.

And it’s that intersection of fashion and furnishings that we’re seeing more and more. From runways to living rooms, the influences of graphics, patterns and even styles are translated. A bold geometric suggests sassy, assertive and sometimes retro design. A painterly floral gives a romantic note. A photo realistic graphic provides an urban vibe.

While color often gets top play in the news (Pantone’s color of the year, in case you haven’t heard, is radiant orchid), what’s happening in textile design usually is celebrated as part of the story of a room’s interior, sometimes the footnote to a fashion collection. But it can easily be the star.

What’s trending globally actually starts to unfold at two major international shows in January in Europe: Frankfurt, Germany is host to Heimtextil, a trade show hosted by Messe Frankfurt, where you'll see thousands of fabrics, wallcoverings, bedding and home textiles — and even the artwork that inspires them.

At Paris Deco Off, just a week later this past January, high-end showrooms on both the Left Bank and Right Bank of the Seine host retailers and designers to show off their newest lines, concurrent with Maison & Objet, a major home-design exposition.

If one chord was struck repeatedly at both events, it was the influence of technology, particularly digital, on design. Imagine the photorealism possible with even smartphone shots today — and the possibility of faithfully translating crisp, realistic images to fabric and wallcovering. Or intentionally out-of-focus images that have a painterly look. In fact, scanning original paintings or artwork adds still another dimension, as does the layering of images, like montages in scrapbooks. Add to that a range of colors and blends not even possible before and the capability of not repeating a pattern.

A stunning new collection from Romo’s Black Edition features the work of British artist Jessica Zoob digitally reproduced. Emily Mould, Romo’s design director, says, “Zoob’s imaginative use of texture and color in her emotionally charged, contemporary impressionist paintings translates effortlessly onto fabrics.”

In addition to graphics, texture also was an important element. This was expressed in a variety of ways: embroidery and beading, embellishments such as tufts, and even dimensional materials, where pleats or weaves amplified a flat surface to 3-D.

An appreciation of handcrafted looks or the perception of handmade is ramping up. So the chunky knits and crochets we’ve been seeing hints of the last couple of years in home design are making an even bigger showing — and sometimes in surprising materials, including synthetics with the hand of rubber.

At Christian Fischbacher, exploration of texture was showcased in a new fabric (and pillow design). The interlocking pattern appeared in relief, the result of adding a foam to the silk surface, then a layer of foil set with a heat adhesive, which lends an almost iridescent effect. It won an award for innovation.

Unusual weaves also extend to linens and wools, some of which show striking layerings. And sheers are adding a new wrinkle — “netted tulles,” for example, which offer a great option for window treatments that screen without blocking light — in an extensive palette, as well as wider grid fisherman’s netting, in a kind of macrame revival. In addition, metallic threads are lending a bit of glam to some fabrics.

What’s intriguing about the luxe looks this time is that they often were shown in combination with more casual, rustic fabrics — a trend that is recurring in home design. A room with wide-plank, weathered floors and linen upholstery, for example, might sport lacquered cabinetry and a crystal chandelier.

If you’re shopping for spring and summer textiles, here are a few things you might see:

• Larger scale. Itsy-bitsy patterns seem so passe. Some motifs, such as tropical birds and palms, now are larger than life, especially on bedding and towels. Look for really fun beach towels with artlike photography and drawings.
• Explosive images. Uber-huge blooms, like poppies, are splashed on bed linens. Digital photos are being scanned and printed on everything from T-shirts and bags to pillows, bedding and fabric.
• Incorporating art. Paintings and drawings are adding artistry to textile design. In addition to photography, original artwork is being sourced, lending a whole new dimension — beauty as well as grit.
• More open backgrounds. Less crowding really makes the designs pop, especially in pillows with single image objects.
• Layering. For some companies, such as the Spanish company Desigual or the Netherlands’ Melli Mello, exuberant pattern is the signature, and they don’t stop at just one.
• Embroidery and patchwork. In addition to the real thing, there’s the trompe l'oeil variety, as in bedding from Esprit, which teams both in a convincing way.

Textile manufacturers are paying attention to those Pinterest boards and even Instagram. One of the keys to the spring line of Robert Allen is filtered color — a kind of washed look. Christy Almond, the company’s vice president, says that the more delicate iterations of colors reminded her of what people are doing on Instagram.

“This ‘filtered’ effect creates hues that are relevant in both fashions and interiors,” says Almond.

Concurrent is a trend for the threadbare look so popular in rugs, especially effective in velvet because of its natural nap.

For the most part, there’s a desire to tweak or modernize familiar, traditional patterns. Toile, for example, is captivating a new audience because of shifts in motifs from less 18th century, allover pale pastoral themes to more vibrant colors with unexpected combinations and bigger, looser scale.

And companies with archives are digging deep to reintroduce or draw inspiration. At Pierre Frey, fashion-turned-interior and furniture designer Vincent Darre peeked into 1940s and 1950s archives. Three designs were reissued — and they look every bit as current today. He reimagined three others in response.

Some motifs, in particular, seem to be resonating. Sea creatures will be huge. Coral designs on pillows or plates are almost perennial favorites, especially in coastal areas, but this year’s crop follows the big trend as well as expanding under-the-sea life. Feathers and hints of southwest style also are starting to emerge. Eastern influences are making inroads, especially dragon motifs and pagodas.

At the Heimtextil show’s Forum, a provocative space putting forth trends for 2014-2015, one look into the future offered this compelling concept: reprogramming bacteria and plants to manufacture materials — a biologically enhanced alternative for future sustainable living.

One picture may be worth a thousand words, but many designers will agree that textiles can truly be transformative.

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