November 1, 2009
Area of Influence
After purchasing Edward Fields Carpet Makers, Tai Ping is taking pains to honor the American company’s legacy while moving the brand forward.
For a story about one carpet manufacturer buying another, the saga of Tai Ping and the legendary American brand Edward Fields sounds almost romantic. The way Simone Rothman, chief marketing officer for Tai Ping, tells it, it was as if the stars had aligned for the pairing. “The timing was perfect because if the acquisition had been made earlier, Tai Ping might have gotten lost, and Tai Ping has a compelling story on its own,” Rothman says.
The Hong Kong company’s future was uncertain when talks about purchasing Fields first began five years ago. “There were a lot of debates about whether we would fold Tai Ping into Edward Fields,” she says, “because Fields had this incredible name, this incredible legacy. But the acquisition took a while, as acquisitions do.” During the delay, she says, “Tai Ping took off—with the speed of light.” Thanks to some innovative new designs and a rebranding by Tyler Brûlé, the company was back on solid ground when the deal finally happened in 2005.
“By that time the question had become what to do with Edward Fields,” Rothman says. Its founder, Edward Fields, had died in 1979, and despite the company’s impressive history, it was still struggling without him. “It’s fair to say that most people under forty had not heard of the Edward Fields brand,” says Jeffrey Brody, director of business development for Edward Fields Carpet Makers. “They’d lost touch with the design community.” Though the company was once known for collaborations with designers like Raymond Loewy and Marion Dorn, its identity had become diluted. “There was just no point of view anymore,” says Yasmina Kossmann, the design director of Tai Ping and the person now in charge of the new Edward Fields lines. “It was whatever the customer wanted.”
Kossmann and her team hit the archives to identify what was lasting and significant about Edward Fields. “We paid close attention to the qualities and techniques traditional to the brand in order to recapture its essence,” Kossmann says. “We particularly liked the story of the first tufting guns Edward Fields himself developed. The guns were prototypes and didn’t operate absolutely perfectly, and that created the irregularity that became, later on, a signature quality of Fields carpets—nothing too manicured or clean.”
He was also a brilliant salesman. “Edward Fields coined the term ‘area rug’ in 1952,” Kossmann says. “He wanted to stand out from the broadloom, cut-pile, wall-to-wall carpet that was most prevalent during that time.” But it was more than just a clever marketing term, she explains. “He completely changed the approach to the rug by decorators and architects. The area-rug concept didn’t exist.” Fields had the idea of the small modern carpet as a designer piece, presented seasonally.
A handcrafted aesthetic and savvy self-promotion weren’t the only things that set Fields apart. “The quality of the carpets is obvious,” says Richard Wright, of Wright Auction House, who says he has sold about 30 of them at auction, including pieces by Stanley Tigerman, Van Day Truex, and Loewy. Fields thrived on such collaborations. “His very first collection of area rugs was done with Raymond Loewy,” Kossman says. The Deep, probably the most published of his rugs, was done with Leon Barmache—a pairing that resulted from a competition organized by Fields and the American Society of Interior Designers.
While perhaps the best known, the Deep is not the best seller. “You know what the best seller is?” Brody asks, pulling out the pattern called Terra, in its original palette of neutrals. “It was designed by Van Day Truex for Brooke Astor in 1955, for her house in Greenwich, because she wanted something that was dog-friendly. And she had a donkey that lived in the house too, and she wanted to cover the …” Brody breaks off discreetly, glossing over what might be needed to live graciously with a small dog and a donkey.
As Fields’s history came to life for the Tai Ping team, they knew they had to preserve both brands, letting the American company’s craft DNA blend with Tai Ping’s unusual materials and more muted designs. Tai Ping’s manufacturing base in China has allowed it to introduce new materials to the Fields repertoire. Recent lines have featured exotic combinations, such as silk and jute, that represent a departure from the textured, crafty aesthetic of Fields and the soft, refined allure of Tai Ping. As with all great romances, however, the parties have merged with their unique personalities intact.