November 1, 2006
This season’s sharpest contract designs come dressed in ways that recall menswear.
Furniture has, from time to time, taken its cues from fashion. Four new collections featuring the patterns and seam work of menswear are just the latest contract designs to draw from the apparel industry—a practice that puts them in good company. Florence Knoll Bassett, for example, turned to New York tailors in the 1940s when faced with wartime wool-textile shortages. “The decorators at the time were just using antique French furniture and satins,” Bassett says. “I got gray and dark flannels, mostly neutrals of course, which I thought looked elegant on a chair.”
While the offerings featured here aren’t actually the handiwork of tailors, they all display a bespoke quality in their details and craftsmanship—and two are by fashion designers. Alexander Julian, who has made basketball uniforms for the Charlotte Hornets and Indy racing attire for Mario Andretti, created a collection for Mayer Fabrics comprising seven riffs on traditional men’s fashion motifs: Button Down, Herringbone, Necktie Stripe, Play on Plaid, Almost Argyle, Perfectly Paisley, and Cravat. After Maharam provided Paul Smith with archival textiles for making shoes, hats, and bags, it invited the Londoner to try his hand at wool upholstery fabric. The hugely successful Bespoke Stripe (2003) is Smith’s lighthearted take on the classic pinstripe. This spring he took the concept further with Stripes, a study in varying frequencies, colors, and densities. “The beauty of Paul Smith is his rather defined linear narrative, which is highly identifiable and has endured for thirty years,” principal Michael Maharam says. “That’s no small feat in an essentially turbulent industry.”
Translating clothing textiles for upholstery may not be much of a stretch, but it’s a less probable point of departure for a modular floor-covering. Nevertheless, HOK designers Natalie Banaszak and Tom Polucci channeled fashion greats such as Giorgio Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, and, yes, Paul Smith to create patterns recalling diagonals, stripes, herringbone, and corduroy for their Menswear Collection for Lees Carpets. “We were taken by the great textures and patterns in the fall 2005 menswear lines,” Banaszak says of a shopping trip along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. “The aesthetic of men’s fashion has remained essentially unchanged over the years,” Polucci says, “and we wanted the carpet to have a timeless quality.”
But it is Dauphin designer Jake Hawkes’s Tailor conference chair, with custom-fitted leather upholstery and contrasting topstitching, that displays the most intimate link to fashion. “I have always been intrigued by the look of a men’s suit before it is tailored, the large white stitches holding it together,” says Hawkes, whose grandfather was a tailor. “This is my tribute to him and his craft.”