Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Lisa Fine Textiles

In a documentary by the late Albert Maysles about designer and style icon Iris Apfel, simply called Iris (2014), she has a conversation with photographer Bruce Weber. When they start talking about fashion designers that don't know how to sew - 'they are media freaks', Iris says - she mentions young designers that have 'no sense of history' (about 46 minutes into the film). Perhaps you find this an odd intro to textile designer Lisa Fine, the woman at the helm of Lisa Fine Textiles, but I think it is exactly a sense of history that drew me to Fine's work. There is depth to her design and her patterned fabrics have an exotic and mystical element.

Only reading some of the names of Lisa Fine's beautiful fabrics could take your mind to faraway places, or make you reach for the historic atlas (the links take you to the fabric on her website): There is Aswan, a city on the east bank of the Nile River in Egypt; Luxor, another Egyptian city where you will find the ruins of the ancient city of Thebes; Lahore, a city in the Punjab province of Pakistan; Kashgar, the historic oasis city in far western China, a stop on the old Silk Road; Bagan, an ancient city in Myanmar (Burma); Baroda, the old name of Vadodara in the Indian region of Gujarat; Malabar, a region on the western coast of India, furthest south between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats.

I could go on.

The Zoraya fabric in rose and monsoon

It has been years since Lisa Fine's textiles first cast their spell on me but I had never handled the fabrics (100% linen) until I received a collection of her samples in the mail. My high expectations were met. One fabric is called Zoraya (image above). I was curious about the origin of the name so yesterday, before publishing the blog post, I decided to send a request to the office, which was promptly replied with Fine's explanation of how she came up with the name for the pattern. Soraya was the name of one of the wives of the last Shah of Iran, who ruled from 1941 to 1979. Fine was in Andalucia in Spain and was reading the history of the North Africans and Persians in Spain when she came across the name with Z, Zoraya. 'I thought the pattern had a very geometric almost ancient Persian look and liked the name Zoraya.'

A designer with a sense of history for sure.

In the foreground: Malabar Reverse in Nordic blue

In the world of textiles and interior design it is unlikely that the name of Lisa Fine has escaped you. Quite recently in the American House Beautiful there was a feature on her mother's home in Dallas, designed by the daughter, of course. (There is a book called Iznik on her mother's coffee table that I want!) Her mother gave her free rein with the space and the happy customer had just one 'complaint' about the outcome: 'The only problem is, when people come over they don't want to leave.'

Lisa Fine's colourful flat in Paris has been featured in publications like Lonny (a pdf with the feature itself and larger images here) and The New York Times (more images from the NYT feature at Apartment Therapy). Her collaboration with designer Richard Keith Langham has resulted in stunning Indian dhurries. Then there is the collaboration with textile designer Carolina Irving, Irving & Fine, where you can purchase their patterned and embroidered tunics and kaftans.

Left: Samode in indigo/natural (also spotted in desert sand); Lahore in apricot. Right (in frame): Baroda II
in pomegranate (pattern with bird); Zoraya in monsoon; Luxor in pompeii on ivory (orange one)

Each time I see a feature on Lisa Fine I can easily resonate with the books she has read; like me, biographies and travel writing seem to be her genre. She has travelled extensively, e.g. throughout India, and her textile design is inspired by it. I remember this one particular feature that I came across online. It had a photo collage and she was asked all kinds of questions. The final one was where she would like to go and she said Isfahan in Iran, but added that she didn't think it would be possible (when researching for this post I found it on her website: Material Connection, Ultra Travel, Summer 2012). Now that the international sanctions on Iran have been lifted, and the US-Iran relations are improving, Isfahan (Eṣfahān) seems a possibility in the future. I can only imagine the inspiration she could take from the historic Islamic architecture, its splendours and gorgeous tiles. Especially with her sense of history.

In the foreground: Kashgar in spice. In the background: Chiara in sky blue/oyster. Also spotted: Bagan in indigo

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