Touring the KnollTextiles studio

VOA gets a get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the David Adjaye collection. And more.

One of the exciting aspects of working in New York City—besides the architecture, art, and theatre—is the parade of notables that comes through town. In the span of one week, we played host to Madonna and the Pope Francis among others. With all the road closures, even Uber couldn’t get us to I Sodi for our 8:30 reservation.

So when Wednesday September 30th rolled around and it was time to make our way up Avenue of the Americas to the Knoll Inc. Showroom to meet the Creative Director of KnollTextiles, Dorothy Cosonas, we were relieved. We could make it on foot from our new office across from the Public Library.

Arranged by our representative Aina Picinic, our visit was meant as a chance for us to meet Cosonas in a comfortable and intimate setting, to introduce us to a few aspects of her role as Creative Director, see how a collection comes together, get a behind-the-scenes view at how her team operates and find out what inspires her. It was all of the above and more.

We got to see how the new David Adjaye collection came together and learned how designers translate fleeting, fickle fashion concepts into specifiable, perennial contract and residential products. Cosonas also opened up the archives for us. “You never do that,” said one of her associates.

There we saw one of Florence Knoll’s notes on a Knoll ad given as a collage with little fabric cuttings to represent throw pillows on a sofa, as well as artwork from ads by Herbert Matter (very “Mad Men.”) There were also some amazing fabrics from the 40s, 60s, and 70s, that could be specified today.

One of the archive pieces was a 1977 color card showing cuttings and remarks by textile artist Anni Albers, who was first invited to collaborate with the company in 1951 by Florence Knoll. Knoll had begun what is now a time-honored tradition of working with top contemporary architects and designers. This turned into a fruitful 30-year relationship. Seeing the card with the cuttings for Éclat, one of her enduring designs, for review and approval by Albers and Knoll was a particular pleasure.

Knoll continues that tradition of working with designers with an unexpected perspective in Knoll Luxe. Knoll Luxe offers designers for the residential high-end market a collection of fabrics that incorporate techniques, textures and colorways that take inspiration from runway couture. A recent collaboration with Rodarte, the fashion house founded by Californian sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, put this challenge to the test.

Rodarte turned to the great poets for the names of their designs: Auden, a digitally printed drapery fabric inspired by hand-dyed ombré gowns from Spring/Summer 2009, and Whitman, a subtly complicated knit inspired by dresses from Fall 2009.

Dorothy Cosonas develops the collections with the couturiers, from an initial inspiration board to strike-offs for approval and production, and asks them to present some ideas for color direction. The Mulleavy sisters rendered theirs as small delicate fabric clippings and pieces of trim and yarn on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper.

More recently, the Cooper Hewitt asked architect David Adjaye to curate a selection of West and Central African textiles as part of its “Selects” series. They asked Knoll Textiles if the company would work with Adjaye to produce a textile for the exhibition, then asked for a design to be sold in the shop. Eventually, an entire collection grew out of this project; “Aswan,” a traditional Kente cloth reimagined as a fast-moving digital print and “Djenne” which began as a woven raffia and wool cap and became a 70% cotton/30% nylon upholstery fabric that withstands 100,000 Wyzenbeek Doublerubs.

Among the discussion of complicated weaving, knitting, and printing techniques, and insights into the marketing aspects of the business Cosonas took care to pass on the “romance” of each collection we were privileged to view, the story behind the particular fabric design that gives each piece meaning.

“This fabric is woven by a family-owned mill in Belgium.” “This fabric is inspired by an image of a photograph of blurred dancers from a Gerhard Richter Exhibition.” These stories are just as important for the designer to understand as the fabric’s performance characteristics or where it fits in the budget. These narratives Cosonas and her team develop alongside the rich and complex offerings in each collection become part of Knoll’s story, too.

Time to bone up on that September issue.

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