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Jun 25

Talking Textiles: An Endangered Species

I’d gladly spend any time talking about textiles. So when Lidewij Edelkoort of Trend Union was noted as a speaker at the “Talking Textiles” seminar, I jumped at the opportunity to attend. Her company, Edelkoort, Inc, along with curator Philip Fimmano had organized this half-day event at Parsons School of Design. With presentations seemingly along the lines of “Textiles, an Endangered Species,” the culmination of the day was a counterpoint to this theme–awarding The Dorothy Waxman Textile Design Award to a textile or fashion design student who exhibits innovative thinking and inspiring creativity in textiles.

Ms. Edelkoort, who is known as Li, introduced the program by pointing out that, in spite of extraordinary technical expertise, much of the global textile industry today is lacking the creativity that has been at the soul of fabric making historically. She feels we are at risk of losing many of the traditional fibers and techniques, at least on a manufacturing level. “Can you imagine a world without Belgian linen, Irish tweed, and the other classic fabrics?” she asked. Well, no.

Patrice George, who is a weaver and assistant professor of Textile Development and Marketing at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), gave a comprehensive lecture accompanied by visuals that could have been called Textiles 101. She reviewed the history of textiles from ancient Egypt through today’s high-tech fabrics, also touching upon the endangered species theme, reminding the audience that the development of the guild system in Europe during the Middle Ages allowed for the flowering of craftsmanship and the development of very specific regional techniques, such a Bruges lace. While sad about the demise of the textile manufacturing industry in North America and Europe over the last half-century or so, George thinks we should take hope in the fact that there are companies, especially on the high-end, who are supporting fiber production (Loro Piana http://www.loropiana.com/en/il-nostro-mondo/product-origin), techniques (http://jakob-schlaepfer.ch/en/), and cultures (http://www.ethnotekbags.com).

Another of those high-end companies is Rubelli Fabrics, whose CEO Nicolo Rubelli shared with the audience his company’s commitment to keeping textile tradition alive and healthy. He is the fifth generation to run the fabric firm established by his family in Venice in 1858, which is still producing jacquards, brocades, and damasks using traditional techniques and equipment, as well as innovative fabrics using cutting edge machinery. His company is one of the few examples of the blending of artistry, tradition, and current technology that Edelkoort referenced in her introduction. In addition to their own lines of fabrics and wallcoverings, Rubelli makes home furnishings fabrics for the likes of Donghia and Armani Casa. And they take special orders, like the one they did for Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater—almost 14,000 yards in total.

Not surprisingly, for me the highlight of the afternoon was Li Edelkoort’s own presentation. Dutch by birth, she has been at the forefront of color and trend forecasting for decades and is known around the world for being both philosophical and right-on in her predictions.

Her presentations pair extraordinary images from nature with lush photos of fabric, clothing, and interiors in way that is both riveting and inspirational. There are always visual and verbal puns–the theme this time was Gathering. Her concern is that society is dislocated, so we have a need for gathering. And that’s what fabric does, right?

Watching her slide show, I could hardly feel depressed about the current and future state of textiles.

Welcome to guest blogger Karin Strom. Karin has been collecting textiles since she was a child. (Seriously, what kid asks her Dad to bring back fabrics from his business trips?) She has worked in the hand knitting yarn industry for many years, for yarn companies from Tahki-Stacy Charles to Lion Brand, and in publishing as the editor-in-chief of Yarn Market News and the editorial director for the Yarn Group of Interweave. She is currently working as a consultant and can be reached at yarnstrom@gmail.com. 

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