An Artist in the House
Edited by Karen D. Singh -- Interior Design, 3/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
"There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who. . . transform a yellow spot into the sun," Pablo Picasso once said. When Clarence House executive vice president of design Kazumi Yoshida mixes shades of yellow on his wooden painter's palette, he's thinking about transforming them into textiles.
Renowned for designs brimming with eccentric large-scale patterns and intense, unusual color combinations, this venerable company has never been a source for the common textile. And that hasn't changed since the death of founder Robin Roberts in 2003, when Yoshida was given the wheel of a ship that needed to freshen its offerings yet satisfy an existing clientele looking for textiles dating back to the reign of Marie-Antoinette. "Robin created this brand with over-the-top damasks, lampas, silk velvets, and luscious trims—his skill at editing grand archival designs was tremendous. I liked working with those as well, but the pendulum needed to swing back," Yoshida explains. "I started mixing mid-century whimsy with the energy and force you see in contemporary art."
A prolific painter, he says he always starts with a sketch: "Mistakes in the drawing can become intentional in the textile. You have to let the 'wrong' side speak to you in a positive way."
For the observer, it's surprising how often the end product looks like the initial artwork, as is the case with cotton-linen Kourin, inspired by Japanese painting and calligraphy from the 17th century. Anouk, a linen, mixes impressionist colors with fauvist abstraction, and Velours Klee, a linen-polyester blend with cut and uncut pile, pays homage to painter Paul. Meanwhile, deco-deluxe Milhaud Velvet, a linen-cotton, takes its cues from the 1920's Royal Swedish Ballet, and Hoffman explores levels of color on an active cut-velvet ground. A striking update of the tree-of-life motif, Jembala was originally designed as a tapestry; reactions proved so positive that Yoshida translated it into both a printed linen and an intricate wool crewel.
Part of his success he credits to U.S. designers and consumers becoming more global and appreciative of quality. What would he want the designer unaccustomed to Clarence House to know? For a contract client, the company can sometimes re-create a certain design to meet budget and durability criteria.
979 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022; 800-221-4704; clarencehouse.com. circle 356