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September 9, 2011 10:13 pm
Homeware collections change with the seasons, colour trends are transported from catwalks on to cushions and fashion-branded home products – from soft furnishings to crockery and casserole dishes – have found their way into every corner of the house.
Indeed, the big fashion brands have cast their nets so wide that it is now possible to live an entirely fashion-branded lifestyle: one can sleep in Calvin Klein sheets, follow a complete beauty routine using Chanel products, eat and drink off Versace plates and holiday in Missoni-branded hotels. The concept has also filtered through to the high street with Zara, H&M and Primark all offering extensive homeware ranges.
Ralph Lauren claims to have launched the first comprehensive home collection in 1983, although Missoni started a small line of bed and bathware in the 1970s. Other fashion houses were a little slower on the uptake: Versace started putting its neoclassical designs on homeware in 1992, Armani Casa entered the scene at the start of this century and this year, fashion designers Diane von Furstenberg and Orla Kiely launched interiors collections. Today, it is easier to count the fashion brands not doing it than the ones that are.
One reason for the success of these home collections may be that high-end fashion brands are often associated with quality, something that Sarah Williamson, brand and design development manager at Horrockses, says is important to her business. The brand, which is most remembered for its 1940s and 1950s floral dresses, some of which were worn by Queen Elizabeth II, has just relaunched (having ceased production in 1983), not with dresses but with bed linen. Williamson says that the overall quality of a product depends on “who you are, what your business stands for”. Some of the lower-end fashion-branded home products are not made to a high standard; Horrockses, she says, has been careful to put quality ahead of “a fast fashion fix”, which “is not the way to get longevity out of the brand”.
Rosita Missoni, who has been in charge of Missoni Home since she handed the reins of the fashion business to her daughter in the 1990s, says that the skills she used in fashion – the use of touch, texture and in particular, colour – have been readily transferable to homeware.
“I think colour is such a good recipe to give a lift to a home,” she says, although she insists that its application, in both home and in fashion design, is not as straightforward as some might imagine. “Sometimes people, just because they put together three or four colours, say, ‘don’t you think it looks Missoni?’ and I say ‘not at all, it’s not that simple’.”
Missoni also refuses to put fashion before comfort: “For me furniture has to be comfortable. You can have an odd piece just for fun, but this is not the regular language I like to express in a home.”
Williamson says that owing to Horrockses’ origins in cotton manufacturing, they felt confident in the decision to relaunch the business with bedding rather than fashion. “When the business was formed in the late 1700s, that is what Horrockses wove cotton for – cotton sheeting. It was only in the late 1930s and 1940s that they formed Horrockses fashions.”
However, Williamson says that in recent times, the links between fashion and homeware are stronger than ever: “You used to find that fashion and home never really merged together in terms of their seasonal launches, whereas now they are very much together and the trends that come through on fashion and the catwalks equally are very, very quickly, if not at the same time, translated through into the home.”
Interior designer Nina Campbell says that fashion houses have a clear advantage when it comes to the manufacturing of some home products, especially soft furnishings. “Designing fabrics is not to be taken lightly because of the distribution and I suppose that is where the fashion world has an edge. If you are Calvin Klein or Donna Karan, you have a distribution line already in place so that helps you enormously. Calvin Klein and Christian Dior did bedding and I think that translated rather well because they had the designs and they had the distribution and they had the name.”
Campbell says she is not threatened by the expansion of fashion into interiors because she does not feel that they are usurping the role of the interior designer. “I don’t think that fashion designers per se are becoming interior designers. I think they are becoming product designers.”
Campbell also admits to liking some of the products on offer: “I actually love Missoni. I love their textures. I could use touches of that and it would be wonderful to get that palette of colours that pull a room together.” However, the idea of filling a home with one particular brand is less appealing and she likens it to the 1998 film, The Truman Show. “It would be slightly dull to live in a world that is completely the same,” she says. Campbell has her own range of fabrics and wallpapers which she incorporates into the houses she decorates but she says that she would never use a whole room full of her own fabrics. “I don’t think that is what anyone is employing me for. They are employing me to put a whole lot of different fabrics together so that whatever they end up with is unique.”
Despite the rise of fashion-branded interiors collections, it seems the interest of consumers may be dwindling. Michelle Alger, interiors buyer at London department store Liberty, which stocks a small amount of fashion-branded homeware including Sonia Rykiel's interiors line, says that since the recession many of Liberty’s customers have moved away from fashion-branded products. “High fashion is in and then it’s out. There is an element of longevity in terms of homeware brands rather than fashion brands. Our customers tend to be a bit more conservative than they were three years ago. People aren’t moving so much so they are going to buy a more classic piece rather than a high-fashion piece.”
The fashion homeware collections keep coming but Alger does not think that they are the future of interiors; indeed, she says Liberty’s customers seem more interested in British specialist homeware brands – “tea sets and quirky ceramics”. And as much as she likes some of the fashion-branded products, furniture choices, unlike fashion choices, more often than not come down to practicality: “The problem with Missoni furniture is it is really bright and really lovely – it is fine on the Continent and the Riviera – but [in the UK] we don’t really have the weather to complement it.”
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