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Archive for Textiles

A conversation with Mark Butcher of Mark Alexander


Mark Butcher is the Design Director of Mark Alexander. After a grounding in interior design in London and New York, and many years working with textiles, Mark joined the Romo Group to create the brand, and in January 2010 the first Mark Alexander collection was launched.

How did you enter the world of design?
I started out in Pimlico Road many years ago, and I was firmly grounded in an interior design style that was all about layering; of different periods, of different cultures, the kind of interior that appears to have been collected, rather than overly designed.

How has that experience influenced your textile design?
I was fortunate to work alongside some of the most highly regarded interior designers in London and New York, masters of creating spaces that were finely crafted, yet relaxed; that seemed to have evolved artfully, and possessed a quiet luxury that would never go out of style, because they were never based on trends of the moment. Those principles are the aesthetic essence of Mark Alexander.

You often speak of the importance of seeking the fine balance between originality and authenticity.

Yes, as a studio we want to create original designs with a clean, modern edge. But we also draw on diverse cultural and historical references and we want to be respectful of the inspirational source. Often that just means using the best natural materials. It’s why I love using linen so much; it has such a lived-in, timeless quality.

So a key feature of Mark Alexander is using the finest natural fibres?
Absolutely. And artisanal techniques. For me, one of the essential qualities in design is simplicity. There’s a richness to be found in paring down a design to its vital elements, in allowing the intrinsic natural beauty of a textile to speak for itself.

The MA studio also creates all of the interior context for its collections; the connection with architecture seems very important to you.

My own design inclination follows the progression from Arts and Craft to Streamline Art Deco and through to Handcrafted Modernism. The more I studied, the more I found I was drawn to the architect designers like Mackintosh, Voysey, Frank Lloyd Wright, George Nakashima; designers who saw architecture and interiors as two sides of the same coin. They created organic buildings crafted from local materials, and were often as concerned with the smallest detail, like a door handle, as with the impression of the whole.

The restraint, minimalism and integrity of Japanese aesthetics is also something that continually guides what we do. For example, we often create our own yarns so we can convey the aged beauty of old textiles.

And we often explore the influence of African art on early Modernist painters such as Matisse, and on textile artists such as Anni Albers. It speaks of the Modernism suffused with the handcraft tradition that is the essence of the Mark Alexander aesthetic.

What have been the highlights over the last 10 years?

One of the most satisfying aspects is the relationships that have been built up over many years with the mills and artisans. There’s a shared understanding, and a trust in what we’re trying to do, which is to create refined, understated textiles, and now, wallcoverings. And I’m also incredibly proud to have seen the Mark Alexander studio evolve into such a talented team of designers, who are forming their own connections with artisans all over the world.

A Glimpse Into Rosemary Hallgarten’s Artisanal Process

When starting her company in 2001, two of Rosemary’s primary directives were to provide sustainable product to her clients as well as support to textile artisans in indigenous cultures, such as Peru, Brazil and Nepal. Today, this commitment to craft and craftspeople remains central to her firm’s mission.

The majority of Rosemary Hallgarten products are hand-made by local craftspeople, who carry out the dyeing, knotting, weaving and embroidery in their own homes. It is common that families and friends, even husbands and wives, work together when weaving a rug. This eases stress on the artists’ family by allowing them to work in their own environment and choose their own schedule. In keeping with Rosemary’s involvement in GoodWeave, no child labor is used in the production of any of Rosemary’s products.

A second-generation craftsperson herself, Rosemary recognizes the importance of family legacy. Investing in the lineage of second and third generation native artisans imbues the finished product with a strong sense of “place”, and simultaneously contributes economically to their communities. Valuable techniques are passed from generation to generation as these special processes are mastered. By providing a market for a unique and local skill, Rosemary also helps to sustain widespread appreciation for the cultures of Peru, Nepal and Brazil.

The alpaca population, whose fleece is used to make Rosemary’s rugs, pillows and throws, is free roaming and their gentle grazing helps prevent soil erosion. They are herded in the evenings by local shepherds into stone enclosures. The animals are shorn just once a year, in the summer, the time most appropriate for them to shed their heavy hair.

The Himalayan sheep, which graze at altitudes of over 17,000 feet, grow one of the most luxurious wools in the world. Known for its natural abundance of lanolin and resiliently long staple, the wool needs little treatment when hand carded and knotted into a rug.

Rosemary’s Botanical Collection is comprised of all natural fibers such as cactus, nettle and hemp, processed entirely by hand in the villages of Nepal. The fibers are for the most part naturally colored and sustainably harvested in the high mountain plains of Kathmandu.

Brazil boasts an immense selection of locally grown plants and fibers. No Amazon forests or other indigenous forests or wetlands were destroyed in harvesting any of the materials used in Rosemary’s rugs.