Shag pile, floral or fringed … rugs and carpets come in a variety of designs. But if they are not what springs to mind when you imagine haute couture, then think again.
At the Marni autumn/winter show earlier this year guests were seated on piles of old carpets. For Ralph Lauren’s 50th anniversary spring/summer show, models walked down a catwalk made up of a patchwork of carpets. The floor was printed in the style of a patterned rug at Chloé, with one model wearing what looked like a rug fashioned into a miniskirt, while a carpet formed the logo-branded backdrop to last year’s Balenciaga’s autumn/winter show.
A retrospective for Anni Albers, the Bauhaus-trained textile designer, has opened at Tate Modern, which includes her rugs. A glut of designers, whether consciously or subliminally, have appeared to reference Albers’s work recently. From Raf Simons’s Calvin Klein autumn/winter collection to high-street chain Zara, her influence is writ large, complete with raw edges and intarsia stripes. Paul Smith has designed a collection this season with Albers’s work as its stated inspiration.
As well as inspiring clothing, the rug is having a fashion moment in its own right, which ties into the broader resurgence of crafts. Loewe’s creative director, Jonathan Anderson, is one designer spearheading this renaissance, seeing crafts as “antidotes to digital media”.
Yet it is in part thanks to digital media that rugs might be finding so much love with the fashion pack. In this era when we’re seeing into the homes of influencers, who are posting outfits via mirror selfies or taking “shoefies”, the rug makes a perfect backdrop. So it’s no wonder that last year one rug in particular – a Scandi-style item from La Redoute – sold out again and again, even meriting its own Instagram account, thanks to it finding favour with the fashion crowd.
It rubs the other way too, with fashion designers increasingly turning their hand to rug design. Zandra Rhodes has long been making rugs that look like pink leopards or decorating them with zany squiggles. Jonathan Saunders has recently launched his second collection for the Rug Company – he is “particularly drawn to the process of designing rugs because of my product design and textiles background”. Other designers the Rug Company have worked with include Matthew Williamson and, earlier this year, Christopher Kane, who designed five handcrafted, botanical-inspired patterns, while last year Paul Smith again looked to Albers for a collection.
At the less luxury end of the market, Habitat is no stranger to fashion-designer collaborations. In 2016-17, Henry Holland worked on a collection that included rugs with grand floral prints, while Hannah Weiland, the designer and founder of London-based label Shrimps, famous for its bright faux fur, released a collaboration with the store last month. Her Doodle rug takes its artwork of rams, crowns, stars and a moon from a Shrimps clutch bag.
It is this chance to work on a bigger scale that Kate Butler, head of design for Habitat, thinks appeals to designers because it involves taking “small artworks and patterns and making them into these dramatic statement pieces, human-sized”. For the Shrimps collaboration, she says, it was amazing to “literally ‘blow up’ these illustrations … and work to replicate the embroidery detailing of the original bag on this”.
But no fashion designer’s foray into rugs has proved quite so popular as the one by wunderkind Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s creative director and the founder of Off-White. With his eagerly awaited Ikea collaboration set to drop next year, four different limited-edition rugs were released at the end of September. One, decorated with a traditional swirling pattern, got a modern twist with the slogan “Keep Off”; on another all-red rug, it read “Blue”. All quickly sold out.
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