As the holiday season begins its rapid approach, you may cast a more critical eye toward your home furnishings. Has sunlight started to fade your draperies? Have kids and houseguests prematurely worn out your favorite sofa? Has your love affair with your dining room wall come to an unhappy end?
Then it may be time to go fabric shopping and time to discover your luxury fabric shopping profile.
Luxury fabric shoppers come in three main types:
- People who want the very best luxury fabrics and don’t care about the cost,
- People who want the very best designer fabrics, but don’t want to pay full price for them, and
- People who want the look of luxury fabrics at the cheapest possible price and don’t mind buying knock-offs.
Interior designers whose clients write them blank checks and trust fund babies who have trouble spending their interest on the family fortune fall into the first category. The rest of us, depending on our current budget and overall sense of propriety, fall into the latter two.
Visit a Fortuny showroom in Venice or New York and, for a few seductive moments at least, you won’t care how much the handmade Legato cashmere and silk blended velvets or the Merino wool flannels cost. If the showroom were a retail store, you might just plunk down your American Express Centurion “black” card and grab a bolt or two of fabric without so much as glancing at a price tag.
But, since Fortuny’s handmade Italian fabrics must be ordered through an interior designer or some other member of the textile trade, you are forced to wait. By the time you do a Google search and discover that a pair of Fortuny throw pillows fetches $2,400, you may be afraid to calculate how much you’d have to shell out for 30 yards of Fortuny drapery fabric.
I mean it’s one thing to drop $10,000 on a luxury refrigerator that has a practical purpose and might hold up for a decade. But it’s quite another to spend that much on fabric that doesn’t come with a warranty. Robert Allen is not going to give you a refund because your toddler spilled grape juice on the couch you just upholstered with his Tonal chenille and its 15,000 double rubs. And you can’t expect anyone at Kravet to send you 5 free yards of I Love Silk Hot Pink silk after your cat climbed a drapery panel in your daughter’s bedroom.
So what do you do if, like me, you live in a real house with real people? You have good – maybe even exquisite – taste and you’d love to drape, upholster and otherwise wrap your home in nothing but name-dropping designer fabrics. But maybe – hopefully – you love your family more and aren’t prepared to banish members to the basement or kennel?
How do you decide if and when to pay full price for luxury designer fabric or whether it makes more sense to shop at the designer’s outlet store or look for a cheaper imitation at your nearest Calico Corners?
Let’s look at what some of the leading fabric designers offer for prices that climb up to – and then over — $300 a yard and what you can get for a tenth of that price.
Robert Allen Luxury Fabrics
Robert Allen’s collections include upholstery and drapery fabric from its in-house designers as well as collaborations with Larry Laslo, Kirk Nix and Sunbrella.
Beacon Hill, the premium collection, includes fabric inspired by art at Christie’s Auction, such as textiles based on the artwork of Dennis Hopper. The company’s DwellStudio collection was featured in Better Homes and Gardens, and the Robert Allen Right Away collection aims to appeal to decorators in a hurry – selected fabrics ship in 24 hours. In addition to fabric, Robert Allen also sells furniture, drapes, window shades and pillows.
Looking for a bargain? Robert Allen hosts an online outlet store, which advertises prices at up to 70% off retail. The company also holds semi-annual sample sales at its showrooms.
Schumacher & Co. Luxury Fabrics
Luxurious fabrics designed by F. Schumacher & Co. have decorated the interiors of the White House, the Metropolitan Opera and the Supreme Court. Although many of its designs are steeped in history, Schumacher also collaborates with modern designers, including Mary McDonald, Celerie Kemble, Timothy Corrigan, Alessandra Branca and Trina Turk.
The collection includes drapery and upholstery fabric as well as wallpaper and furniture in both subdued tones as well as bright and bold patterns. Expect to see rich cream-colored silks and ivory linens, but be prepared to find iconic silk leopard wall coverings among Shumacher’s offerings. The company is classic, not stodgy and has relevant modern designs.
The company sells only to trade professionals and does not promote any discounts. But some online retailers, including Inside Fabric, sell Schumacher fabrics for about $50 to $200 a yard – roughly 45% off the retail price. Styles and quantities may be limited, and you may not find the latest or must-have luxurious fabric offerings. But you don’t have to travel to a showroom or hire an interior designer – you can make your purchase directly from the site.
Pindler & Pindler Luxury Fabrics
Pindler & Pindler opened its doors in Los Angeles in 1947. It started out primarily as a drapery jobber, buying fabric direct from companies to insure timely delivery, and has grown in scope and prestige over the decades. Current collections include Hearst Castle, inspired by William Randolph Hearst, and Newport Mansions, a collaboration with Dorothy Duke, who owned a now-historical estate in Newport, Rhode Island.
Palatial, seaside resort settings are ideal homes for Pindler & Pindler fabrics. The floral silks in the Hearst Castle collection and the sarong-themed acrylics in Duke’s indoor-outdoor collection shout coastal luxury and affluence.
Not surprisingly, Pindler & Pindler does not boast about discounts on its website. But you can buy some of its fabrics online for less than $100 a yard. A place called Online Fabric Store, for example, sells Pindler & Pindler Daniella Porcelain, a linen and rayon blend, for $38.55 a yard and a rayon/polyester/cotton blend called Oberon Peacock for $82.60 a yard.
Scalamandre Luxury Fabrics
Next time you’re at the Ritz in Paris, you may see Scalamandre fabrics – the designer has been commissioned to provide fabrics for the hotel’s upcoming renovation. Scalamandre designs have also adorned the White House, Colonial Williambsburg and the Metropolitan Opera House.
If you want something from the company’s latest collection – its Reese cotton sateen print in turquoise or its Nimbus Brocatelle cotton/linen/viscose blend, for example – you’ll need to contact a trade member to help you place an order.
But there are bargains – serious bargains – to be found on the Scalamandre site. Another Brocatelle called Sevignee sells for $38.95 a yard, compared to its regular price of $160.50. Discontinued fabrics and short runs sell for the lowest price. A four-yard remnant of 100% silk Gaufre Damask is on sale for $400. You can’t do a lot with four yards of fabric, but it’s enough to make a dust ruffle or a pair of shams or throw pillows.
Duralee Luxury Fabrics
You may have seen Duralee in magazines such as Rue, Luxe Interiors and House Beautiful. The company, founded in the middle of the last century, has grown to include an ultra-high-end line called Highland Court and its most affordable line, Suburban Home. Designers Philip Gorrivan, Alfred Shaheen, Thomas Paul, Clodah and Eileen Kathryn Boyd are among designers who have contributed their talents to Duralee fabrics, trims and furniture.
The Highland Court collection includes traditional silks, wools and velvets as well as bold, modern prints in linen blends and embroidered cottons.
Some of Boyd’s designs sell on discount sites such as Designer Fabrics USA for about $50 to $80 a yard.
Lee Jofa/Groundworks/Kravet Luxury Fabrics
The company’s history dates back nearly 200 years and includes assorted mergers and takeovers. In 1986, Lee Jofa acquired Groundworks, which added modern designs to the company’s traditional patterns. In 1995, Kravet bought out Lee Jofa. Current collections include the clean lines of James Huniford, the brightly colored and poet-inspired Ithaka prints, David Easton’s Turkish designs and the rich embroideries of Oscar de la Renta. Kravet counts Ralph Lauren, Laura Ashley and Jeffrey Alan Marks among its designers.
The combined companies make more than 6,000 fabric choices – enough to suit just about anyone’s taste. Whether they fit your budget is another matter, and Kravet sells exclusively to interior designers.
A California company called LA Design Concepts promises to help you overcome the access problem to Kravet and some – not all – high-end luxury manufacturers. They charge 20% over wholesale price for their service, a price they say saves you 40% off the retail price.
Want the design without the label? Calico Corners sells look-alikes fabrics, including near matches for Lee Jofa’s Ithaka prints, for about $30 a yard. Maybe they won’t fool the most discerning eye and maybe their thread counts are inferior, but they sure look pretty.
Pollack Luxury Fabrics
POLLACK is relatively new and relatively small. It was founded in June, 1988 with 22 textile designs and boasts just 500 designs and employs slightly more than 4 dozen employees today. But the boutique company has a big reputation in the design community, and articles about POLLACK have appeared in publications such as Architectural Digest and media outlets such as Apartment Therapy and House and Home TV.
And it employs some old-fashioned techniques. Its designs generally begin with pencil sketches, not mouse clicks, and some weaves are tested on hand looms. Rachel Dorris, POLLACK’s design director created her first official textile project – splatter painting curtains from old sheets when she was in third grade – and some of that whimsical creativity is apparent in POLLACK fabrics.
POLLACK fans looking for a bargain can find them on the company’s website. You must register, but don’t need a trade account to shop for fabric priced from $15 to $20 per yard for discontinued lines. Stock is limited from about 6 to 100 yards per design.
Sunbrella Luxury Indoor/Outdoor Fabrics
Sunbrella got its start making awning covers in the 1960s, branched out to the marine upholstery business in the 1970s and led the trend for using outdoor fabrics indoors at the turn of the new millennium. The idea is to combine high-end design with long-lasting materials. If a fabric can withstand a tropical storm, it can certainly hold up to everyday use by an active family, right?
My own experience doesn’t support the theory but, if you like the cheerful colors, designer patterns and casual feel of Sunbrella, you can find some of their fabric for $10 a yard at JoAnn’s Fabric and $35 a yard at Pottery Barn.
Perennials Luxury Indoor/Outdoor Fabrics
Velvet that can be cleaned using Formula 409 or Simple Green? It’s hard not to be tempted by this promise from Perennials, another major player in the luxury indoor/outdoor fabric industry.
With designer names like Clodagh, Galbraith and Paul, John Hutton and Rose Tarlow making their imprint on Perennials, the fabric maker gets a lot of top-tier attention.
Can you get all of this functionality and artistry at a discount? Pottery Barn carries a limited number of Perennials designs for $65 a yard, and you may do better than that during a sale. You can also check eBay and Craigslist where interior designers and home owners who bought more fabric than they needed (lots more if they changed their mind after purchase) often sell luxury fabric at majorly discounted prices. People who make their living setting stages for home sales or actual stage, movie and TV sets are also good sources for luxury fabrics at a discount.
Is Bargain Hunting for Luxury Fabrics a Good Idea?
If you own a house as palatial as the Hearst Castle and a staff of servants larger than the one at Downton Abbey, the answer is an easy “no.”
For the rest of us, the answer is, “it depends.”
If you’ve fallen in love with a Fortuny design, you may want to embrace the entire Fortuny experience, which includes receiving a Cut For Approval swatch of fabric from the actual bolt of fabric you’ll receive and the knowledge that your order was “produced in the same factory, on the same machines, using the same secret process and techniques handed down” from Mariano Fortuny, the artist-textile designer who founded his company in 1919. At Fortuny, you can also order fabric printed on both sides.
But it’s arguable whether cheaper versions of designer fabrics are noticeably inferior to their originals. Will a designer print produced in China or India and a copy manufactured in the same plant look or wear differently? Maybe.
Differently enough to justify spending 10 times as much for it? Name-dropping rights or a jaw-dropping bargain? That’s for you and your budget to decide.
Who’s your favorite fabric designer? Do you look for bargains when buying luxury fabrics or do you pay full price. Have any fabrics not lived up to their promise – or your lifestyle? Please share some of your most memorable fabric shopping experiences below.