I met Romeo Gigli in 1992, with my business partner Matthew Bourne, following an introduction by Joan Burnstein, owner of Browns and doyenne of the London fashion world.
Romeo Gigli was then one of the world’s most influential and celebrated fashion designers. Our company was emerging from the gloom of a deep recession and we eagerly jumped at the chance of working with Romeo, it seems the world’s press felt the same way judging by the coverage our collaboration subsequently received.
The kilims are the work of a designer who has few peers when it comes to understanding the nature of textiles allied to colour. Indeed what attracted me first, as designer, was the highly developed rich colour sense and, looking further, I could see subtly unfolding influences from all the great civilizations of Africa, South America, ancient Byzantium and home to his beloved Ravenna. Anyone who knows the work of Romeo Gigli will be aware of his love of traditional ethnic art, and kilim weaving is high on the list. In these kilims we see subtle absorption of and respect for an ancient tradition allied to an artist’s own vision.
Romeo educated all of us, and the Turkish dyers we used, about colour. We had hoped Romeo would work with our existing colours but he soon disabused us of that! Matthew traveled to Konya, Turkey with Romeo’s fabric designer Claire Joseph and she basically dyed the colours herself in the middle of December, outdoors, in freezing temperatures. The dyers were very traditional Turkish men and did not take kindly to being told what to do by, what to them, was this crazy women from Los Angeles. The dyers were also not familiar with the tiny amounts of dye that were being demanded for the subtle variations in colour. However, once they saw Claire knew what she was doing, everything went smoothly.
I vividly remember the first showing of the kilims at Salon de Mobile, Milan in 1993. We were lucky enough to be invited by Giulio Cappellini, a personal friend of Romeo’s, to participate in his event. It was held in an atmospheric derelict steam engine factory. The opening night was attended by thousands of people, some of the biggest names in fashion, architecture and design. Romeo insisted that the rugs were shown exactly to his specifications and we all turned up to make it happen. The exhibit was a huge success and I recall the New York Times choosing our show as one of their top picks. It was an exciting time, a whole new world for me and my head was well and truly turned.