Fusion Confusion | Design Times

from “Swatches” by Editor and Publisher Louis Postel

1-louis design times

While working on this fabrics issue, I recalled a snowy trip to New York. I was at Celadon, the very downtown restaurant located at the uptown corner of 86th and Madison. It was freezing and damp outside. Inside, travel writer Gretchen Kelly and I were finishing dinner in the embrace of a banquette upholstered in chamomile velvet.

We ordered ginger crème brulee and Beaumes de Venise. The wine was sweet and sultry, and the ginger added Southwest Asian piquancy to the crisped sugar of the crème brulee. “Fusion food is popular everywhere now; you can’t seem to get away from it,” said Gretchen. At the next table, a handsome couple was taking sides over Kosovo. “They’ll only stop fighting each other if we invade,“ I overheard.

I turned to Gretchen. “Cultural differences bring us so many beautiful things, like printed fabrics and carved furnishings, but these same cultural differences also lead to so much strife. Sometimes I wonder, is it really worth the cost? Perhaps we’d be better off if cultures fused as gracefully as our dinner,” I said. From Gretchen’s expression I sensed a lively debate in the offing. “Where do all these differences really lead? I pressed on, playing devil’s advocate.

In reply, Gretchen held her hand open toward me. “See my palm?” she asked. “Until last week I had an exquisite mendhi pattern there. I got it in the Rabat Casbah. Things like this bring the excitement to the world of design that you champion in your magazine.”

“So you’re saying our houses should look like trading posts with all kinds of cultural artifacts knocking around? There are times when I feel the whole world should be wrapped in a million miles of peaceful peach silk and we should just leave it at that.”

Gretchen countered, “In Bali, the world is wrapped in yellow, pink and patterned cloth. Every temple is festooned with fabric, all in sacred colors that convey subtle meanings known only to the faithful.” Her Indian bangles jingled as she finished the last of her wine.

“But how does co-opting artifacts, religious symbols, and designs from faraway lands express who you really are?” I asked.

“My designer made my home a passport,” replied Gretchen. “It’s stamped with the evidence of all my travels. Living in it, I re-live those voyages. Balinese masks grace the same room as a hand of Fatima candle I found in Fes. Fortuny pillows from Venice are next to a


hookah I got in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. Javanese shadow puppets hang on the wall near some English prints from a little antiques shop in Hampstead health. And everything is covered in miles of cotton-block prints from India.“ Her home sounds like our dinner, I thought.

We sipped our double espressos in the hushed privacy of this Manhattan restaurant until 10:15 that Thursday evening. We outlasted the locals and our only fellow dinners were black-clad creative types who may have come up from Soho for a late-night snack of spring rolls.

“And how much of what you own is really you?” I inquired. “Isn’t it just travel booty, empty of significance away from its own environment and people?”

Gretchen paused to reflect. “My heroes are Lawrence of Arabia ad Paul Bowles, travellers who lived as foreigners all their lives because they always felt foreign,” she said. “I too have felt foreign everywhere, as so many of us do in the 20th century. Foreign objects are as significant to me as the home-grown stuff.” The colors and patterns of the fabrics gracing the pages of this Design Times have culled their own influences from other times and cultures as surely as the voyager collects souvenirs. In Italian, the word for souvenir is riccordi, recollections and records of travel, memories of a time when life’s colors are most vivid. Enjoy the voyage!