Just before the December holiday, officeinsight visited textile manufacturer Carnegie Fabrics at its Creative Design Studio in New York City’s Flatiron District. Started in 1950 by the late Robert Goldman and presided over today by his son Cliff Goldman, Carnegie has had a deep impact on the textile industry and is best known for its innovations in wallcoverings and for its high-performance Xorel® product, an early alternative to vinyl-based textiles.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Carnegie is how it has nurtured the creative side of its business and today relies on the cross-functional capabilities of creative design studio members rather than the wizardry of a niche-marketing group to help the company maintain a fresh yet cohesive presence in the market.

“We look for someone who is energetic, intelligent and creative, and who can morph,” said Vivian Ibeas, director of communications, who had trained as an opera singer before joining the Carnegie team.

“A textile designer might be storyboarding a video and one of our graphic designers might be creating a design that becomes a textile,” explained Executive Vice President of Creative Mary Holt.

This liberal arts approach to gathering talent, along with a dedicated New York City space separate from its main Rockville Center, Long Island, office allows Carnegie to remain agile and play a more active role in design development, with each of the dozen or so full-time studio members contributing to most projects from inception to completion regardless of whether they are working on upholstery, wallcoverings, panels or window treatments.

“Studios are traditionally divided up by product type,” said Ms. Holt. Carnegie’s goal was to “mash” things up.

Working Within Constraints
Far from serving as a sort of Montessori for grown-ups, members of the studio are asked to create within certain pre-established constraints, using client goals, the brand ethos, and the structural and performance limitations of materials as their rhyme and meter.

“It used to be that we developed products and designers designed,” explained Ms. Holt. “Now, we’re being brought in at a very early stage so the designer can give us an overview of the effect they want the interior to have. It’s not just about developing pretty patterns. We listen to our clients, listen to their challenges, and try to create textiles that are solution driven. That’s the biggest challenge. Even when we are doing something pretty and it is fun and new, it also has to withstand a hundred thousand double rubs and be bleach cleanable.”

It also has to fit Carnegie’s own sustainability standards, which, for the only PVC-free textiles company, are high.

Beginning with the Basics
Xorel is Carnegie’s essential building block, a foundational element out of which many of its custom solutions are created.

Since its invention as a durable, cleanable, attractive alternative to the vinyl-, ultimately petroleum-based textiles that dominate the market, Xorel has been a relentless best seller and exists today in a plant-based composition.

Working with a designer looking for a high-performance textile for a specific high-traffic context, for example, the team will identify a color palette, entertain patterns, (borrowing from an existing trove of designs or designing afresh to do so) and consider jacquard or dobby weaves, embossing, embroidery or digital printing.

The key for Carnegie and part of the impulse behind the studio is to remain conversant with its client designers and understand their needs, then move the conversation, and the role of textiles in it, toward a purpose and vision – in the best cases helping to realize that vision.

Carnegie relies on its proprietary toolbox of Xorel, but also partners with hundreds of mills the world over to be competitive at a grander scale.

“Everybody else is using that same toolbox,” said Ms. Holt says. Other companies can get the same yarns, request the same dyes, and so forth. In this arena, timing – coordinating the specific order – and creativity – how what’s available gets used – matter most.

Weaving It All Together
The creative team works closely with designers from around the country on textile development, with mills on projects of every stripe, with higher education programs through competitions and internships in order to reach tomorrow’s specifiers, and with each other in the intimate studio.

The studio workspace is busy, with occupants swaddled in fabrics of every size, shape, color, pattern, and texture working on any number of projects. For an interloper, being in the thick of it can be overwhelming.

Yet there’s something to be said for this immersion. Creativity, after all, rarely takes the sanitary form words like inspiration and genius would seem to imply. “You’ve got to make a mess to find the order,” said Luise Stromberg, a senior designer at Carnegie.

It’s also a process that takes place over time. “In many cases, the process is extended and an idea or something you’re exposed to stays in the back of your mind,” said Ms. Holt. “Then suddenly, you find a construction or a material that you want to interpret into.”

When designers in the healthcare and hospitality industries requested an attractive yet flat textile that would prevent dirt or food from getting caught in it, the studio team took up the challenge of developing a structurally sound high-performance solution with the appearance of depth.

The solution did not reveal itself overnight, however, and the quest came to be known as “Luise’s folly” for Ms. Stromberg’s relentless experimentation and testing. Yet the willingness to come back to the project time and again in the studio environment eventually yielded what looks like a textured yarn but is all flat. Today that fabric is known as Fusion, a name that just happens to get at the essence of Carnegie’s Creative Design Studio.

by John Copeland

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