A fine yarn

I wanted to introduce fresh and sunny colours with more contemporary and art influence. I wished to live close to fashion, with the charm, the energy and a permanent renewal,” says Patrice Marraud des Grottes, founder, president and creative director of the inimitable French interior textile brand, Élitis. “We want to bring something charming and poetic, always using new techniques. We are always experimenting, bringing impertinent ideas but always keeping a touch of seduction.”

Founded in 1988, Élitis burst onto the décor scene as a breath of fresh air at a time when “the decoration industry was very conservative”. It was all about “the ‘glory of the 18th century’, focusing on classical and traditional art heritage,” Marraud des Grottes explains. “I was very much interested in fashion, and I anticipated that the decoration industry was about to change.” Leading the charge of renewal the industry was crying out for, Élitis built a catalogue of products such as laser-cut fabrics, metallic linen, embroidered leather and novel 3D wallcoverings featuring shells woven into the textile. “At Élitis we are incessantly going forward, our motto is a constant renewal of products,” Marraud des Grottes says. “Our curiosity pushes us to adapt the classic decoration codes to fit our very personal vision of interior design.”

In its latest bid to continue overturning décor convention, Élitis released a new series of collections pushing the envelope further in terms of materials and visual impact. The Perles collection, which includes the “Tourmaline”, “Topaze”, “Parade de Samba” and “Nouvel Eden” designs, each in up to nine colourways, features embossed wallpaper fashioned after a mosaic of thousands of tiny seed beads; or the Équateur collection, with “Careyes”, “Manzanillo” and “Derby” designs formed of digitally printed woven paper and foil; or the Raffia & Madagascar collection, which uses woven raffia fibre to present paradise-inspired wallpaper designs such as “Cuba Libre” and “A Big Splash”. And the all-time house favourite? The Mémoires collection – “our best-selling item ever,” says Marraud des Grottes – initially launched in 2007 using leather- or hide-look embossed wallpaper to background a visual tribute to classic imagery of Africa, with designs such as “King”, a panoramic portrait of a lion on a wood-effect wallpaper; “Panthère”, a panther-hide look tile-effect wallpaper; or “Totem”, with its symphony of tribal motifs. The collection has proved popular enough for Élitis to include it in its High Performance Contract (commercial and hospitality) collection.

The Mémoires collection has helped Élitis take its aesthetic message worldwide. “We export to 120 different countries,” says Marraud des Gottes. “Besides our Paris and Milan showrooms, we opened two new showrooms in 2016, in Berlin and New York. We also have projects for Asia-Pacific in the pipeline.” Élitis is a perfect décor bedfellow for the family-owned interior company Seneca Textiles, which has brought the brand’s unique design perspective to New Zealand for more than a decade. As Marraud des
Grottes says, “The DNA of Élitis is innovative products – textiles, wallcovering, wallpaper and accessories – with a strong aesthetic focus.” Which is exactly what makes Élitis right at home here.

Lasting legacy

Modern always’ is the company’s motto,” says Demetrio Apolloni, president of Knoll Europe, “meaning the proposal of products with innovative content, beyond fashions and trends, capable of lasting over time.” Even separately, the two words of that simple, pragmatic motto make convincing descriptors of the New York-founded furniture and interior design brand. “Always” aptly describes the resilient longevity that has seen the nearly 79-year-old company prevail through a world war, huge social and technological revolutions and a rapidly evolving global design landscape. (Incidentally, its matriarch Florence Knoll turns 100 in 2017.) “Modern” means the brand never loses sight of its legacy as an incubator of mid-century modernist design or its ongoing mission to remain ahead of the curve in contemporary residential and commercial furniture and interiors. Explains Apolloni, “Knoll has always kept faith with the original tenets of the Bauhaus philosophy, according to which modern furniture should complete the architectural space, not compete with it.” German-born Hans Knoll had furniture in the blood: his grandfather had founded a furniture company in 1865, which his father and uncle, inspired by the Werkbund and Bauhaus design movements, steered towards modernist concepts.

Hans left Germany in 1936, going on to establish the Hans G Knoll Furniture Company in 1938 in New York. Ostensibly an import company, Knoll’s start-up initially focused on bringing European furniture to America, until the war and its imposition on shipments compelled him to seek out local designers to implement his modernist vision. This was the start of the Knoll brand’s tradition of collaboration that would see it manufacture the creations of dozens of the 20th and 21st centuries’ most important designers. “Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Eero Saarinen … architects who, with their iconic products, transformed the ideals of the Bauhaus and the concept of convergence of art, industry and crafts into reality, laying the groundwork for modern design thinking,” says Apolloni.

When Hans hired architecture and town planning graduate Florence Schust in 1941, he formed his most significant partnership; she overhauled the design direction of the company, recruited many of its most significant collaborators – including Saarinen, van der Rohe and Harry Bertoia – and established its interior design arm, the Planning Unit. They married in 1946 and the company became Knoll Associates. With Hans’ head for business, Florence’s exemplary eye for design – and their combined nose for prodigious talent in others – the couple led their brand into a golden age. Knoll took its remit beyond the boundaries traditionally adhered to by furniture firms of the past; the Planning Unit, under Florence’s stewardship, wrote a whole new template for holistic office design. The roll call of creative greats on its roster grew to include Isamu Noguchi, Richard Schultz, Warren Platner, Frank Gehry and Hans Wegner. Hans Knoll’s sudden death at 41 in 1955 saw Florence take the helm until her retirement a decade later, but by then the company had grown into the design powerhouse that thrives to this day.

“The mission is to move forward with the value and responsibility of the Knoll heritage,” says Apolloni of the role of the company’s present-day custodians. “What we have inherited from the past is what we foresee for the future, to honour and preserve our cultural legacy.” With iconic products in its stable such as the “Barcelona” chair by van der Rohe, the “Diamond” chair by Bertoia and the “Pedestal” collection by Saarinen, Knoll is still living up to the purposeful brevity of its motto.

Knoll furniture is available at Studio Italia.