- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The latest trend in the design world is convergence, or crossover, a blurring of the lines between runway fashion, furniture and architecture.

It’s when a sofa fabric inspires a new line of china; when apparel designer Giorgio Armani, already the creator of a collection of home furnishings, styles a building’s interior; and when a staircase on a building’s interior inspires the fabric for a gown.

Closer to home, it’s when the renowned Italian house of Fendi, famous for its fur fashion, decides to open a showroom of high-end furniture and accessories in the Washington Design Center, to be called Fendi Casa, scheduled for later this month.

American and European fashion designers long have allowed their names to be identified with such home accessories as rugs, pillows and bedsheets, often without actually designing the products. Manufacturers this way buy a reputation for luxury and a certain aesthetic attractive to an increasingly well-heeled consumer base.

Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Todd Oldham and Nicole Miller are among the Americans who have branched out into increasingly larger items for the home, often displaying the fashions and furnishings in the same location.

If the design world has been getting a makeover, so has the word fashion itself because it is very nearly interchangeable with that elusive term “lifestyle.” A New York City real estate brokerage that advertises luxury apartments for sale as “couture homes” and “pret-a-porter” [less expensive ready-to-wear apparel] is only the latest manifestation of a trend that dates back 10 years or more.

Witness this promotional quote from Ralph Lauren from his online Web site (www.polo.com): “What began almost four decades ago with a collection of ties has grown into an entire world, redefining American style. … We were the innovators of lifestyle advertisements that tell a story and the first to create stores that encourage customers to participate in that lifestyle.”

Ralph Lauren is known for careful control of his image and of the products sold in his name. His retail store in Chevy Chase, designed to resemble a stately English mansion full of dark wood, has mannequins mingling among accessories and furnishings that include $5,000 side tables and $10,000 beds.

Like the apparel on the models, upholstery fabrics are rich-looking and soft to the touch. (Perhaps seeking to identify with Mr. Lauren’s plutocratic vision, Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder is refurbishing his Potomac mansion with many of the pieces from Ralph Lauren Home, according to a sales associate.)

The “convergence factor” also refers to the adoption in a particular home furnishings collection of some of the same decorative notes from the fashion house’s latest line and the same high-quality workmanship expected of a couture item.

Upholstery designs shown at this year’s International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., emphasized such craftsman touches as hand stitching and other embellishments that one report dubbed “couture chic.” Treatments included covered buttons and fancy ruffles and bows copying in spirit the look of some of the high-priced gowns seen twice a year on couture runways.

A visitor to the Fendi showroom can expect to see a few buckles on pieces that owner Ani Schroeder has chosen for the firm’s debut here, as well as an abundant use of fine leather fabric on sofas and chairs similar to what is found in a Fendi coat or handbag.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld, known also for his work for the French fashion house of Chanel, has been associated with the Fendi firm for many years and even created its distinctive black-and-brown inverted “FF” logo.

Fendi got into the furnishings business in 1988 with a few cushions, then introduced sofa models in 1990. Although the much larger Miami store features bright colors such as a pink leather sofa, Ms. Schroeder has chosen mainly dark shades.

“I took into consideration the conservative style of Washington,” she says. The local store will be open only to the trade, which means the public will make purchases through professional interior designers and decorators.

The overlapping of runway fashion and furniture operates on many levels. Even Wrangler — best known for jeans and working clothes — has a Home Lifestyle Collection. Most fashion houses with furnishing lines “brand” themselves for a more upscale market.

Buyer beware, warns David Brogna, a professor of home product development at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Quality and vision can suffer in the rush to use a celebrity designer’s name in so broad a way. “It’s difficult to coordinate the lines with so many manufacturing processes,” he says. “You need people with vision that can carry that through.”

The trend makes sense to designer Clodagh of New York’s Clodagh Design. She will speak at a public forum co-sponsored by the Fashion Group International of Greater Washington D.C. on Sept. 28 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. She credits the influence of online purchasing, where “a brand never has been more important. Fashion and film stars suck up a lot more publicity than interior designers and architects.”

Marketing is key, agrees New York architect Kenne Shepherd. The appeal of a brand name is for “a newer monied class who make up what we call the aspirational market,” she says, citing the American public’s increasing appreciation of good design. People who can’t afford $2,000 for a suit may be able to buy a pair of sheets and later on acquire more expensive items, she notes.

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