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Sep 9, 2010
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Couturiers cut loose on homeware

Sep 9, 2010

PARIS, Sept 9, 2010 (AFP) - From a low-slung oriental sofa striped with Jean-Paul Gaultier's trademark sailor motif, to Fendi's new sun lounger suite in cool white hues, fashion giants are sashaying into the world of home design.

Fendi Homewear - Farnese Sofa and Musa Armchairs

But while a couturier's flair for cut, colour and pattern can translate well to the living room, established players are making sure they retain a tidy cut in the fashion-meets-furnishing game.

"The link between fashion and home furnishings is ever more obvious, and it is growing stronger every year," said Franck Millot, commercial director at SAFI which organised the Maison et Objet design fair in Paris this week.

"Whether it's young designers, or well-established brands -- there is a natural movement into home design."

Barely months after Gaultier left Hermes to focus on his own new projects, the flamboyant designer captured the spotlight at the top design industry event in Paris with a one-off collection for the French furniture giant Roche Bobois.

"I don't see myself as a furniture designer," the couturier said when he unveiled the tie-up earlier this year. But as someone who designs clothes, "it seems legitimate to take an interest in the home."

Gaultier conjured up a modular sofa, which lets customers pick and choose between marine stripe with red pom-poms, lace, calligraphy or tatoo patterns as well as glamourous celluloid kissing scenes.

For the bedroom, he chose pink silk bedding with ballet-syle lace up ribbon, and a fold-out paravent wardrobe.

Ralph Lauren, one of the first fashion houses to move into interiors in 1983, was also in Paris for the second year running with a home collection closely inspired by recent catwalk shows.

Cable-knit cashmere throw blankets allude to the brand's iconic chunky sweaters while its classic houndstooth pattern crops up on wallpaper and tableware.

The fair also welcomed the couturier Franck Sorbier for his first first foray into interiors, with a single-edition collection of silverware portraits made from recycled plates and cutlery.

Roche Bobois' chief Gilles Bonan, whose firm has worked in the past with the likes of Missoni or Kenzo -- before the Japanese designer branched out on its own -- saw the Gaultier tie-up as a chance to make a splash for his firm's 50th anniversary.

"There is a natural kinship between fashion and interiors, there are a lot of bridges between the two -- on fabrics, the most basic expression of fashion, on prints and harmonies," he said.

"It's also a way to widen our customer base, both for Roche Bobois and for Jean-Paul Gaultier."

Applying the same formula, Italian firm Club House Italia has designed and manufactured a home collection for Fendi for 20 years.

Fendi Casa showed an outdoor collection in Paris inspired by the ocean-side atmospheres of the Hamptons, the Caribbean, Capri or the Riviera.

Roomy, modular armchairs and tables of woven fibre came in bronze, silver grey or white sand, with deep cushions wrapped in velvet jacquard fabrics of ivory, green or purple.

Three years ago Club House Italia linked up with Kenzo, which was in Paris with a range of deep, square sofas, in ivory with touches of plum, orange or green, which it says were "deeply influenced" by its woman's pret-a-porter collections.

So are established market players worried about the new competition?

Not at all, says Millot, who argues that while fashion houses can bring real added value, they "need a partner who masters the home market."

"The consumer has to recognise the spirit of the fashion house. He has to recognise what he loves about, for example, Fendi. But applied to the world of decoration."

"We don't see it as a threat -- we have a depth of range that they cannot offer," agrees Roche Bobois' Bonan. "It's tempting for a fashion designer to say 'I'll expand into furnishings.' But it's not that easy.

"It's a different profession -- without even getting into issues like distribution, without an understanding of what the consumer wants you can get it terribly wrong."

By Emma Charlton

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