July 8, 2015
A leading American textile designer ranges far and wide for influences, with impact well beyond her specialty.
We probably won’t get the best presents from Lori Weitzner’s recent trip to Indonesia for a while. “My trip was wonderful,” she says. “I’m now developing some hand-woven materials like abaca and other grasses with a mill there, and then will be doing some unique treatments to them. We’ll see how they turn out.”
Lori’s journeys around the world are a key part of her design process, and the results almost always delight designers and clients. Leftover silk and cotton selvage from looms in Thailand, for instance, is spun into a yarn and then woven into a fabric called Mela. “It’s very beautiful and looks very contemporary, and it uses waste that would otherwise go into the garbage,” Lori says.
“Working with artisans around the world, we can create products that are handmade, yet have total relevance in a high-end sophisticated market,” she says. Besides Indonesia and Thailand, workshops in the U.S., Japan, India, and four European countries are busy creating Lori Weitzner products. “It’s so rewarding and exciting to develop something with artisans that ends up in a place like Saks Fifth Avenue,” she says.
Or, as it happens, further up Fifth Avenue, in the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent design collection, where Lori’s “Newsworthy” wallcovering went on view this year in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s renovated galleries. The wallcovering upcycles old newspapers; strips are handwoven on looms in India and then paper-backed. “Newsworthy is a handsome wallpaper that puts a new spin on an old technique,” says Cooper-Hewitt curator Gregory Herringshaw. He notes its similarity to traditional grasscloth, which was first made in Japan from the bark of the honeysuckle vine, and has been exported since the 1880s.
Much more than a museum curiosity, “Newsworthy” is also Weitzner’s bestselling product. Its popularity is now sustaining the livelihood of 28 artisans in India. “We didn’t think much about whether it would sell or not,” Lori says. “We just thought it was so cool, so let’s just do it.”
For Lori, a Westchester County native who studied Fine Arts at Syracuse University, these kinds of lasting results validate her decision to abandon high-fashion apparel for interior furnishings. “It was too fast, too transient,” she says. “I became really intrigued with designing stuff that has an impact on people’s wellbeing.”
Now she is one of a handful of designers transforming the role of wallcoverings. “People always have used and needed fabrics, but wallpaper has had a history of being in and out of vogue,” she notes. “It’s definitely in vogue now, and has been for the last five or six years.” Partly that’s because, as “Newsworthy” shows, it’s not your grandmother’s wallpaper. “It has a whole new identity. We don’t even call it wallpaper, but innovative furnishings for the wall,” Lori says.
Lori sells fabric and wallcoverings to the trade through Weitzner, Ltd., but also operates a separate design studio where she has created products such as rugs, dinnerware, and stationery. She’s open to exploring a wide range of new opportunities – rugs, bedding , ceramics, lighting, lampshades, frames and mirrors, paints, even jewelry.
Jewelry? It’s not as big a leap as you’d think, she explains. Her passementerie for Samuel and Sons shows a finesse of detail and unusual accent touches such as jade and rose quartz, wooden beads made from banana plants, or hammered metal. “Passementerie is really jewelry for the home,” Lori says. “It made me start to think of jewelry for the person.” On her recent trip, she visited the famous Bali workshops established by jewelry-maker John Hardy, sparking yet more ideas. “As a textile designer I have these ideas that are rooted in woven metals. We could make beautiful jewelry.”
Travel to new lands remains a key part of the process. “There’s no linear way this process happens,” Lori says. “It’s very organic. You get out there talking, traveling, seeing, and it triggers new ways of making and doing things.”
Wherever Lori is going next, we know we are going to be thrilled by the results.
Lori was interviewed by John Marcom, co-founder of Design Commerce Agency’s content strategy partner, Media BBQ.