In the tradition of the old-fashioned trunk show, home furnishings vendors often stage events to present new fabrics, wallpapers, finishes and more to interior designers hungry for new ideas.
The materials typically come in swatches or sample books or even catalogs. But at McLain Wiesand's recent trunk show, the new products were on a runway.
For the second year in a row, the Baltimore custom furniture maker put on the event, drawing a crew of home furnishings sales reps to set up displays to pitch their new products.
Last year, Mark Rist, owner of the to-the-trade Rist showroom in the Washington Design Center, asked David Wiesand, whose line of furniture Rist represents, if he would host a trunk show.
"I jumped on the opportunity to give the vendors a way to show what's new," said Wiesand.
What was new at this year's event was a 25-minute runway show featuring outfits made from home furnishing fabrics.
"The concept of making clothing out of home furnishings fabrics is nothing new," says Wiesand. "But last year when I was brainstorming with one of the trunk show participants about what we could do better next year, he threw this concept out to me, and I loved it. I figured it would either be a lot of fun or an abysmal failure."
A credit to the hard work of Wiesand and his team, the show was far from a failure. It was a hoot, not to mention a great way to showcase some of the gorgeous fabrics recently released by such vendors as Harlequin, Sanderson, Scalamandre, Thibaut, Zoffany and others.
There's a reason runway fashion shows continue to be the best way to show clothing. When real people are modeling the garments, the audience gets a sense of how the fabric drapes and whether or not the outfit is flattering and functional.
Taking fabrics intended for home interiors and turning them into clothing to be modeled on the runway is a great way to reinforce the already widely known connection between the garment industry and home furnishings. Savvy interior designers and style-conscious consumers alike look to the pattern and color trends emerging in the fashion world to help spot up-and-coming new looks for upholstery, window treatments, and walls.
But would the runway idea work?
To vest local designers in the concept, Donna Cardiff, design and development coordinator for McLain Wiesand, came up with the idea of getting interior designers to be models for the show.
An interesting aspect of the show was how the implicit connection between fashion and home furnishings became explicit with furniture designers drawing dress patterns and sewing garments and interior designers braving the runway to show off fabrics they otherwise might be selecting for a client's sofa.
Show highlights included one-of-a-kind pieces, custom-designed to fit each model's proportions.
My favorite design: a strapless A-line dress created by McLain Wiesand's Katie Laughlin, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Laughling designed the dress using was material from "Blossom" by Harlequin, a line of fabrics available through Rist. Other notable looks from Laughlin included a shift dress in Scalamadre's aquas on creme "Hardy Damask" and a pair of dressed up lounge pants in Zoffany's "Rossini Velvet" fabric.
McLain Wiesand's Virginia Jarvis also wowed trunk show attendees with two great dresses and a scalloped skirt. Jarvis' empire wasted dress in Harlequin's "Spirea" fabric and an ankle-length number in Harlequin's "Corvini Stripe," were both beautifully done.
The skirt was most unusual, with a design employing overlapping scallop details to create a fun-meets-sophisticated look that, like the fabric itself, can dress up or down for the right occasion — or interior. It worked so well that I overheard someone in the audience say, "I kinda want that. I would totally wear that this weekend."
Other show highlights included a strapless frock sewn from Thibaut's "Tanzania" in aqua, designed by Cardiff, and a skirt and top ensemble designed by Barbara Myers of the interior design firm Jenkins Baer Associates. Myers' fitted skirt and tank set was made using Sandersons's "Scotty" fabric for the main body and trimmed with Zoffany's "Embroidered Trellis."
Even Wiesand got in on the action, trying his hand at design and sewing what he calls "upcycled" fashion — applying swatches and cutouts of high-end textiles to mass produced T-shirts, skirts and more to create one-of-a-kind statements.
"I had fun sewing; it was like welding with thread, just another way to put things together," said Wiesand.
Looking back on the show, I think its best acheivement was bringing the fabrics to life, making them fun and accessible.
Although the show was only for the design trade, it would have been even more useful to the design-minded consumer. There are lots of people who have no problem pulling together a great outfit but get lost trying to decorate their homes.
If we can learn one thing from the McLain Wiesand trunk show, it's that home furnishings don't have to be intimidating. Think of them as fashion for the home.
Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home + Living. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.