A Chat with Designer Liora Manné
Tell us about your background and how your unique approach to fabric production came about.
I always loved textiles. Growing up, I just always created. I loved dying fabrics, doing batiks, really getting my hands into it. I went to school and got a Master's in design, but I also took engineering classes just to understand the technologies used in the design process.
Where was this?
I went to school at North Carolina. I was lucky; I had the opportunity to work at the lab. They asked me to develop fabrics on a knitting machine—if I could develop a new fabric design on the knitting machines. It was a big lab with a lot of machines, and, knowing nothing about it at all, I was intrigued. I was able to learn and understand from a mechanical perspective how to play and manipulate and create fabric. I created some really interesting textures.
Where did this lead?
That was my first experience, and my mind was really fresh with what I had learned about these technologies. My first real job was at a textile company in New York that created textiles for garments. It was my task to create fabrics that the salespeople could sell. I stretched it a bit, I was intrigued by what I had learned so I began creating 3D prints. I played with glitter. I was always doing things like this. In the process, I became successful - a lot of companies wanted these textiles.
What kinds of companies?
They were selling into department stores, Kmart, those kinds of stores. And it was a good run, but it was a declining market in the late '80s and early '90s because everything was moving overseas. As soon as they were able to copy the work, they took it overseas.
Right. And it was no fun because I felt used. As soon as I did something successful, it was taken away. I was not interested in devoting my time to lost work. I was totally ready to do something that was unique. I saw artwork at the time that was made with fibers and utilized a non-woven technology that I had developed. So I got this vision of making a non-woven fabric.
Tell us more about this.
It's basically fiber that, instead of being woven or knitted, well, the needles of these huge machines have barbs at the end. When they go up and down through the fiber they basically entangle the fibers. It's similar to the concept of felt. But because it is a machine it can be controlled, unlike felt. It's more precise. With this, I could make the materials very durable. I had this vision, and decided to be brave, and I created what is called the Lamontage process.
And you were off to the races?
Oh, it was very hard, but I was able to do it in a short time, yes. I had to get the fiber and find a factory that would be willing to produce the raw materials. I had to create a whole color range to work with and set up a studio. Then I had to find another factory that could produce the finished work. I rented space in New York to do the physical work. Then I had to find another factory that would be interested in such huge scale production . One place to design, one to produce materials, one to finish the final product. It was challenging, but it was exciting.
What were you producing?
My first product to develop was area rugs. I didn't know anything about this business, but it felt like a piece of jewelry to me, and I wanted to do it. My first studio on Union Square by ABC Carpet and Home. Now, there were hundreds of rugs, and I almost got discouraged from even doing it, because there was already so much competition. People asked why I couldn't do pile because at the time, everyone was doing pile. I was doing a mosaic, they wanted pile.
What was your breakthrough?
Metropolitan Home Magazine saw the rug and picked it up. I was lucky. I started getting calls.
Today, you've got a flourishing design business—hotels, restaurants, custom design projects, product lines, you're in catalogs.
What enabled me to stay in business was designing lines for other companies. I did that while developing my business. That was the biggest struggle. I knew what I had was unique. People opened up to the new texture and materials. ...I have a really wonderful person who works with designers in hospitality and found our niche and people really appreciate it. There's great flexibility: We can do anything custom. For instance, the same pattern and surface for a wall and floor. You can create a room that's surrounded in a pattern and can be very playful. We do any shape.
What's the most creative project you've done?
One of the most festive and unique projects was the University of Chicago Art Center. It was newly built, designed by Todd Williams, and they kind of fell in love with our medium for wall covering. We created all the wall coverings in all different patterns.
What's the advantage of fabric made with this process?
The longevity is amazing. The color is really rich, it lasts. The fabric is so durable because of the antimicrobial properties that never wash out.