Return to Tender
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Two trends have dominated the mainstream home furnishings marketplace for the past decade: an urban loft style of skinny sofas and plastic chairs, and a masculine look of big brown leather sofas and chunky dark tables and chests.
Watch out. The girls are back in town.
A new company called Brocade Home is set to launch the first week of September with the mailing of "several million" 64-page catalogues. Lush photos brim with enough crystal chandeliers, satin coverlets, pink crushed-velvet pillows and sexy boudoir tables to channel Carrie Bradshaw.
Spun off from parent Restoration Hardware, Brocade Home is targeting a younger audience, women in their thirties. The aesthetic has "feminine energy," as Lisa Versacio, the creator of this new venture, likes to say. Versacio, whose official title is senior vice president of new business development for Restoration Hardware, was the brains behind the successful West Elm launch for Williams-Sonoma in 2002. For that brand she created a younger, less expensive aesthetic that ushered in a penchant for Asian nesting tables and quilted futons.
Four years later, Versacio is picking up a different vibe. "Modern was looking a little empty for me," she says.
And she has company. At furniture retailers, department stores and online home furnishing sources, sofas with graceful contours and tufted backs, rococo mirrors and furnishings with frankly more feminine, often more European, styling are arriving on selling floors.
Shelter magazines are on board. "What we used to call modern is no longer modern," says Donna Warner, editor in chief of Metropolitan Home. Bored with white-walled, hard-edged interiors of low-slung chaises and spare coffee tables, her publication this fall is jazzed about individualism. "The look right now is not all matching; it's much more romantic and more patterned."
Hard-edged is hard-pressed at many retailers. "What we try and do with the look of modern is warm it up," says Joe Laneve, Bloomingdale's senior vice president. "The real cold, MOMA kind of look doesn't work for us."
In the bedding department, Laneve is seeing combinations of lace and embroidery; furniture collections mix metals, woods and wicker. "This is a sophisticated look, and details are the key."
There have always been alternatives to macho and modern, such as Anthropologie, the Marrakech-meets-Milan chain founded in 1992. There are now 82 Anthropologie stores (three in this area) displaying ruffled blouses and flouncy tiered skirts next to silk comforters and flowered porcelain that "La Boheme" 's Mimi would adore. The fall catalogue features large-scale toile sheets, velvet sofas and heavily fringed crewelwork pillows. The store's customers are about 80 percent women.
"We are still romantic, but it's more about a sort of texture and pattern versus embellishment," says Anthropologie's head merchant, Wendy Wurtzburger, who says the store's style has evolved to "more moody and less girly." She adds, "We think our look is European and unexpected. We never want to bring you a specific place, we want to bring you a feeling that is inspired by a place."
Sensing a similar mood, Brocade Home is hoping to jump-start "the feminine home for the 21st century," says Versacio. When she left West Elm two years ago, she saw something missing from the home retail landscape. She conceived a line of merchandise with elements of modern, elements of vintage and something she calls a "softness meets strength" mood.
Restoration Hardware chief executive Gary Friedman, who was thinking of expanding the company's portfolio, saw a market in the concept and signed her up to create a new brand. The business plan calls for http:/
Although aimed at thirty-somethings, Versacio is banking on the merchandise appealing to both older and younger customers: Pillows of lilac silk jacquard. Flirty curtains of sheer pumpkin organza. Stacks of jacquard peony pink and espresso brown towels. "Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware have a lot of male energy," says Versacio. "This is prettier without being icky sweet."
"It's not about a lot of stuff," she says. "The rooms aren't crowded with things. There is still an element of order and cleanliness, but adding a chandelier or carved mirror can warm that up. You have to balance the clean lines and the more decorated and glamorous pieces." Brocade Home prices range from $200 to $600 for lighting and chandeliers, $40 to $50 for pillows, $1,500 to $1,700 for sofas, and $50 to $130 for curtain panels.
Los Angeles designer Barbara Barry is known for elegant, pared-down pieces for high-end Henredon that have a feminine quality, such as her Bracelet chair and blush pink Ruby sofa. She says design is a dance. "If things have swung too far to the masculine and hard-edged and architectural stuff, it's time to bring in some more feminine influences. But if something is too feminized, it gets scoffed," she says. It's all in the mix. "It's a bit of both that makes the best balance."
At a movie theater last month, Versacio caught a trailer for the lavish new Sofia Coppola movie "Marie Antoinette," with Kirsten Dunst as the 18th-century queen. Coppola "took a very traditional and highly decorated story but put a modern twist on it," says Versacio. "It is so visually gorgeous and full of incredible fabrics and settings. I wish I'd known. I would have lent them some Brocade Home."