By the Yard: Ron Bricke Shares Some Thoughts on the State of the Fabric Industry

This is a plea from a designer to the fabric companies to stay unique and special. Fabric production is tending toward the mass market and away from the singular and distinctive. Once, each textile house was individualistic; today, they increasingly share a set of common denominators.

Leopard: Rogers & Goffigon Yellow satin: Rose Cummings Silver satin: ScalamandreCurrent fabrics Ron Bricke is pleased are in production: leopard, Rogers & Goffigon; yellow satin, Rose Cumming; silver satin, Scalamandre

Shopping has changed, and I’m grateful to have so many fabric houses, but, like fashion houses, I would like to see them thrive and maintain their individuality. I know they need to survive in these tough times, but I urge them to stay different, look different. With fashion, where there is a silhouette of the season, certain houses always stand out; fabric houses need to do the same, as they did in the past: Stand out.

Here are a few problems I encounter when shopping for fabrics in today’s market:

Discontinued Fabrics In some showrooms, samples remain available on the racks even though they have been discontinued—sometimes for many months. Often I will request a sample, show it to a client, and only learn after placing an order that it’s no longer produced. This frequently requires doing the color scheme again, which annoys the client and makes business difficult.

Brilliant purple worsted wool, Andrew Martin; Black/white stripe with purple line velvet, Elitis (Donghia)More fabrics Ron Bricke is happy are in production: brilliant purple woosted wool, Andrew Martin; black/white stripe with purple line velvet, Elitis (Donghia)

Inconsistent Pricing Typically, 75 percent of showroom fabrics are priced, but 25 percent are not. It’s a real challenge selecting textiles in a pricing vacuum. For example, speccing fabric for a child’s room is completely different from doing it for a living room. If everything is properly marked, it makes the designer’s job so much easier.

Limited Choices A client recently asked for crewels: One source had three choices, another had five; all in all, not much selection. It used to be that a range of fabrics was always available, regardless of whether they were in vogue or not. Today, what is mostly available is a limited range. And they all tend to be grayed down, muddy or lack a spark of vitality.

Pale blue velvet stripe, Scalamandre; Pale two-directional stripe, Donghia; Pale mauve-like woven tiger design, Cowtan & ToutFurther current fabrics Ron Bricke likes: pale blue velvet stripe, Scalamandre; pale two-directional stripe, Donghia; pale mauve-like woven tiger design, Cowtan & Tout

Residential vs. Commercial When I did EF Hutton’s corporate interiors years ago, I shopped for commercial fabrics, but everything was gray, gray/green or beige—colors that hid soil. So I ordered fabrics from the residential side in colors not available in the commercial realm at that time. Now, both are sporting similar grayed colors.

Fabric Economics Today, an 18 week delivery time, 100 percent payment in advance, no credit, and no color approval are common practice. Some houses still provide samples and work with the designers on timing and payment, but that’s not the norm. The 18 week lead time can turn into 26 weeks. Without color approval (and a swatch), one cannot be assured of a color match. And since the fabric ships directly to the upholstery shop and then is applied directly to the piece of furniture, how do we protect our client? With a 100 percent payment, the fabric houses have less of an incentive to fulfill the order in a timely manner.

Red and purple dramatic design: Lee Jofa Purple woosted wool: Holly HuntMore of Ron Bricke’s current favorite fabrics: red and purple dramatic design, Lee Jofa; purple woosted wool, Holly Hunt

A Positive Note I’ve noticed the color purple appearing more than before—it used to be very difficult to find. And some fabric houses are refreshing; they maintain their individuality, simplicity, chicness, and choices. So it’s not hopeless, just not as inspiring as it once was and, hopefully, will be again.

Here are some old favorite fabrics that, unfortunately, are no longer being manufactured.