FROMENTAL BRINGS TRADITIONAL DECORATIVE ARTS INTO THE 21ST CENTURY
The patterning in Fromental’s elegantly edgy wall surfaces routinely makes artwork redundant. The London-based atelier creates custom wall coverings that unfold in hand-painted and hand-embroidered botanicals, geometries, and flora and fauna of complexity and artistry that make them beloved by interior designers around the globe. Fromental’s signature silk wallcoverings are designed by husband and wife cofounders Tim Butcher and Lizzie Deshayes, and brought to life by a team of skilled embroiderers and painters in Suzhou, China; the company’s silks are made in nearby Wuxi, where the ancient craft of sericulture has been practiced for 2,500 years. (Fromental’s modern chinoiserie was one of its first hallmarks.) The collection can be seen in interiors around the world, from private residences to hotels like the Dorchester in London, the George V in Paris, and the Fairmont in San Francisco.
Butcher and Deshayes both trained in textiles; Deshayes studied design and Butcher weaving, textile technology, and chemistry. After graduation, Butcher immersed himself in the likes of Paul Smith and Timothy Everest—and spent 10 years as the creative director of fabric company De Gournay. Deshayes went on to create designs for companies as diverse as Fortnum & Mason and cult-favorite fabric house Dosa, and also served as Anthony Little’s assistant at the venerable Osborne & Little.
Deshayes and Butcher are avid historians, drawing on eras from the
Renaissance to arts and crafts in their work. Inspired by traditional flame stitching, they recently added a new design called Bargello, created in collaboration with the Milanese interiors studio of Erik Egan and inspired by embroidered chairs in the 17th-century Palazzo del Bargello in Florence. Deshayes refers to herself as a lifelong student, and true to form, it was while immersed in a tapestry-weaving course in Arundel, in southern England, that she spoke to HENRY about Fromental’s work.
FIRST THINGS FIRST, WOULD YOU SHARE THE ORIGIN STORY OF YOUR NAME? | Fromental is my great-grandfather’s surname, which always struck me as beautiful and rare. He died when I was young, and repeating his name as often as I do brings him back; it makes me smile inside and fills me with pleasure.
DO YOU HAVE ANY EARLY WALLPAPER MEMORIES? | When I was three, I decided to pick all the wallpaper off my bedroom walls. It was large-scale and stylized—a 1970s representation of pink roses—and I hated it. My mother scolded me and told me that if I had a problem with it, I could design my own when I turned 18. So I did!
YOU AND TIM BOTH REFER TO YOURSELVES AS TECHNICAL DESIGNERS? | We’re very much an art and industry setup, so we’re big believers in craft and discipline. On paper an idea may be wonderful, but it will never come into its own if it’s not reproducible. As technical designers, we must determine the best mode of production—printing, hand painting, embroidery, or collage.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MORE UNUSUAL OR IDIOSYNCRATIC SOURCES OF INSPIRATION? | Anything and everything is fair game. As we speak, I’m sitting on a pebble beach, and your question prompted me to think about all the stones I’ve drawn or photographed over the years. They’re all in my visual Rolodex. An image of the surface of a horse chestnut, for example, we translated into a beautiful waxed paper for our Roomskins collection. Also, for years I repeatedly sketched the fungus on a very old oak tree stump on Hampstead Heath, and it finally made its way into a wallpaper design called Bruyère.
YOUR DESIGNS ARE PRIMARILY EXECUTED ON SILK, BUT YOU ALSO
CREATED A RANGE OF VELVET WALL COVERINGS. | Yes, and we use viscose-heavy velvet because it’s so versatile. Upholsters tend to shy away from it because it bruises so easily, but that’s precisely why we love it. We can manipulate it in endless ways, treat it badly, and still get great results. Installed on a wall, it radiates luxury and warmth, and it transforms itself as you approach it from different angles.
YOU’RE THE THIRD GENERATION OF WOMEN IN YOUR FAMILY TO ATTEND ART SCHOOL. DID THIS HERITAGE INFLUENCE YOU GROWING UP? | Yes, I had this steely determination to follow in my mother and grandmother’s footsteps and go to art school, even though the odds felt as if they were stacked against me. My teachers all told me that I would never ever be able to pursue a career in any visually creative field, because there was no career to be made with drawing. They told me to put away my sketch pad and concentrate on economics. Their reaction spurred me on. It made me determined to prove them wrong, so at this point I’m grateful
for their shortsightedness.
YOU COLLABORATE WITH INTERIOR DESIGNERS ON CUSTOM WORK IN MYRIAD WAYS. | It’s different every time. For example, for a paneled screen we designed with Paul Wiseman for his room at the San Francisco Decorator Showcase last year, we interpreted, as opposed to reproduced, elements from the Viennese Secession. It’s particularly exciting when a client’s needs provoke us to research an unfamiliar skill set; we recently ventured into eglomise and painted our designs onto glass for fashion designer Sir David Tang’s Hong Kong store.
THE COLLECTION YOU CREATED WITH LALIQUE FOR ITS 130TH ANNIVERSARY, HIRONDELLES, IS ASTOUNDINGLY GORGEOUS, AND FEATURES HAND PAINTING, EMBROIDERY, AND LALIQUE CRYSTAL. WHAT WAS THIS COLLABORATION LIKE? | We are longtime fans of Lalique. Their consistent level of craftsmanship has always blown us away. We designed a chinoiserie pattern with space to accommodate Lalique hirondelles [swallows] and dahlias in satinfinished crystal. Swallows were a constant source of inspiration for René Lalique and were at the centerpiece of many jewels and decorative objects, and Lalique designed the dahlia pattern to adorn powder boxes in the belle epoque. For our collaboration, Lalique dusted the embroidered dahlias with 18-karat gold.
CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT THE NEW BARGELLO AND FIAMMA PATTERNS, WHICH SEEM TO REFLECT YOUR LOVE OF TAPESTRY AND WEAVING? | Both designs were commissioned by leading interior-design practices, Bargello by Eric Egan’s studio in Milan, and Fiamma by Salvesen Graham in the UK. Bargello pays homage to the art of the flame-stitched pattern, and Fiamma was first created as a custom design for the 2019 Christie’s January Interiors sale. I feel one should embrace pattern—be bold, be bright!
Fromental is available at Hewn, hewnsf.com.