Designer Sandy Chilewich Weaves Plastic Into Textile Gold

Not many consider celebrity chef Tom Colicchio a tastemaker in the textiles industry. But when he chose Sandy Chilewich’s tabletop accessories to outfit his Craft restaurant, he was also minting a fabric design mogul. Chilewich now sells table linens, flooring and shade materials worldwide and her latest placemat designs were recently unveiled at MoMA’s design store.

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What turned you on to using extruded yarn?
I was intrigued by it because it had a lot of design potential from an aesthetic and business standpoint. And when I see something that’s underutilized, and that I can apply a design to, or redesign or reengineer it, that’s what I’m really passionate about. I took this outdoor upholstery and I knew I could definitely elevate the design of it—especially the properties of it being durable—to all kinds of applications.

Which comes first, materials or aesthetics?
For me, it starts with the manufacturing process. When I first went down to the factory and got to see these yarns as a woven textile and see that it’s our own yarn used for the textiles, I also started to see that we can get this great metallic sheen and do more than one color on a yarn. And even one color on one side and another on the other side. I custom design every color that goes on every yarn and we’ve done yarns with 12 different colors on them.

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What is the creative process like?
It’s always about the execution. Our photography portrays the kind of setting I imagine and all the tables in the photos I set myself. For instance, a placemat is an accessory. It has to go with everything: flatware, the surface of the table, the chairs…everything augments something else. It’s really about materiality and not about trends. In our office, we don’t really look at trends. We look within, to our own artistic inspiration.

Is there a particular pattern/design that exemplifies this?
From our upcoming fall collection, it’s the plaid. That was a tour-de force getting there, there’s so much complexity with the colors and the patterns. That’s an example of taking something as classic as plaid and giving it a very contemporary look. It was about trying to take something traditional out of context—taking plaid and making it new, reinterpreting it and making it modern.

Your new line of On the Edge placemats was recently shown at MoMA. What was its inspiration?
It was inspired by a Salvador Dalí painting [“The Persistence of Memory”]. In the Dalí, the clocks hung over, but my material is very heavy, so it wasn’t draping right. I cut along the edge and it was like “Oh my God.” I wouldn’t describe it as surrealist table accessories, but I wouldn’t be offended if someone else described it that way.