Mark Butcher, head designer of interior fabrics brand Mark Alexander, discusses his passion for linen and how he works with trusted mills to create subtly luxurious fabrics for the most discerning customer.
“I love linen’s characteristics. It’s my fabric of choice in every aspect of what I do,” says Mark Butcher, head designer at Mark Alexander (Photo).
Since establishing the brand of “naturally beautiful fabrics” for the Romo Group in 2010, Butcher has made flax fibre an integral part of Mark Alexander’s handwriting. Over 75% of the fabrics created by the four-strong team of designers are pure linen: “It’s so adaptable. It’s a linen brand.”
The design aesthetic of this UK-based luxury furnishing fabric brand is described as “honesty in materials, craftsmanship and the richness found in refined simplicity”. This philosophy can be seen in its two major design strands: urban and relaxed modern country. “It’s all about the ingredients, the best yarns, the best finishing – the nature of the product we are offering is subtlety, grace and understatement,” Butcher explains. “Understated everything: that’s just my taste, taking out unnecessary embellishment. We use the best ingredients and for me that’s linen.”
Butcher has 25 years’ experience designing for luxury interiors, particularly in the United States, starting out as an art historian, then into interior design and textile design. Mark Alexander was set up by the Romo Group with the aim of creating an outlet for his vision, an offer that would appeal to the top end of the interior design market.
Over the last seven years, the brand has found a loyal following of clients, worldwide: “It’s subtleness that we sell. The feeling is that it’s a brand that has been around forever. It’s full of innovation but it’s not about fashion, it’s about consistency of quality.”
Butcher says today more than half of the brand’s sales are made in the US. “There’s a strong and very discerning interior design market in America,” he explains.
In Europe, Mark Alexander’s leading market is the UK followed by Belgium
– “they have a level of sophistication, an understated but refined taste and they completely understand linen” – then Sweden and Italy. Butcher is a fan of linen’s versatility: “It works for cold or warm climate; it’s one of the most durable fibres, and has such diverse characteristics from very clean, long staple, wet spun yarns, to beautiful, dry, slubby ‘vintage’ looks.” Butcher is also enthusiastic about the way in which linen takes colour, “not just in terms of vibrancy but we can get a subtlety with linen, I can split tones with linen unlike any other fibre”.
Mark Alexander’s best-selling linen fabric is Retro
– it has a distinctive texture with a gentle slub running through a heavy weave – which the brand recently re-launched with an expanded colour palette of 15 options, with a retail price point of £77 per meter. Being in the luxury sector, the brand’s price range goes up to £200 RRP per meter.
What interior are we working for?
When the Mark Alexander design team sets to work on new collections, they begin by imagining the fabrics in an interior design environment. “I encourage them to think about the homes of the best clients in the world, for instance; there’s the house in the Hamptons, or Southern California, in the Cotswolds… what interior are we working for?”
They are aware of the context in which the fabrics will be used, whether alongside 1960s Danish modern or original Art Deco furniture, whether for drapes, cushions or upholstery, it’s the fabrics that bring the room together. He continues: “In the US they talk about a curated or collected interior. I work on textiles that have a lived in or found quality. We find linen is a beautiful fit, lasting but innovative, it has a balance of authenticity and originality.”
Butcher describes his method of developing new fabric qualities as “working backwards”. He explains his thought process: “I don’t think of textiles as a 2D graphic design concept. It’s not about the colour or pattern. It’s as much about the appropriate design directions for the yarns we have in front of us. It may be clean linen yarns for an urban feel or a slubby handwoven quality, we will go to a spinner for the best look. We think it’s an obvious way to design, but it’s not that typical.”
Mark Alexander will launch eight new collections early in 2017 at Paris Deco Off
Four of the themes are heavily linen-focused:
- Origin, with decorative prints, weaves and embroideries (Photos 2 and 4)
- Edo (photo ci contre)) which has a Japanese aesthetic and features sheers, semi sheers and lightweight linens;
- Tate, timeless linen weaves with a modernist edge;
- Mezzo, a wet-spun, long fibre, linen velvet with an inherent iridescent nature and a dry handle.
- Plus, the brand’s first “naturally beautiful trimmings” range, Accent, in 100% European linen, woven in Belgium, comprising six trimmings and two tie-backs using the same gentle neutral and deeper tonal colours as the brand’s lightweight linen weaves.
And in spring Butcher will once again divide his time between London, Belgium and northern France working hand-in-hand with his long-time collaborators. Not one to send an idea to a mill and ask for it to be copied, he enjoys exploring the process of product development with his colleagues in many Masters of Linen-accredited mills: “I’m all for the happy accident. It’s about richness and it’s about the quality of the textiles, it’s about the yarn the way it’s spun and finished. That’s the evolution with the design process. I have strong relationships with the mills. I have been working with some of them for 25 years with different hats on. I enjoy that on a personal level – working with the family mills. Relationships are the key. They allow us to develop from the floor up. That’s what I love about linen.”
Interview by Gill Gledhill.
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