Before the Oscars, a look at how big red became the thoroughfare of modern royalty

A French Deco Rug

“I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.” -King Agamemnon, from the Greek tragedian-playwright Aeschylus in the fifth century, BC.

Those were the words the good (fictitious) king said upon returning home to his plotting wife after leading his troops to victory in the Trojan War. The story goes, wife Clytemnestra laid out a crimson carpet to highlight her husband’s arrogance by having him trample on the color of the gods. He walks on the carpet, but only under protest. Later, depending on which version you read, Clytemnestra or her lover kills him. Because, you know – tragedy.

A Swedish Rug

Evidence suggests that, while there’s a nice mythical quality to tracing red carpet back to ancient Greece, the practice more likely originated at railroad stations. According to Live Science, President James Monroe received the red carpet treatment in South Carolina, his hosts laid red carpet along the river in his honor in 1821. But it was not until the 1900s, when the luxurious 20th Century Limited train from Chicago to New York had passengers board and disembark on a plush carpet that the idea fancy people deserved fancy rugs, i.e. “red carpet treatment,” took hold.

According to the director of the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Margaret Herrick Library Linda Mehr, the red carpet was added to the Oscars in 1961.

Doris Day (1)

Doris Day at the Oscars, 1961
Via: DorisDay.net (http://www.dorisday.net)

 The television broadcasts of the awards show switched to color in 1966, and ever since watching our favorite movie stars traipse down that sanguine, hallowed walkway has become our chief vicarious indulgence.  It would be hard to name a more popular, or more American, fantasy than getting to be part of the Hollywood glitz.

85th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals

Jennifer Lawrence, 2013 Oscars
Via: The Gloss

So who is responsible for the actual red carpet at the Oscars? Today, it’s a man by the name of Joe Lewis. For seven years Lewis has been responsible for seeing that the carpet is ready and in place to carry the stars from their limos to the doors of the Dolby Theater. The carpet itself is 600 feet long and will be laid out today and vacuumed Sunday just in time for the wave of press to arrive.

Red is the color of blood and power. Cheerful, robust, vibrant, strong – a bold, red textile can imbue a bit of glamour and stateliness into any space, even if there’s no chance of Brad or Angie crossing the threshold. Check out DLB’s crimson textile tide here.

Don’t let the Internet dictate your sensibility

Team USA

The opening ceremony in Sochi wasn’t even over before my Twitter feed was glutted with ugly Christmas sweater jokes about Team USA’s Ralph Lauren uniform. There’s something about the Internet that makes us thrill to any opportunity for gleeful derision. It’s somehow more appealing to type “OMG – how awful!” than something more considered and thoughtful.

As a whole, and with a few notable exceptions, the opening ceremony uniforms were forgettable. Even countries that are usually more fashion-conscious that the US (France, Japan) went with middle-of-the-road styles that hardly spoke to a sense of national culture.

For those who quickly panned the American outfits, I wonder if it would have mattered to know that each sweater took 12 hours to whip-stitch? Would it matter that the California-based husband and wife team who designed them took pains to produce something uniquely American? Knitting is an integral part of our textile heritage, so then is all Americana ugly? In spite of all the booing, the same sweaters were auctioning for thousands on eBay by last week. But gauging design value based on dollar signs isn’t any better than gauging it by Internet comments.

sweater model

I suspect the great sweater controversy is mostly confined within our own borders. Other countries care less than we do about the uniforms, and the ironic/nostalgic ugly-Christmas-sweater preoccupation is an American cultural invention. It would be much harder to draw the insulting comparison if the spate of themed holiday parties from two months prior weren’t still fresh in our minds. Those purportedly unlovable Christmas sweaters have become so popular in recent years that pop-up shops selling nothing but holiday sweaters appeared at intersections in my city (Austin). I stopped by one, it was extremely busy.

I do not think the Team USA sweaters look like ugly Christmas sweaters. However – not unlike Christmas sweaters – here are three words I would use to describe them: Festive, friendly, fun. The Olympics are supposed to be about building goodwill among nations. So isn’t it nice that we sent our athletes wearing an outfit that’s unmistakably American – one that invokes a sense of cheerfulness and approachability? That’s a great message to send about the United States and American culture. Why forsake it for something sleek, toned-down and homogenous? Would it really have been better to send our team dressed in something you can buy at a mall?

Sochi

Of course, the sweaters weren’t the only instance of viral teasing this Olympic season. Host country Russia has probably taken the most heckling. In the weeks leading up to the games, there was a slew of articles on Olympic construction beleaguered by corruption. Then the journalists got to town and confirmed that Olympic hotels were “hilarious and gross.” When the fifth ring didn’t completely light up, it seemed almost fitting.

Most of that criticism was deserved. The Putin regime should be called out on its crony capitalism and poor human rights record. But nations are more than their lousy governments. It would be nice to cut through the negativity and noise for a moment and remember Russia is so much more than its present politics. Yes, it may be the progenitor of some very shoddy Olympic architecture, but Russia also gave us Saint Basil’s, the Kazan Cathedral and many other grand, onion-domed monuments. Russian design isn’t just commendable on its grandest scale, the ornate wooden trim on traditional wood houses found in Siberia is absolutely stunning. The legacy of great craftsmanship will continue to have impact long after we’ve forgotten the construction debacle leading up to the Sochi Games.

rugs

Of course, here at DLB we’re all about textiles and so a hat tip to the history of Russian design would not be complete without a look at the region’s beautiful weaving tradition. We have a lovely collection of Bassarabian carpets. The regional aesthetic blends folk motifs with ideas borrowed from French carpets, as all things French – language, food, design – were once widely admired and employed among Russian aristocracy. The result was a blooming, vivacious genre of rugs and flatweaves.

None of this is to say technology is bad or Twitter-based criticism is invalid. It’s simply a reminder that the metrics of cultural flashpoints aren’t the best standards by which to judge design. Great design is deeply thoughtful and so too should be our criticism. An opinion informed by knowledge, history and cultural context will always afford better judgment than an opinion based on a critical mass of low-information blogs and tweets.

Contemporary Rugs: Post Minimalism

What comes next might still start in Silicon Valley…

richard-serra2

Industrial designer Yves Béhar got the star treatment in this month’s Vanity Fair. Usually VF reserves its splashy photo spreads for celebrities and British royalty, but this month they chose to highlight one of the Bay Area’s most interesting and disruptive makers.

Yves Behar

He certainly deserves it. Béhar’s work is unique in an industry where the Apple aesthetic (and poor mimicry of it) dominates: In Device Land where pure minimalism, or worse, plodding functionality, are typical for technology, Béhar was the architect behind the ornamental Jawbone earpiece, the sinewy Up fitness band and the stunning and eco-friendly Sayl chair for Herman Miller. Continue reading

Antique and Modern Rugs: Perfectly Persian

Why the Perennial Classic Deserves New Consideration

Antique Persian Rugs

Last summer Sotheby’s auction house sold the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet pictured above for $33.7 million – three times more than they’d ever sold any textile for before.

It’s easy to envy the anonymous bidder who scored this rare vibrant beauty which once belonged to the industrialist and Montana senator William A. Clark (1839-1925). The staggering final bid elicited a collective jaw drop in antique textile circles. There’s been a marked uptick in interest in 17th-century rugs in recent years, but what could inspire someone to spend so much on a single textile?

Rarity certainly has something to do with it: The colors and weaving technique represented in the Clark carpet are unusual. But the auction-house happening is also representative of a growing sentiment that reaches much further than the pockets of ultra-wealthy antique buyers. Increasingly, across almost all segments of the American population, people are searching for authenticity in their consumer choices.

This extends well beyond home design. It relates to food, fashion, music and more. After a century of the industrialized world moving us toward mass marketing and greater homogeneity, people are pushing back, spurring artisan culture and a myriad indie cottage industries to serve consumers who want something that’s not just shiny, new and exactly like what everyone else has. But one of the big ways this desire manifests itself in home design is in renewed interest in spaces that evoke history, because a great story – a time-tested narrative – is the hallmark of authenticity.

Persian GoldVia: John B Scholz – architect Continue reading