I have long admired the original Wild Silk carpets of Fort Street Studio, especially the latter day ‘Shag’ incarnation which is the stuff of ‘which decadent dreams are made‘. The ‘Shag’ however is not what earned the firm their well deserved accolades, nor is it what motivated Hermès in 2010 to tap Fort Street’s joint Creative Directors Janis Provisor and Brad Davis to create a collection of exceptional wild silk carpets for the then new Hermès Maison collection of luxury home furnishings and accessories. That honour, as well the reputation of the firm more broadly, were brought about by the unbridled passion and synergy of two (2) artists – both partners in life and in business – whose combined vision to create something genuinely unique in the world of rugs achieved the rarest of goals: success!
Though I knew of Janis and Brad because of the aesthetic beauty, singular texture, and renowned indulgence of their matte finish silk carpets, I had not yet had the privilege of meeting either of them. So, as any self respecting writer with a nom de plume of ‘The Ruggist’ would do, I made arrangements to meet Janis and Brad in the city they now call home: Hong Kong. This is that story…
Location: Fort Street Studio Showroom, Hong Kong
Time and Date: 1:12 PM, Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Note Bene: If you arrange an interview that is to take place while: 1) You are jet lagged after a sixteen (16) hour flight, and 2) The results of the United States’ 2016 Presidential Election are coming in, you are in for a treat!
The Ruggist (MC): Hello! I am so sorry I’m a little late. I got a little turned around down by the main station while I was exploring the city. I hope you don’t mind.
Janis Provisor (JP): Not at all, did you have any trouble finding us?
MC: Not once I got myself in the cab. Thank you for having Ivy (one of Fort Street Studio’s Hong Kong Showroom’s staff) send the address and directions in Chinese. It was most useful.
Brad Davis (BD): Hi. You must be Michael. I’m Brad Davis.
MC: Michael Christie, a pleasure to meet you finally. Same to you Janis.
<There is now the usual ritualistic flurry of handshaking, jacket taking and bag situating, as well as me plugging in my phone to charge and accepting the offer of a beverage. I choose water, which as per the custom, is served warm.>
BD: I see you came prepared for Hong Kong with your phone charger.
MC: Indeed. Though when you buy the travel adapter from Apple you get plugs for the entire world. I figured since I had it, I might as well use it.
<Janis, who has been intermittently checking her laptop with a demeanor like that of a nervous cat at the veterinarian’s office rejoins the budding conversation.>
JP: Have you been paying attention to the election results? I simply cannot believe it. It looks like Donald Trump is going to win.
MC: It’s unbelievable. Well I’d say it’s unbelievable but here it is happening. When I planned this trip to Nepal, I had not paid much attention to the dates other than to be back home for American Thanksgiving. It’s a bit surreal observing this fiasco from afar.
BD: Janis has been watching the news all morning. We just can’t stop watching in disbelief.
MC: You know, when I first started working in rugs, it was my first ‘real’ job. I was told to never discuss politics as to avoid offending people. I think that is what has gotten us into this mess.
<There is now a rather lengthy conversation regarding the unfitness of Donald Trump to be President of Candyland, let alone the United States of America. For the sake of brevity and to avoid directly insulting anyone who voted for Mr. Trump, that portion of the conversation has been redacted. Though let it be known none of the parties herein voted for Mr. Trump.>
MC: Well, I don’t think we are going to solve any of the political ailments of the world this afternoon, shall we look at beautiful carpets and talk about Fort Street?
JP and BD: Yes, lets.
MC: Ok, so how did you two (2) get started?
JP: We’re both trained artists you know. We started out creating art in the 70s and 80s in New York. We were successful artists, making a living from our art, which as you must also know, is not very common.
MC: Indeed it is not.
BD: It was a great time in New York. We exhibited at Holly Solomon Gallery and we have work in MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), the Whitney (Museum), and Albright Knox Gallery. We have work in international collections both public and private.
MC: As one would considering the desirability increases when someplace like MoMA has your work. That’s no small honour.
JP: Thank you. But I guess you didn’t come here to talk about our art per say, but our carpets.
MC: We can talk about whatever. That’s the point of ‘Over Coffee’. It’s freeform and abstract, though we are supposed to be drinking coffee. If anyone asks, tell them we had coffee.
<We all laugh.>
JP: Well it is very nice to finally get to meet you and to talk rugs. Why is it you are in Hong Kong again? You’re on your way to Kathmandu?
MC: Yes. After all these years I am finally making my first trip.
JP: Any particular reason?
MC: To start, it was simply just the right time. I’d been talking about Nepal for so long, I personally felt my reputation needed a bit more credibility. Plus, I have colleagues from Galaincha who urged me to come, knowing the experience will be… …whatever it will be it. I’m really looking forward to it.
BD: Galaincha is the rug software right?
MC: Yes it is.
JP: You know, we were using computers to make our painterly carpets long before the rest of the industry. Now everyone is doing it, but that wasn’t always the case. When we started no-one could achieve the colour gradations like we could. Brad spent considerable time and effort perfecting a way to make accurate graphs for our weavers.
BD: That’s right. I worked with software developers, taking our original artwork – these were watercolour paintings of course – scanning them, and then basically creating bitmaps wherein each pixel equated to one knot.
MC: From my perspective as someone who learned design just as computers were becoming mainstream, this seems like the logical progression. Carpets are just a grid of knots, luxurious and handmade as they may be.
MC: But what got you into carpets? I think we skipped something.
JP: We have always had an interest in Chinese art and culture, so in the 1990s we decided to come to China. We had a place in Hangzhou. We traveled, studied and visited with local artists, worked on woodblock prints.
BD: It was really a chance meeting with a Chinese man who was the former manager of a silk carpet factory who inspired us to collaborate on making a silk carpet for our loft back home in New York.
JP: We owned this Chinese Art Deco carpet with some small areas of blended tones, so being artists of course, we wondered whether it was possible to make an entire carpet with similar details. Obviously, as you can see now, it was. But at the time we were just trying to make a carpet for our loft.
MC: Really? Such an inauspicious start.
BD: It was. But after our first sample we saw the possibilities. You have to remember too that we were retraining weavers to make something entirely new. It was like teaching a Classical musician to play Jazz.
MC: I’d say you succeeded. So that gets us carpets. What about the name? Fort Street Studio?
JP: We lived on Fort Street.
MC: Thats simple enough.
<MC looks at time.>
MC: I think we should look at a carpet or two (2) before the afternoon gets too far away from us.
BD: Yes. So, I think you know we’ve started working in Nepal now making some really interesting carpets. The challenge is to make carpets that are distinctly Fort Street, and not just more of the same.
MC: There is a lot of the same in the market, is there not? And yes, Paul [Paul Melo is the Senior Vice President of Fort Street] showed me some of it when I last saw him in New York. Really beautiful work. But let’s look at something unmistakably Fort Street, something in Wild Silk.
<MC reaches for and removes a sample from the display.>
MC: Something like this!
BD: We call this ‘Glimmering Dawn’. It’s a limited edition piece. Really difficult and time consuming to make. We first saw this combination of weaving in reproduction carpets for a restoration project in the Forbidden City. It took a bit of work but we eventually discovered the source of the golden metallic yarn.
MC: Well it was worth it, this is stunning. Great colours too. I really enjoy how the rich blues play off of the gold. The palette reminds me of the very first Chinese carpets I saw in the mid-nineties, though these are of course in a class all their own. I think the real luxury in these carpets come from the matte lustre of the Wild Silk, Dandong is it called?
MC: It’s unexpected to the, how shall we say, average consumer – luxury or otherwise. We’re so accustomed to seeing silk with a high shine, that to have it take a back seat to the shimmer of the metallic thread… It’s enchanting to say the least.
BD: Thank you.
<Janis returns after a brief absence in another part of the showroom.>
JP: Well, it looks like Trump is going to win.
MC, JP, and BD: *sigh*
MC: Well this might be a good opportunity to wrap this up.
JP: We had planned on staying at home today to watch the election results but came in to meet you. We’re going to head home now, would you like to share a taxi with us? We live just up from the main station.
BD: You can ride along to our place then, if you’ve not already, you could take in some of the antique shops along the way back to the station.
MC: That sounds lovely.
The Ruggist wishes to thank Janis Provisor and Brad Davis for their time in Hong Kong, the informative ‘locals’ guided tour in the shared taxi ride, and for the unqualified quality of their carpets. Further thanks to Brad for the brief walking tour after we dropped Janis at home, while he went for take out.
Work like this, in a setting such as this, is inspiring and reminds of the delicate balance that must be struck between art, craftsmanship, and the demands of this modern world.