As Labour Day is about to pass and high vacation season is now almost officially over, I would like, if I may, to share with you a little insight into what “vacation” looks like for The Ruggist. Many of my readers and certainly more of my friends must surely be imagining me lounging on a sunny beach somewhere with throngs of scantily clad men frolicking about, whereas drunken escapades spilling from one bar to the next, must likewise come to mind for others, and we must not forget what is now my blatantly apparent weak german ability (think Liz Lemon and kaufen vs. verkaufen) as I tried to order drinks in Schöneberg.
So what does vacation actually look like? Typically due to my, how does one politely say, um, frugalness, vacation is almost always mixed with work, so skipping over the actual vacation portion of my summer vacation, I will now recant the work portion and the wonderful rug dealers and importers I visited July 26-Aug 3, 2009, while in and en route to Berlin, Germany.
I adore the rugs of Amy Helfand, her aesthetic and the way in which she combines life, art and rugs, without becoming all consumed (as I tend to) by the rugs them self. I first met Amy in the spring of 2008, did a little bit of consulting work for her and have maintained a friendship with her ever since. Who can forget that crazy Belgian Beer bar in the Village, complete with cockroaches during ICFF 2008? I can’t, nor can she as she still whispers under her breath “Why did I let him pick a place?”
Our trip to Berlin involved a twelve (12) hour layover, so with that in mind I emailed Amy and we made arrangements to spend the day with her and her husband Mike at their home and her studio in Brooklyn. What a great day! The highlight was seeing Amy’s new (to me) studio. Situated in Red Hook with great view overlooking the water, I don’t think there is a nicer studio to be had. Ok maybe if there was air conditioning, but it is an old converted warehouse for goodness sake. Also, this was a harbinger for Berlin. After a great brunch Nicholas and I visited the studio, via a walking tour guided by Amy, and spent a few hours there talking “rug shop” as people say. We then retired to the comfortably shaded confines of her backyard and enjoyed a sampling of beers selected by Mike. Skillfully so, I might add. A few hours, a few litres of beer, and lots of fun times later, Nicholas and I caught the subway back to JFK and onto Berlin.
The visit over I was and am left to ponder my envy for her lifestyle. She manages to produce rugs and carpets that are graphic and layered, with bold and saturated colours that are quite eye catching and of exceptional quality; all while balancing family life, studio time, vacation, and a casual relaxed lifestyle. Ahhhh… that however is not my destiny, or is it?
Berlin Part 1: ReuberHenning
Anyone with more than one (1) months experience in the world of rugs (ok in business in general) must acknowledge the near ubiquity of schmooozing, and (specifically to rugs) the historic serving of Tea that formerly accompanied the sale and purchase of a rug. That being said however, we must also acknowledge that modern networking, as it has come to be called, is how things really get done. It is also how I came to know the fine people at ReuberHenning.
I met Thorsten Reuber while I was in New York for ICFF 2009. From our what was to have been a brief four (4) hour meeting, it was decided that I would travel to Berlin to see their product and to meet the design force behind the company: Franziska Reuber (nee Henning). That is how I came to know ReuberHenning, which, by the way, is correctly pronounced “roy-ber-henn-ing” almost as if it is one word, and why we went to Berlin.
I spent an afternoon in the studio of ReuberHenning with Franziska describing her rugs to me, showing me the colours, the quality, the inspiration and basically their reason for being. The designs are fanciful, conveying a sense wonderment at the world. Beautifully coloured, they are sophisticated and strike a balance between bold artistic statement and subtle elegance. I find most, if not all of the designs quite appealing.
Beyond the rugs though, as it was vacation, I (or we) were treated to a wonderful Berlin experience by our hosts Thorsten and Franziska. From a lovely welcoming dinner early in the week, to the afternoon coffee and sweets during our last meeting, to the final dinner in the Beergarten before our departure. They are consummate hosts, and in what seems to be an emerging trend, another spousal paring of success in the rug industry.
A final note on ReuberHenning: The highlight for me was seeing some of Franziska’s early rug designs (which had been made in Iran) that grace the floors of their flat. It’s rare to see the before, and I feel quite honored to have been able to do as such.
You seemingly cannot open the pages of any trade magazine and not see a reference to Rug Star by Jürgen Dahlmanns. His designs, like those of Ms. Helfand are an explosion of saturated colour, rich with creative uses of texture and materials; a bold artistic statement woven into being. I had never seen his rugs in person before, so, as the opportunity had presented itself, I called upon his Berlin showroom.
Nestled in a American expatriate enclave and SoHo-esque district in the former East Berlin, Rug Star’s showroom is intimate and friendly, following the traditional stacks approach to rug merchandising. On display during my visit was a collection of drawings done in support of the RugMark Foundation (currently in the midst of a major re-branding as GoodWeave, look for more information on this coming soon) which as I was told, they intend to have travel to each of their showrooms. Also on display were some exceptionally unusual rugs of persian origin. So intensely coloured were they, that they could only feel comfortably at home next to rugs not unlike those of Rug Star.
I had tried to arrange a meeting with Herr Dahlmanns through a mutual acquaintance, unfortunately on my visit he was away on business. I certainly hope to meet him in the future as I can only imagine his personality to be as interesting as his rugs.
In the very same neighborhood as Rug Star is the gallery of ThomasWild. A boutique specializing in rugs of what I would call exotic origin, it was really a visual treat. They carry predominantly historic textiles and fragments as well as carpets and kelims, again vintage in nature. I did however notice one carpet from Jan Kath on display, striking a very appealing contrast with the more patterned older rugs.
This was my first trip outside of North America and in an acknowledgement of the sage observations of Kerry Smith on my youthful wisdom, traveling does really broaden ones perspectives. As an expatriate myself, the view of the World from inside the United States is certainly distinct from the view from inside, but there are universal truths.
Ever since men began traveling, wares from away have been more prized for reasons varied and often arbitrary, than those produced locally; exotic is always better. Notwithstanding the trend to buy local, goods possessing a certain degree of natural scarcity and difficulty in procurement (originally due to geographic disparity, but not necessarily so now) will always be more desired by those “in the know”.
As Noam Chomsky observed, Public Relations (PR) is a creation of Post War America. American PR, marketing and advertising have for years sought to sell rugs (and everything else) as “European” in style, as if those Europeans were somehow more stylish. Regardless of the truth in that statement, I can tell you that Europeans, in that same American way, try to sell goods as “American” in style. Exotic is always more desirable.
This trip also provided me insight and clear definition to my own personal style. I truly love the juxtaposition between the new and the old, the paring of modern and time honored, the embrace of the contemporary with deference to the past. Berlin as a city, Rug Star, and ThomasWild, all mix the two beautifully. So do all the other rug companies I most admire.