April 2018

Passementerie is perhaps not a term that one would necessarily have heard of today however, thanks to the rise in Maximalism and the trend for looking back at history, passementerie is experiencing something of a revival.

MBDS has been living in a world of tassels and trims whilst working on Annabel’s so we decided to catch up with Watts of Westminster, who worked with us on the project, to find out more about this historic craft and how Watts has been involved with projects ranging from the Queen’s Coronation to set design on The Crown. 

Let’s start with the basics – what is passementerie?

Passementerie quite literally means trimmings; the decorative trimmings such as tassels, braid and fringing, used in furniture and clothing. It is a centuries old craft stretching back to the 16th century in France which has spread all across the world and is something that can be seen from royal palaces to military clothing. The first fringe is reputed to be the warp of the saddle cloth; you had the saddle cloth which if you took off the first horizontal thread you’d be left with a fringe or trimming. If you look at very early rugs and carpets, all the trims and fringe are borne of the original weave structure rather an additional adornment. It was only until much later that they would become something much different and which you would apply to an existing textile or object.

Watts of Westminster has a history stretching back to 1836 with an association with the interior decoration of the Palace of Westminster; how has the company’s history shaped its future?

Watts started as a design house, working in partnership with architects, creating wallpapers, fabrics and passementerie. Watts would be responsible for furnishing churches and houses. It’s quite a unique starting point for a business like this and would perhaps explains why we now create such grand designs. Today, we see the strength of the design is the scale but also the fact that the original designs, which we still use today, are inherently English and unique. The core of the business is very English and our association with architects including Mott, Templeman and Dykes Bower who was the surveyor for the Queen’s Coronation in 1963, as wholly unique and defining.

We are constantly looking back at our archive to find patterns and prints that we can revive, so a current pattern available could actually have a hundred year history but which has been updated to work for today’s audience. For example, we recently went to New York and one of the patterns we brought with us was originally an 1868 oak leaf design for a wallpaper. We made it into a fabric using a silk linen mix about 10 years ago but it was far too elaborate for homes back then and wasn’t so popular. However today, it sits comfortable in commercial and residential projects and is one of our most favoured designs once again.

When designing tassels, trims and bullion, what are you most inspired by? Does nature and its colours and forms influence the style and design of your work?

Ultimately, nature will always be the root of inspiration, as it is with almost everything in design. We are always intrigued with organic form however the development of these patterns and designed is far more hinged in an historical foundation.

The early papers of Watts, including our fabric designs, had a similar vernacular to William Morris who would use small back patterning with a geometric structure. As Watts of Westminster progressed and moved towards the 1880s, the company embraced a much grander style - later known as the Queen Anne Revival – which was very elaborate culminating in large scale designs including stylised foliage inspired by earlier 16th century hand woven lambasts. Watts has works with history, adapting and redefining styles of the time however we have always been inspired by strong architectural patterns and forms, this is the backbone to our business.

Is everything handmade? Can you talk us through the process of creating a tieback?

Every aspect of a tie back, a bullion, a trim, everything, is hand made in Egypt by the most talented craftsmen under a company called Sevinch. Akin to stepping back in time, the workshop is where the magic happens; from dyeing and devidage to wood turning and weaving. The process of creating a single tieback is incredibly intricate and time consuming, with the most exquisite of detailing. We design everything and Sevinch’s workshop turns them into a reality.

Starting with hand dyeing, each thread is dyed in a hank before being air dried, being careful not to exposed the threads to sunlight as this can have an effect on certain fibres. Devidage is the next stage which is the process of unwinding the hanks onto bobbins as each subsequent process of the production requires yarn on bobbins. Cords and lines are then created which are a fundamental part to any passementerie. This is a highly skilled job involving a cord maker spinning a core or filler from one end of the cord room to the other whilst another maker is pacing at a precise speed to create a taught cord. A trained wood worker hand makes all the internal wooden structures which are then bound by the precise cords and lines. Each piece of wood is worked out by eye using a basic lathe; the craftsmen are highly skilled and accurate in their work. Weavers are then introduced to the process who use a hand loom, something which is disappearing from the world.

How has the rise in maximalist fashions and interiors influenced Watt’s business today?

Passementerie is something that’s very much come in and out of fashion, in fact originally it was more for the adornment of saddlery and carriages and of course clothing. It was only until the 18th century where it really become a part of the interiors trend; very extravagant, beautiful and French. Then it dipped up and down, coming in and out of fashion much like a needle pulling through a fabric. Today though, thanks to the popularity of Maximalism and creating beautifully rich and layered interiors, the art of passementerie is seeing a revival. We are seeing more and more clients taking an interest in tie backs, bullions and trims who would perhaps never had considered them for the home or a commercial project 10 years ago and yet today it seems so obvious that these final touches are what will tie a whole space together.    

Watts of Westminster has helped with many of the details at Annabel’s. How did you work with MBDS on this? Did you design the passementerie or was it a collaboration?

We worked with the FF&E team for Annabel’s from inception to installation. They had a very clear vision of what was wanted for the client, providing detailed colour plans and combinations. We were then able to work with these to design various trimmings, including much of the trim detailing for the Pegasus’s saddle, hooves and mane. Our work can be seen throughout the club in various forms including a custom tie back and bullion trim in the reception on the one large curtain. It was an amazing project to work on, not just because of the club’s vast social history but also because of the scale of passementerie that was need for the space. There is no doubt Annabel’s has the largest passementerie collection in London!

Passementerie from Watts of Westminster even features in Disney films and other productions – do you think there will always be a desire for very decorative interior schemes?

Fashion and interiors seem to work on a cyclical system; it ebbs and flows coming in and out of fashion however I think there will always be a desire for beautifully rich and layered interiors. These final trimmings makes a space sing and feel incredibly special. We’ve worked on a number of film sets which is a very different experience to working on an interior project as often the sets are only up for a few days. The pace is different but it’s wonderful to see your little bit on the big screen later on. 

Watts of Westminster
Third floor - Middle Dome
Chelsea Harbour Design Centre
SW10 0XE
Imagery © Watts of Westminster