Our visit to LuRu Home's studio brings us to an enormous warehouse building that is home to several new businesses in the South Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. With high ceilings lined with industrial piping and movable walls separating the work spaces, LuRu's “working office” is bursting with the energy of bright golds, greens, reds, and blues from the vintage Chinese fabric collections that fill the space. Displayed in neat hanging rows, in folded stacks, and in rolled bolts stored beneath counters, the textiles depict classic motifs of peacocks and peonies, bamboo and butterflies. Claire Russo, one-half of the design team behind LuRu Home, pulls out sample after sample of swatches with the excitement of an artist truly following a calling.
Claire's love for textiles began when her father brought home a sewing machine and taught her to sew. After studying art at Brown University, she took an internship at the arts department at a boarding school in Thailand. At the same time, Liza Serratore, a friend of Claire’s from childhood who graduated from Elon University, was now teaching in Shanghai after traveling through Asia. When Claire’s internship ended, she took the opportunity to visit Liza, where they traveled, learned to speak Chinese, and developed a deep adoration for Chinese textiles, particularly those crafted in the Nankeen tradition thousands of years earlier.
Sewing pillows, napkins, and towels to send as gifts for their family and friends in the U.S, the two became encouraged by the enthusiastic reception the designs garnered, and began to think seriously about coming back to the States to turn their hobby into a business. After talking to every textile company, interior designer, architect, and shop owner they had contacts with in the U.S., Claire and Liza took a “leap of faith" and debuted LuRu Home at the NY Now gift show in 2012.
Four years later, Claire and Liza continue to source fabrics from China, and have also developed screens and digital imaging to produce their own versions of these traditional Chinese designs.
Utilizing hours on FaceTime, Claire (on the East Coast) and Liza (on the West Coast) carefully analyze the qualities of the original vintage fabric, then decide on the redesign they feel preserves the motifs and symbolism best. It's a process that involves equal parts artistry and authenticity. "When you translate something, it's really hard to capture the subtle variations and make it look natural,” Claire explains. “We just confirmed strike-off #53, if that gives you an idea for how long this takes!" It wasn't just textile knowledge Claire and Liza gained during their travels; because China is such a huge manufacturing hub, they also received invaluable guidance regarding sourcing, supplying, and production that proved to be instrumental in how they operate their business today.
LuRu Home has become a company driven by a prevailing commitment to being stewards of China's history. With a network of contacts scouting vintage fabrics for them, LuRu has one of the most extensive collections of traditional Chinese textiles in the world. "We want to maintain the posterity of rare pieces," Claire tells us as she pulls out remnants that have been shipped to them from across the world. "As custodians of the craft, it's our obligation to preserve them." Part of this stewardship now involves communication with academics in China who document print processes, and often sharing pieces from their collection with museums, collectors, and historical costume designers. The climate of China has changed drastically since the cultural revolution and focus has shifted towards Western branding and design, causing Claire and Liza to worry about those traditions of craftsmanship being lost. "When we were first starting out in Shanghai, the locals all told us, 'You know, no one's going to like this...' and kind of felt bad for us," Claire remembers. "Our mission is to put a fresh eye on it and tell new design stories about China."
The rich history that has been so carefully embodied by LuRu Home's products has a unique charm that they have been delighted to see embraced by the American design community. Claire emphasizes how important she and Liza believe the items in our home can be.
This statement brings their story full circle; from the discovery of a nearly lost “fabric of the people” adorned in traditional motifs that celebrate health, prosperity, and good luck, to LuRu Home’s encouragement to surround ourselves with the patterns of the past, while helping to preserve the legacy of Chinese tradition.
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