Wednesday 16 October 2019

No tribble with trimmings

Born-again Victoriana is on the rise and passementerie is current once again

Pompom Pouf from MYK
Pompom Pouf from MYK
Pompoms and tassels from Bohemia Design
Fringed wall hanging from Audenza
Tassels from Debenhams
Elaine Verdon
Pompom throws from Ragged Rose
Ibride Alpaga Fringed Bar Cabinet from Red Candy

Eleanor Flegg

The recent explosion of pompoms throughout planet interiors reminds me of an early episode of Star Trek: The Trouble with Tribbles (1967). Tribbles are small fluffy creatures with no visible features. They look very much like pompoms. At first, they're adorable but tribbles are born pregnant and breed like rabbits. Soon, the Enterprise is overrun. In the end, Scotty transports all the tribbles onto a Klingon vessel where, he says: "They'll be no tribble at all."

Sometimes I feel like doing the same with pompoms. Over the past few years, they have migrated from bobble hats, where they belong, to cushions, throws, quilts, blankets and rugs. I've seen pompoms randomly attached to baskets or strung across the room like fairy lights. It's the kind of good thing that you can very easily have too much of.

The pompom problem is part of a wider reinvention of passementerie, the formal name for tassels and trimmings. It was once a specialist profession, regulated by a guild. Passementiers made trimmings for clothes and soft furnishings from gold, silver, silk and wool. In 16th century France, it took a seven-year apprenticeship to become a master. This kind of finesse still exists, but it's niche and very expensive. Beaumont & Fletcher in London make couture tie backs, embroidered by hand in gold, silver, bronze, pewter or silk threads and embellished with freshwater pearls and semi-precious stones.

When the Victorians discovered mass production, fancy trimmings became available to the middle classes. Soon, every living room that could afford it was fringed, swagged, and tasselled. This, combined with a fear of fresh air, made for claustrophobic décor that persisted until the mid-20th century when stuffy living rooms were blasted clean of tasselled tiebacks and bullion fringing by the design trend known as Scandinavian Modern. Now, it's come full circle. People are bored of plain. Maximalism, which is a kind of born-again Victoriana, is on the rise and passementerie is current once more. "If you're into more-is-more, trimmings are definitely for you!" says Elaine Verdon of Leo and Cici, interior designer and stylist. "I suppose they're undergoing a revival as we move away from minimalism and living in grey and white boxes."

Pompoms and tassels from Bohemia Design
Pompoms and tassels from Bohemia Design

As Verdon points out, there's a practical side to passementerie. "Trimmings cover up raw edges and imperfect joins and they're a really nice way of updating a tired piece of furniture. Sometimes high street furniture lacks detail and you can give it more personality by adding trimmings."

Lisa Marconi of Dust agrees. "It's all about fringes. They're not a flash in the pan. I think they're here for the long run." She looks back, with a shudder to the fringes of the 1970s. "Do you remember fringed curtains? They were cheesy and a little bit naff. They were never going to last. But now people are beginning to look back at those trends and reinvent them into something modern with more longevity."

Today's fringes tend to be made of cotton or silk, or a combination of the two, and in contemporary colours like blush pink or navy. "The colours definitely modernise it," Marconi says. "In the 1970s the fringes were garish. But it's also about what you put them on to. I don't think that trimmings are coming back in window treatments - it's too much."

Where fringes do work is on cushions, and not just around the edges. The Flapper range from Dust includes cushions that are entirely covered with three rows of fringe on one side (€54); a tripod table lamp with a triple fringed shade (€270); and lampshades of various sizes (€90 to €70) with layers of fringing.

Some people are spending big money on fringed furniture. The Ibride Alpaga Fringed Bar Cabinet from Red Candy costs a staggering €4,989. It's a smallish four-legged cabinet with three shelves and a shallow drawer. Instead of a door, the front of the cabinet is made of viscose fringing. A smaller version, the Ibride Baby Alpaga Chic Side Table (€909) is more boudoir orientated.

In the language of passementerie, fringes and applied borders are known as linear ornaments; tassels and pompoms are point ornaments. "Tassels are doing the rounds a bit but I don't think they will last the distance," Marconi comments. "They don't have the staying power of fringes. I'm fully convinced I'm still going to love my fringed lamps in 20 years' time. And pompoms are fun but they're a side dish. Fringes are the main course." She doesn't think that she could ever love a piece of furniture made entirely of pompoms.

Fringed wall hanging from Audenza
Fringed wall hanging from Audenza

Myra von Busekist, designer and principal of MYK in Berlin, would beg to differ. Her Pompon Pouf is made of 600 multi-coloured woollen pompoms, knotted to one another over a felted beanbag. It looks, as she describes it, as though an "extra-terrestrial vibrant object has landed on the floor". Larger items from MYK - rugs, stools and chairs - are customisable (price on request). They include a floor rug in the shape of a snow leopard, made entirely of pompoms with whiskers and glass eyes. Smaller off-the-peg items range from the Pompon Home Pendant (€249), a cluster of 14 multi-coloured pompons on hand braided cords suspended from a silver ring, to the Fuchsia Blossom Pompon Stool (€650), a vintage industrial stool upholstered with 35 wool pompoms decorated with buds, blossoms and leaves to give the impression of a brocade fabric.

To my mind, there are two things that set von Busekist's work apart. One is the imagination behind actually making furniture out of pompoms, as opposed to using them as an addendum. The other is that the pompoms are handcrafted by women around Germany. "Many of them are from Turkish origin," she writes. "They have their dignified manual skills passed down generations." By tapping into this cultural tradition, and helping keep the craft alive, MYK elevates the pompom from frivolity to an object of cultural integrity. And then she makes it frivolous again by designing a pink pompom poodle.

See @leoandcici; dust.ie; myk-berlin.com; redcandy.co.uk.

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