Since I was very young I’ve always enjoyed reading about people that I admire and have enjoyed learning about their creative processes. This has inspired me to create a new series of interviews that include designers and people that I would love to know more about so that I can share with you as a dose of inspiration. My first interview is with Rosemary Hallgarten. Who aside from being an amazing, warm and a beautiful person, designs and manufactures textiles that epitomize the same characteristics. Rosemary creates effortless style throughout the home with the use of her natural handmade textiles.
Alpaca is her passion… And if you know of her fabrics and rugs you can see why.
Please read and see what inspires her and some of her process in creating her beautiful line.
RG: How would you describe your line of textiles?
RH: In one sentence the experience of texture. I do very little pattern, so everything has a lot to do with softness, and also to do with color and mixing different fibers together.
RG: Beautiful. What influences your process?
RH: I get inspiration all the time from different things. Normally, more when I’m traveling or when I’m on a train. I seem to need to be in movement to be inspired by something, and away from the office. But normally, I’ll see something or I’ll have a feeling about something, and then it will stay with me for a long time. I know that if it stays with me, then it’s something good and then I want to develop it. I remember hearing a writer once talk about characters and how characters would come to him, and then he’d write about them. So for me, ideas, and concepts, and colors, and different textures are like a character, I guess, in a novel.
RG: I love that. When you describe the “feeling” and having it stay with you, I completely identify with that. How long do you give that feeling? Like a week, a month, a year?
RH: No, no. I mean, it’s normally at least six months. So most of the things that I do, it takes a long time. Often, it’s a year. So what I’ve thought about for the first time, it could easily be a year until it actually sees the market. And, there’s a process. You have something that sticks with you, that keeps on nagging you that you want to develop. First, we’ll have to do a sample, you have to test out different colors, you have to see how the construction is going to work. Sometimes, you have a great idea. You think it’s a great idea, and then it takes a while to execute it properly. You may think something is going to be really really cool, and then you see it. Then in the execution, it just doesn’t work! And why it doesn’t work is really more of a feeling.
RG: When you say feeling, what do you mean by that? In terms of the feeling like, “Oh, I’m disappointed,” or –it just doesn’t translate?
RH: If I see something, like there’s a new yarn that I’m really excited about and I want to try to combine it with different things is great. But just using it on its own as a rug, I thought, was going to be beautiful but it doesn’t work. So I have to push the feeling further, the feeling that it gives me. So mixing it with different fibers just isn’t working on its own and there’s nothing that you can do about that.
RG: How did you know you wanted to fabricate textiles and rugs, and what was that moment that you understood that it’s something that you had to do?
RH: Well, I’ve always made things, but I used to make jewelry. From the age of about 10, I was going into hardware stores and finding telephone wires and turning them into necklaces. And then I started knitting wire and making jewelry out of that, and then beading it. But when I moved to the states about 18 years ago, it just wasn’t rewarding enough. I’ve always loved fashion, and I’ve always loved softness, and textures, and different colors, and I just wasn’t able to express that enough in the jewelry. And I was talking to my mother who lived in Italy in the ’60s, and she made rugs. Hand-hooked rugs. She worked with a bunch of artists: Anni Albers, Milton Avery, Gio Ponti. She worked with them and interpreted their rugs– their designs as rugs. I hadn’t grown up about it, but I was talking to her and saying, “I want something else,” and she said, ”Well, why don’t you try rugs?” And she still had a needle from what she had used, and she still had the source of yarn that she’d use. And so I just started making the rugs myself, and I loved it immediately.
RG: That’s awesome… Where were you in your life at that point? Were you in your 20s, or were you in your 30s? Were you a teen?
RH: I was was probably late 20s. Yeah, it would have been late 20s, early 30s.
RG: You started out fabricating rugs. How did you move into actual textile? Or was it the other way around?
RH: Well, I see rugs as textiles.
RG: Okay. I got it. [we both laugh]
RH: Textile for the floor. And that’s definitely an evolution, in terms of rugs, that I used to really design them as art for the floor. And I’ve had to evolve from that in the market, because the market doesn’t like patterns so much for rugs. But It was a natural process. When I first discovered alpaca and I started making alpaca rugs in Peru, working directly with the artisans, I also discovered how you could make the most beautiful fabric out of alpaca. It looked like cashmere. Actually, when I was there, I bought some fabric. This was 13, 14 years ago. I bought some fabric. I had a feeling about it. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. No idea. It was a beautiful, fine fabric, and it literally sat in my closet in San Francisco for six months, eight months. And then suddenly, one day, I knew, “Okay. I’m going to take this, and I’m going to do hand embroidery on it and make pillows out of it.” That’s how that evolved.
RG: What was that fabric?
RH: It was an alpaca. I actually don’t really do that much with that anymore. And then from that, I made more pillows, and then I started making throws. And then really, the throws evolved into fabric by the yard.
RG: So how do you formulate pattern like those in your outdoor collection?
RH: I mean, I had a brief foray into pattern. I took some of my rug designs and I did it on printed linen.
RG: Oh that is so cool.
RH: And it was right at the beginning when I was doing fabric, and people weren’t really thinking of me for fabric. And you know, I sold it but not really well. And then I wanted to evolve more. I’ve been doing a lot with hand embroidery, and I’m actually doing a special collection for Holland & Sherry of hand embroidered rugs. So that was the feeling that I wanted to create. There’s so much outdoor fabric, and so many plains, and so on, Right? There’s so much. So I felt like it needed some kind of pattern, and that’s where that came from.
RG: I love how that comes full circle in your work. When do you feel that all the hard work, research and traveling, all of it, became noticed and worthwhile?
RH: It always felt worthwhile to me. For probably five years, it was a struggle though, every day. I mean, I always– every day from a business perspective. I think at the five-year mark, it really felt like it was really noticed. And then again, at the 10 mark. I mean, when you’re growing a business, that’s what they say. They say the 5 and the 10-year marks are really significant. I found that I used to have a lot more creative fun at the beginning. I would go to Peru and I would just explore so many different options. And I do self-edit myself a lot more now because I know I have to think through with every new launch. There’s all kinds of costs and all of that stuff. So I think that’s the hard part. You’ve got to push yourself to be as creative as possible, but there’s also– the more of a business you become, the more you self-edited it, so that’s a tricky balance.
RG: Right. And then that leads me to the next question. Because it is a creative process to build, and make, and visualize everything that you aesthetically do, how do you feel that you translated it into business, like in terms of education? Did you study for business or were you self taught?
RH: Well, I worked while I was building this business. I worked full-time in advertising doing branding. I went into advertising because I always had a strong creative side, but also was interested in sales and business. So advertising did that for me, but I also needed to make my own stuff. So I think just by being around [the environment] it’s just instinctively in me, as well as maybe some lessons that I’ve picked up, certainly marketing lessons from advertising. But the rest of it, you just learn as you do it, learn on your feet.
RG: What is the one lesson you learned the most from?
RH: I think you don’t want to give people too much choice. I used to think that the more choice I gave people, the happier they’d be, but it’s not true. You need to offer a very limited choice. You need to feel people can choose something, but not that the world is their oyster. They come to you for direction, they come to you for a look, an aesthetic, and I think that’s been a big learning for me, is give some choice but not too much.
RG: I love that. It’s so true. When did you know that it was time to open up to the public with your own studio/office?
RH: I think the first time I was open, we were open to the public in a small way in my old office. And I think I wanted to have my own voice. I wanted to be able to present. I suppose this showroom now is my– is more of my voice. The other showroom was just somewhere where people were able to come in, but I wanted to create and share, I suppose, my aesthetic as a room experience, as opposed to just one fabric. I actually think doing fabrics has a lot to do with that. Because doing fabrics leads you– you have to photograph them, so that leads you into furniture, and it leads you into draperies, so it becomes a much broader thing.
RG: It does, yes..What time of day, or where do you feel the most creative, and what does that look like for you?
RH: Either early in the morning or late at night. Though I do a little painting, and I prefer to paint in the light. I’m not very good at painting–unless it’s really late at night. I can’t paint at 7:00 in the evening. It’s either midnight or when it’s daylight and sunshine. In terms of creative, for me, these ideas, it’s– again, I think it would be early morning or late at night.
RG: When you say early morning, is it when you kind of first open your eyes? Or would you say it’s as you’re having a cup of tea?
RH: Before the rest of the day, and the business stuff, and the emails, and all of that kicks in full force.
RG: And then when you get an inspiration or an idea, does it come to you visually? Do you see it, or do you feel like you have an idea but you don’t know how it’s going to physically look when its finished? Do you know what I mean?
RH: I definitely don’t have an idea of the finished product. I get a feeling… whether it’s a certain color combination, texture, yarn or pattern. Then I immediately see a rug, or I immediately see some fabric. I have an idea of how I think it’s going to end up, but I never think I’m going to know until I actually see it done.
RG: You have children, correct?
RH: Yes. Two boys 10 and 17.
RG: And how do you manage your mommy-ness with your business? Which is the age-old question as a woman.
RH: It’s hard, but I really– and actually, I used to struggle a lot, and I always felt– when I was working, I always felt guilty about not being with the kids and vice versa. I really try to keep focused on work when I’m at work. Then I leave work at 3:00 to go and pick up my son from school. But then, I’m on email 24/7.
RG: I understand…
RH: But it doesn’t bother me. I’d rather be able to be focused on my kids in that time. And then just when he’s asleep, I do the emails. But I love what I do, so that helps.
RG: Makes it so much nicer. And if you were to describe your brand in a few words, what words would you use?
RH: Again, the experience of texture, luxury– luxury but cozy. Kind of cozy luxury, maybe.
RG: If you could do any other business in the world, what wold you do, or would it be this all over again?
RH: I would definitely do this all over again! Or something creative. Painting, or sculptures, ceramics. It would have to be something like that.
RG: Using your hands
RH: Yes, using my hands. I love fashion, but I’m not sure I actually want to do fashion. Actually, I was just talking to my kids about it. Because we went to see Wicked on Sunday, but I’d have loved to have done set design, actually, in theater. I would love to have done that.
RG: That’s nice. So now a few of your favorite things. What is your favorite meal?
RH: My favorite meal is probably, steak, eggplant parmigiana, a good Italian Barolo, and molten chocolate cake, and pistachio ice cream for dessert [laughter].
RG: And what is your favorite color, even though color isn’t much part of your world?
RH: For highlight color, probably orange as an accent. Orange accent.
RG: And what’s your second?
RG: Light or medium?
RG: And what’s your favorite time of day?
RH: Morning’s my favorite.
RG: What’s your favorite city?
RH: In the whole world? I guess– I haven’t been to Capetown yet, but I’m about to go to Capetown. But maybe, I guess, Barcelona.
RG: Who are your favorite people?
RH: My boys, my boyfriend, the people in my office, because I couldn’t do what I do without them!
RG: What’s your favorite form of exercise ?
RG: What kind?
RH: Iyengar…and wind surfing [laughter].
RG: Okay. And what’s your favorite make-up item?
RG: What’s your favorite scent?
RH: Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle.
RG: Nice, Beautiful. Thank you!
RH: Good questions!