MEET MELINDA MARQUARDT, THE VALE’S FOUNDER AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR
PART 2: FORGING A CAREER AND FOUNDING THE VALE
Tell us about your early career… How did you end up at Fabricut?
Melinda Marquardt: When I graduated from Skidmore in 2010, I wanted to be a graphic designer and was focused on advertising. I had an internship at a digital marketing agency that I absolutely hated, during which I was constantly looking for graphic design positions. I went down to New York City and I was asking everybody. One day I was interviewing for a job at Lillian August but the position was in Connecticut. Knowing that I wanted to stay in Manhattan, they mentioned that Fabricut was hiring right around the corner. Minutes later, I was walking through the streets of Manhattan on my way to a job interview for a textiles company – for a position that had nothing at all to do with graphic design [laughs]. I got there and Fabricut hired me on the spot. My creative career stopped right then and there, and I started working in sales in the Fabricut showroom in Manhattan.
You were with Fabricut for 10 years. How did you work your way from sales to design?
MM: In 2012, Fabricut promoted me to the head of sales for the Midwest [Illinois and Wisconsin], so I was a sales rep on the road for about a year. It all moved very quickly. I was only in Manhattan working for about nine months before I was promoted and moved to the Midwest. Then I was only there for about a year when I was promoted again to European Sales Manager and moved to London. I spent five years with Fabricut in London before I got injured. I have terrible back problems and had been struggling with the travel. I had to quit to have surgery. It was then that I told Fabricut that I couldn’t be on the road anymore. It just wasn’t good for me long-term, and I knew that.
Was this when you made your move into design?
MM: Yes. I told David Klaristenfeld, the VP of Fabricut, that I couldn't handle the intense travel that came with sales anymore, and that I was interested in design. His response was, 'Well, we're kind of full on the design team, but while you're getting better, why don't you work on a project with Nina?' [Nina Butkin, VP of design for Fabricut] who, at the time, was working on a project with the New York Botanical Garden. I did a design for that project and it ended up in the collection, but I didn't get to experience the whole design process from beginning to end. I only got to do the illustration and then I handed it over, and then the design team took it from there. That was when I realised that I really wanted to do the rest of it. I wanted to pick the fabric. I wanted to pick the scale. I wanted to work on the colour matching. I wasn't a part of the whole process, and I realised that they only way to do that was to just do it on my own. So I quit my job with Fabricut in 2017 and I started designing my first collection. David was super supportive and said, 'That's wonderful. We're sorry to lose you, but please show us the colleciton when you're done.' I did. And they loved it, and they put it in their showroom.
After being steeped in the sales side of things at Fabricut, did you have an idea of what you wanted to bring to the marketplace to set The Vale apart?
MM: When I started in the industry, I didn't realise that all of these textiles weren't designed in-house. I was like, 'Where are these designs coming from?' What I came to learn is that 99 percent of them are purchased from the mills. The mills have designers, and they have stock designs that are historical or in-the-works, and they recolour them. But because there are only a handful of mills in the world, you get a lot of the same or similar product and colours being pushed out and sold by converters—and then the same product is everywhere. That said, there are some beautiful brands out there focusing on textiles that are all designed in-house, that have creative directors who are actually designing or outsourcing designs. But there aren't that many brands out there where everything is designed and touched by the creative director. Clarence House is one such brand, and definitely one that I aspire to be like. But my style is unique. It's boutique, really high-end and special because we're bringing original artwork to the home. That's been the goal since the beginning.
In addition to your travels, what else inspires your art and collections?
MM: I find inspiration all over the place. I would say a lot of it is informed by art galleries and exhibitions. I really love going to as many as I can. No matter where I am in the world, I always try to go to an exhibition, specifically curated exhibitions so that I can learn something new. I collect those gallery books and have upwards of 100 in my collection that I refer to all the time. So fine art is a huge source for me. I'm inspired by other textile designers and ceramic designers, too. I look at ceramics a lot. For the Beaufort collection, I was inspired by an art history tour I had gone on in Florence. A lot of those motifs came from the insides of churches in Florence. But honestly, I see pattern everywhere. Flowers, the outdoors, elements in nature... I love going to botanical gardens in every city I visit, or I could just be shopping for clothes when inspiration strikes. For my upcoming 2023 trim collection, I was really inspired by a lace dress by Zimmerman.
Quality is of utmost importance to the integrity of The Vale brand. There’s a heightened focus on the latest technologies in printing, weaving and embroidery techniques available in the marketplace. How do you source your suppliers?
MM: The Vale has cultivated incredible partnerships with the finest mills around the world to produce truly unique and stunning pieces for the home. I'm lucky to have great friends at Fabricut who help me out a lot with supplier introductions and recommendations. I go to the trade shows in Italy and Germany, too. It's important to understand that trade shows themselves are very picky about who can be there and show, so there's already a filter in place. Therefore, all of these companies are regulated by the trade associations in order to pass all regulations for the UK. They are already operating on that level, and being monitored for environmental and ethical responsibility. So you already know that you are working with a great company to start with. I'll go in and look at their products and check it out for myself. I don't purchase anything off their stands per se, something most converters do. Converters go in and say, 'I'll take this, this and this,' whereas I'll go in and take my original drawings and look at their techniques to find the best methods to translate my art into textiles. I'm constantly building and updating my sourcing library. I'll take note of which mills are the best for embroidery, prints, linens, etc., and save those samples for later. That way I will know where to go the next time I need a quality cut of velvet, for example. The same goes for print companies. I will get them to send me samples to compare for print quality, and I will check it when I'm home and I have a good natural light. I'm so picky about any sort of pixelation—that's a hard no for The Vale. It's just research and checking the quality of the current inventory that's being put on the market. We work with the best in the industry.