New / Now: Harlem Toile de Jouy by Sheila Bridges

Jodi Finer

01 October 2020
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Sneak a peek at our new collections, collaborations and textile debuts, along with the inside scoop on how they all came to be.

“For me, Harlem Toile is about loving all parts of Black culture, not just the pieces that appeal to you. The larger message here is the power of acknowledgment.”

 


Sheila Bridges has long been inspired by classicism. In fact, she’s built an extensive portfolio of classically refined spaces featuring wide stripes and pastoral French Toile patterns, while never failing to deliver an edge of playful-genius alongside each serioso motif—some might say it’s her signature. In keeping with her affection for historical references and meaningful design, the iconic interior designer redistributes her widely acclaimed Harlem Toile de Jouy fabrics and wallcoverings with S. Harris. In light of the current social and political climate, the textile ignites open conversations around century-old stereotypes. But, the root of which this storied 10-colorway print was born is far less complex. Simply put, Sheila designed Harlem Toile for herself. After much research and scouring of the market, she fell short in finding a Toile that spoke to her home on a personal level, both as a Black woman and a designer with discerning taste. No stranger to creating custom products for her uber-exclusive clientele, Sheila began to forge forward on the production of a new take on the primordial pattern. “Harlem Toile served as an opportunity for me to share and express my personal perspective on politics, culture, and art,” explains Sheila, whose chosen pastoral scenes include: A couple dancing with a boombox, girls jumping double dutch, guys playing basketball, a couple at a picnic, women doing hair, and a woman running with horses. “I was very specific about the scenes that I chose,” states the designer. “I wanted to explore these stereotypes and their exploitive associations, but at the same time, I wanted the Toile to feel celebratory.” Working closely with an illustrator, Sheila’s vision began to materialize. Her inspired take on Wilt Chamberlain (forever a Philadelphia girl) took shape, as did the tenable nature of minstrel shows and Sheila’s personal affiliation and love of horses. “I also have a sense of humor,” explains Sheila, “and the scenes represented in Harlem Toile are me poking fun at some of the absurdities of these visual tropes.” For as deliberate as it may seem, in many ways, Harlem Toile is hyper-interpretive. Like all great works of art, every time the print makes an appearance, it continues to invite new ideas and meaningful messages. “I love the idea of designers incorporating these stories into their interiors and lives,” explains Sheila. “It helps us understand each other and acknowledge history; why it was created and where it came from.” By their very nature, Toiles tell stories—their layers of intellectual gest and playful acuity acquiesce to often-unjust historical narratives. Sheila muses, “For me, Harlem Toile is about loving all parts of Black culture, not just the pieces that appeal to you. The larger message here is the power of acknowledgment.” In addition to select S. Harris showrooms nationwide, Harlem Toile de Jouy can also be seen in The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum as part of the permanent wallpaper collection.

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Sheila Bridges Harlem Toile 

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Jodi Finer

As the Chief Brand Officer of Fabricut’s boutique textile brand S. Harris, Jodi Finer approaches her creative position with a deep connection to her grandfather’s legacy, her relationship with her father, who has always been her north star, and a level of mindfulness to thoughtful living. Jodi and her team have turned S. Harris into a socially conscious brand, working with several nonprofit partners locally and globally to not only reshape the conversation around how design impacts wellbeing but also to create design accessibility. S. Harris provides her the opportunity to reinvent community, build a fresh creative culture and create meaning for the storied fabric house.

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