Allison Block, Design Director of Travers, joins us to discuss the recently debuted Tropica Collection of textile designs.
Raymond Paul Schneider: When did you first start to develop this new collection?
Allison Block: I began working on the initial design concepts for Tropica in late January of 2020, but a majority of the design, layout, and colorwork were happening alongside the growing COVID pandemic.
Raymond: What was the overall timeline from conception to achieving the final design?
Allison: The overall timeline to bring a Travers collection to market from conception to launch is typically one year. Under normal circumstances, Tropica would have launched in Paris at Deco Off in January of 2021, so it is a monumental accomplishment that our mid-March launch is very close to being on schedule despite production and freight delays.
Raymond: What was your initial inspiration, and where did the idea come from?
Allison: It was serendipitous that in December 2019, I discovered the original ‘Tropica’ fabric memo in the Travers archive. I also uncovered the textile document for what has become ‘Flora Print.’ Both prints have a unique, individual charm about them; however, I discovered a West Indies tropical thread running through both, which beautifully anchored them together to set the tone for the collection. The remainder of the collection is heavily influenced by the British influence on the tropical West Indies. This entire process was evolving as everyone began spending significantly more time inside of our homes. It became clear to me that the collection’s underlying focus was destined to be centered on bringing the outside in.
Raymond: Please describe your overall creative and design process.
Allison: So much of my process is about creating and layering different designs and qualities and then living with the organized chaos before scaling back and editing down to a cohesive and well-balanced collection. Each of the collections that I have designed for Travers started with a trip to our archive, and the hero print is usually a fresh take on an old classic. When I visit the archive, I am always inspired by the vast history; and it is that initial spark or reaction to a vintage design that can be the starting point in creating something new. Jacobean Vine embroidery from Tropica began as a one-color, allover embroidered coverlet from the late 1800s. It had a fantastically large scale and depicted classic Tree of Life motifs. I then modernized the design by extracting various motifs to create a striped vine, playing with various stitch techniques, and introducing three additional colors to make it more dimensional.
Color is my favorite part of the design process! I developed a warm tropical color palette to bring Tropica to life. For me, color is one of the most important aspects of good design. It draws people in, and I find that most interior designers come to the showroom searching for a specific color or palette first and foremost and that the design is often secondary. I am constantly taking photos of interesting color combinations on the street, studying fashion trends, and archiving social media posts. I purposefully immerse myself in the process of choosing the colors for each design. This is particularly important when working on the 15+ color print designs, which set the tone for the different color palettes that the rest of the collection layers into.
Raymond: Did you have a specific audience or theme that you had in mind?
Allison: While we are a part of the larger international Zimmer + Rohde umbrella, Travers is designed primarily with the American market in mind. With that comes many different regional design aesthetics, so it is important to shift focus for each new collection. For Tropica, I was designing with the southern coastal region in mind, particularly Florida, Georgia, and California.
Raymond: Please describe the methods, tools, and materials that you used to develop and prototype this design?
Allison: This collection mainly focuses on pairing natural materials and motifs to realize the tropical theme. It also shows a variety of design techniques from:
- Experimenting with jute cording for textural embroidery.
- Pleating lightweight linen to form a dimensional sheer.
- Applying a light chintz glaze for an added surface effect.
We also have preserved the details of our archival multi-colored prints by taking advantage of new advancements in digital printing. The archival fabric for Flora Print was a ten-color screen-print, and it was important to me that we maintain the integrity of this original document when digitized. It was expertly color separated to look hand-done, using 26 colors which simulate the natural fall-ons that occur when two ink colors are printed on top of each other.
Raymond: Please describe any challenges that affected the design and perhaps steered you to an entirely new final design?
Allison: What a year! This collection truly was a labor of love that required a lot of perseverance and continuous problem solving to bring it to life. I relocated from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio, in Mid-March for a few months as pandemic cases increased across the country. In Cleveland, I set up a home office and was able to continue designing the collection. I started developing colors for the collection when I hit a wall and reached a point where I struggled to find inspiration. Through some local friends’ help, I was put in touch with Wendy Berry, principal of W Designs in Chagrin Falls, OH. Wendy graciously offered a conference room in her firm for me to work from. It was here that all of the colors for Tropica came to life. Being back in a creative environment was such a gift! I was able to work from inside an interior design firm which allowed me to bounce ideas off of the end-user – something very unusual in our field. I hope to recreate this type of work environment later this year when looking for a new studio space.
Raymond: Describe the overall brand DNA and Ethos
Allison: I would describe the Travers aesthetic as Greenwich Village meets Greenwich, Connecticut, where I am consciously targeting both the urban and suburban. Travers is a traditional print-driven brand that masterfully mixes bold American color palettes with English country-home comfort. It is relaxed yet elegant, focusing on quality and craftsmanship. I like to look to the past with each new collection to influence the future, pulling design inspiration from its rich archive that founder Eldo Netto originally curated.
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