We spoke to Pierre Frey, communications director of the eponymous French fabric house founded by his grandfather, about the history of the company and why their archive is an endless source of inspiration for their designers and clients alike.

'Pierre Frey was founded in 1935 in the heart of Paris in the same building where we are located today, by my grandfather. He originally worked for another fabric house, realised he had a talent for the job and decided to start his own company as a fabric designer; that’s how it began 85 years ago. We started with fabrics and over the years we developed wallpapers, rugs and furniture. My father has been working with the company since 1969 and my two brothers and myself joined him in the last 20 years'

'I think Pierre Frey is quintessentially French because it’s all designed and mostly manufactured in France, but also because we have an eye for colours and quality. We are very lucky to have more than 30,000 French textiles dating from the 16th century and we get inspired by those documents – we twist them, we make them more contemporary. I guess that helps us stay true to our heritage. I think the light that we get in France, the history that we get from Paris and from the culture of our country gives us a taste that is very French.'

Heritage Director Sophie Rouart is in charge of the archive at Pierre Frey. 'Pierre Frey decided to create the archive department in 2003 to conserve and to use all this heritage. I have three missions in the archives: firstly inventory, all the heritage of the group, secondly to help the studio team when they want to develop new fabrics and the third is to help our customers. If they don’t find what they are looking for in the collections, we can produce special custom made fabrics for them.'

An eclectic collection

'I enjoy working with customers because it’s interesting to give a second life to archive fabrics, it’s a challenge and each project is different. The oldest fabric we conserve is a 16th century velvet from Italy, the most recent is a pattern by a young designer. It’s very eclectic and we have a general view of the evolution of fabrics from the 16th century to nowadays. In the beginning Mr Frey acquired different brands like Braquenié and Le Manach and he acquired their archives too, but we continue to buy different archives at auction and sometimes an owner of a castle contacts us to sell their archive.'

Perfect partners

'When we work within the archives we try to find the contemporary spirit of the fabric, because when it was created several years ago, or several centuries ago, it was contemporary. We worked with Soho Home to find specific geometrical patterns for this project. The fabrics we chose together were created in 1928 and are some of the most loved patterns from Pierre Frey. They were made in our mill in the north of France. The specific technique was invented by Georges Le Manach in 1928. The patterns were African-inspired, very geometrical. It was interesting to start with a big pattern, to reduce it, to change the scale and the colouration for the collaboration.'

Historical clients

'Each time we acquire a fabric we have a process; I start with the inventory, I check the date, the location, we have a specific space to conserve them and we try to protect them from dust and light. The sample books came from the different brands and inside you have fabrics from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a source of inspiration for the studio team or customers.' Highlights include a cardboard model of one of the carriages of Napoleon Ill's official train. 'He ordered fabrics to decorate his own bedroom on his train so we have everything – the bedspread, tapestry, rugs.'

What goes around

'Trends are cyclical – for a long time clients wanted toile du jouy from the 18th century, but today they are trying to find more geometrical patterns. It’s funny because in the 1920s we have a lot of patterns like that and they like those more contemporary patterns from the archives. For a lot of people the past is only classical patterns - they expect very ornamental fabrics with big flowers so when they open drawers in this room and discover geometrical patterns from the 18th and 19th century they are surprised and fascinated by their modernity.'

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