Shoppers who’ve been stuck indoors are finding solace in a new offering from their favourite designers—say hello to haute homeware
“I like my money where I can see it—hanging in my closet,” Carrie Bradshaw famously professed in Sex and the City. Almost in the same breath, she admitted that she uses her oven space for shoes. But that was 20 years ago. This year, Carrie would probably swap her Fendi Baguette for a real baguette baking in a Dolce & Gabbana x Smeg oven.
During this unprecedented period of confinement, when frequent flyers and conspicuous consumers no longer exist, many people have developed an appetite for shaking up their nests instead of their wardrobes. Those who used to spend their cash on a new statement coat are instead setting their sights on statement centrepieces. And savvy designers who’ve been stung by the widespread shift to WFH, where sweatpants are the new norm, are only more than happy to satisfy this hunger with new lines of haute homeware.
Fendi, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani planted flags in the space as early as the Seventies, but the pandemic has spurred a broad array of fashion labels to dive into the home category. In the last year alone, historic Japanese brand Kenzo launched K3, its furniture range; Balenciaga debuted an objects line in November with a limited-edition sculpture of the Track.2 sneaker; and even a niche label like Bernadette from Antwerp started marrying its prints with ceramics and table linens. Designer dishes and kitchen gadgets began cropping up all over our digital feeds, from Ann Demeulemeester’s minimalist porcelain made with Belgian homeware label Serax to Dolce & Gabbana’s Sicilian-patterned kitchen appliances with Smeg, which began making refrigerators with the Italian designers five years ago. Like the perfume and beauty frenzy of decades past, homeware has become fashion’s next frontier.
Collaborations have always been an easy way to test a market, allowing designers to tap into new categories through a partner with an established following, especially for smaller brands wary of risking an unfamiliar space or managing couch-sized inventory. And e-commerce platforms with proven reach have made it easier for them to try new products. Off-White, for instance, launched its homeware exclusively on Farfetch, and Matchesfashion—where the Ann Demeulemeester collection was launched—saw a 43 per cent growth in home goods last year. Meanwhile, its rival Net-a-Porter established its lifestyle category in November.
“I feel it’s a great opportunity for brands to test the reception to new categories,” says Libby Page, senior fashion market editor of Net-a-Porter. “We have a long history of pioneering new categories with brands before they go on to make them at a much larger scale.” Unsurprisingly, the brands that are having the easiest time crossing categories are ones with recognisable prints. “Erdem’s prints transfer beautifully onto blankets,” says Page, citing a successful crossover with the British design star. “It was a great opportunity for the brand to use its archive patterns and translate these ‘fashion prints’ into the world of homeware.”
Lucia Tait Tolani, former senior stylist at Moda Operandi turned interior decorator in Hong Kong, has seen her clients investing in quality furnishings since they’ve had time to better experience their spaces. “I see them finally swapping out a stopgap for the perfect piece, whether that be a chair or a light,” she says. “They want their homes to look a lot like the modern way women dress now—splurging on quality pieces, following trusted names, open to special small brands, and throwing in a little something for their spouses.” Tait Tolani cites another fashion-homeware brand, La DoubleJ by Los Angeles-born editor JJ Martin, as a favourite. Martin has become known for replicating playful Italian floral prints from dresses onto decorative charger plates and other chic ceramics.
“That is another area I see lots of friends and clients investing in—tabletop,” says Tait Tolani. “Many people are hosting at home more, and entertaining is becoming the best—if not the only—option to gather. I’m absolutely doing the same; did I need a set of vintage onyx egg cups? No. Am I more keen to organise a breakfast chez moi since acquiring them? Certainly,” she says.
While wares vary greatly, from Christian Dior’s hand-painted plates to Versace’s gold Medusa bookends, items on offer are often smaller decorative trinkets that are easier to incorporate into the home. After all, not everyone has the financial or structural flexibility to splurge on all-new high-ticket items on a whim, so instead they look to touches to refresh their home.
Traditional retailers that have suffered quieter footfall in physical stores have also benefited from this sentiment. “Our customers are buying into products that enhance their home environment, so audio systems and speakers are doing well, while gourmet and dining, which are new to our portfolio, are some things we’re seeing growth in,” says Tracy Kwan, director of lifestyle for Lane Crawford.
In an increasingly digital world, physical stores have had to create worthwhile experiences in order to lure customers out from behind their computers, as Lane Crawford did by launching Loewe’s new perfume and candle collection over the summer in a dynamic installation, complete with a herb garden, that drew swarms of discerning shoppers to go and have a sniff (and pose for Instagram, of course). “It’s been very popular with our customers; it has always been about how a brand expresses its point of view in a holistic way, how its world is being presented to the customer in other forms of products, be it pieces of art, objects or decorative homewares,” she adds.
Indeed, designers have always created profiles for the women they want to dress, from the kind of art she collects to the sofa she likes to sit on. They imagine that the same woman who’d buy the latest ‘It’ bag is the same who would find a stand-out objet d’art to jazz up her Zoom background—and they would be right.
“Designing for the home has much in common with fashion—both clothes and home decoration are ways of projecting yourself,” says Diane von Furstenberg. “The only rule I have is that your home should reflect who you are. The main point is to create a space that you’re comfortable in and that is a true expression of your personality.”
The designer recently made headlines for announcing a collaboration with H&M Home that will launch this year, allowing fans of the feminine patterns of her iconic wrap dresses to find them splattered on hourglass vases at affordable prices.
Don’t be surprised to see them dotting shelves in the upcoming Sex and the City TV revival.