In the first of Decorex’s new ‘A Material World’ series, which tells the tale of the exquisite materials behind exhibitors’ collections, we caught up with the Riviere Rugs team at the Chelsea-based showroom.
Known for its meticulously handcrafted rugs that capture the essence of understated elegance and timeless glamour, the story of Riviere begins high in the foothills of the Himalayas.
A temperate climate and elevation ranging from 3,900 to 7,500ft bestow unique properties upon the wool of the sheep residing in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley. Having evolved to survive in the extreme cold, it contains particularly high levels of lanolin, an oil that coats each strand to insulate and protect the animal and also happens to provide the finest - and most practical - strain of the material.
“A high lanolin content means the wool is naturally stain resistant and doesn’t need any kind of additional finish or coating,” explains Monique Stamp, Riviere’s managing director. “This is perfect for us because we like to keep our rugs as natural as possible.”
Using only this finest-grade Tibetan wool and pure Chinese silk, each piece is then entirely hand-crafted at one of Riviere’s artisanal workshops in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley or Varanasi and Jaipur in India. This blend of the two materials creates truly sumptuous finished pieces; with wool’s tonal flatness countered by flecks of shine that bounce off the silk threads as light flows into the room.
Only once a piece is commissioned, either fully bespoke to a client’s specific requirements or as part of Riviere’s extensive collection, does the material embark upon its journey. “Our team in Nepal will begin by creating a life-sized graph, based on a smaller visual and graph by our designer in London,” says Monique. “Each square of this sketched mapping system represents a coordinate, which the weavers then follow.”
After hand-shearing and hand-carding - a process that involves teasing out long fibres into smooth threads - to preserve the precious lanolin, the dye master’s work begins. Only the highest quality Swiss analine dyes are used as they’re the most photo-stable, and it’s the dye master’s job to meticulously colour match the volume of pigment based on the weight of the yarn to ensure there are no inconsistencies.
Once the dying process is complete and the yarns have had chance to dry naturally, the loom is set for the intricate process of hand-knotting. With a team of between two and four people working on a piece, it takes one week for one person to knot 30cm of rug.
“Some designs contain 18 to 19 different colours, which means the weavers have to keep changing the yarn colour every two to three knots,” explains showroom assistant Eleanor Dykes. “The general count for a Riviere rug is 100 knots per square inch, and while 30cm in one week may not sound like much, the weavers are highly skilled and the speed they work at is profound.”
Shearing, washing, drying and trimming follow, each carried out naturally and by hand, before the final flourish of binding. It’s a painstakingly detailed process, taking between 12 to 18 weeks from concept through to finished creation, and up to six months for a completely bespoke rug. But in an increasingly mass-produced world, these one-of-a-kind pieces of highly skilled artisan tradition become heirlooms to bequeath through generations, and time somewhat fades into irrelevance.
“It’s important to educate our clients on the intricate craft behind each piece,” says Monique. “It then means so much more to them because they understand why their commission takes the time it does.”
“We don’t have anything standard,” adds Monica Robustellini, PR and showroom manager at Riviere. “We have 80 to 90 stock rugs, but whenever we reorder we tend to tweak the colour or design slightly, so none are ever truly the same.”
Riviere works exclusively with interior designers and architects on residential and hospitality projects, and its exquisite pieces can be found in townhouses, superyachts and royal palaces worldwide.
The new collections - Madhu, Satori, Latika, Allegra and Royal Pavillion - will debut from 16-19 September at Decorex 2018.