Photos: Nic Oswald
(extract) Mr Butcher, how would you describe the way you work at Mark Alexander?
Due to my history in interior design, I consider the connection to architecture to be very important. Rather than developing fashion themes, we develop all fabrics with an eye to their subsequent application. If, for instance, we want to use silk, we think of a kind of art deco-defined Park Avenue setting and the classic furniture of the 1930s. If we use African influences, we would not call that “Safari” but talk of Picasso and the modernists of the early 1920s and the way they were influenced by tribal art. To get that across, we do not simply create fabrics but our own styling, setting the products in the context we think fit. We insist on an intellectual red thread running through all of the designs and photo shoots. That is a very elaborate process, which is why we only launch new product once a year, though we do make up for that by bringing out seven to eight collections.
And how is the actual design process?
Textile design always has two origins, the printing and the weaving process. We use both of these points of departure, always commencing with the background of our designers. We sometimes begin with very simple handicraft work and look at the weaves, the yarns, and the textures. We paint, draw, or make our own printing materials out of wood. Then we take that to the producer and develop the ideas jointly from there
How would you describe the style that comes out of all this?
Reduction is our goal. Rather than decorating, we seek to whittle down the ornamental. One might term it a Japanese aesthetic. But the linearity of art deco or the clear-cut Danish design of the 1950s are our points of reference, leading to understatement on the one hand and a certain eclecticism on the other. I am used to blending cultures and epochs, there being a strong craft element in all of this. That is our luxury formula. Plus the fact that we can afford to always remain within this framework, introducing just a few new nuances each year.
And how did this style come about?
I am passionate about art history and worked alongside interior designers in the USA for many years. I advised designers when selecting antique furniture to match a specific type of architecture. If, for example, they wanted to furnish a house in an English country house style, they were advised not to choose furniture that was all from the same era. As a rule, it is the case that such a style is created by a collection of furniture that a family acquires over the course of time and then passes on in the form of heirlooms. Historically, therefore, the style consists of several layers. My job was to determine which furniture from the eighteenth century could easily be set alongside stuff from the nineteenth. For around 10 to 15 years, by the way, this mix has been moving ever more forward into the twentieth century. Today, we are talking Bauhaus, the Wiener Werkstätte, and Danish modernism. It is this awareness that remains the starting point for all my work. We put a whole lot of time into research.