Inside a Fine Mind

Textile Designer Lisa Fine

Amy Adams. Art direction Michelle Aviña. Photography Scogin Mayo. Hair and makeup Kate Yancey.  |  Photos by Texas Beauty Queen Cream by Rachel Lee Hovnanian; photos beneath by Shirin Neshat, Cambodian tray on an ottoman upholstered in Fine’s own Baroda 2 hand-printed natural linen, Detail of 19th-century pagoda sculpture from Nick Brock Antiques, Eighteenth-century French chair covered in leather, Racks of caftans from Irving & Fine, Lisa Fine Textiles’ Aswan hand-printed natural linen, Pandora hand-printed natural linen, Tree of Life coat $900, through, Lisa in the sitting room cocooned in Lisa Fine Textile Malulu Coco fabric. Indian miniature paintings collected over the years. Orange pillows are antique scraps from Bharany in Delhi., Lisa in an Irving & Fine caftan, at home in her living room. Sofa designed by Keith Langham and covered in cotton velvet.
December 11, 2013

Several months of the year, textile designer Lisa Fines settles in a sort of subcontinent tent camp, albeit a Turtle Creek high-rise, with rooms swathed tip to stern in her very chic bohemian fabrics.

To  describe the incandescent Lisa Fine as versatile feels a bit like identifying Meryl Streep as “that actress who’s good with an accent.” Do a little digging, and you’ll discover this Hattiesburg, Mississippi, native has a list of accomplishments so wide-ranging that you are somewhat prepared to see “astronaut” or “cowboy” turn up after a Google search of her name. To wit: Her eponymous collection of interior textiles has been featured in Elle Décor, The World of Interiors, House Beautiful, Vogue Living and more. She co-authored An Appetite for Passion Cookbook, published by Miramax Books in 1995. Her bohemian chic fashion collection Irving & Fine — a collaboration with friend and business partner Carolina Irving — received a significant boost after the duo was tapped to create a capsule collection for Lucky Brand last spring … and there are two more to come. She’s currently a contributing editor at Domino, perhaps less a surprise given that she began her career at Mademoiselle and Mirabella back in the day. Her seemingly effortless-yet-arresting visual sense means her three homes — in Dallas, Paris, and New York — have appeared in national shelter magazines. Oh, yes, and she has managed to travel to India more than 40 times in the last 16 years.

The spark began when she was living in New York, the city where she’s currently based much of the time. “I always loved fabrics, textiles and exotic countries,” she says. “So many of my friends there were British with a connection to India, and they were associated with the design world. I’d go to their homes and they were filled with beautiful things. Long before Peter Dunham was a decorator and opened Hollywood at Home in L.A., I remember going to his apartment. He had a little model of the Taj Mahal in ivory, and all of these beautiful colors, prints I’d never seen before. Allegra and Ashley Hicks were another couple of friends that would always go to India. It was that whole group of English in the New York design world at the time … much of their sensibility was formed in India.

The textile company Lisa Fine Textiles was launched in 2008, and the fabrics are now sold in showrooms across the United States: John Rosselli in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.; Travis and Company in Atlanta; Holland and Sherry in San Francisco; Hollywood at Home in L.A.; and Allan Knight & Associates in Dallas, as well as in showrooms in Australia, London, New Zealand and Hong Kong. 

“I love traveling everywhere, but honestly, whenever I go other places, I always wish I had taken the time to go to India. I never get tired of it. Each region has a different craft, different printing. I can go to Kashmir, then I can go to Bujara, and it will be a totally different experience. It’s an unending source of inspiration.”

It was on one of these trips that Irving & Fine was born. “Carolina and I both love the old Yves Saint Laurent peasant blouses and gypsy look, so we decided to take all the beautiful fabrics, colors and embroideries and make our own contemporary version. We made them for ourselves and returned to New York. Carolina worked at Vogue at the time, and everyone started saying, ‘Where did you get that? Where did you get that?’ So I decided to have a big trunk show, and things were flying out the door. Granted, they were flying out the door because we had only made 50 of each design … Now we’re trying to sell thousands. But fast forward five years and thanks to our licensing agreement with Lucky Brand, we now have access to better factories. It’s getting a little bit easier!

“But, seriously, it all started with a coat and a peasant blouse. Then the tunic. To this day, the coat is still our biggest seller ( I think part of the appeal is that the clothes we design can go from day to night, be dressed up or down, and a lot of the fabrics are seasonless. More and more people are dressing this way, particularly if they travel a lot.”

But, in the end, it’s all about the color, patterns and embellishment. “I’m loving batiks right now, but we started off with ikats in a major way,” she says. “I like tie-dye, but it’s not for everyone. And I love playing two unexpected, vibrant jewel colors against each other  — one in silk and the other in a heavy embroidery. We always add one or two new silhouettes each season, and I see us ultimately creating more dresses. I wear jeans practically every day, although I’ve gotten to where I wear dresses more in New York. And once I get to a certain age, I’m going to wear caftans exclusively. That’s what I really love!”

One gets the impression that Fine’s unabashed pursuit of what she loves is what feeds her boundless energy — coupled, perhaps, with a seed sown in childhood. As she says in a sweet-tea drawl, “When you grow up in Mississippi, going anywhere is an adventure. I’ll never forget, the Maharaja of Jaipur’s son came to Mississippi once, and my father took him to a fish camp. When he came back, he said, ‘People think India’s exotic, but Mississippi is just as exotic.’”

With residences in Dallas, New York and Paris, what’s next? I have no plans, but always fantasize about my own apartment in either The Rajvilas or the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. I don’t think it’s possible!

Something shared by all three homes. Shelves full of design, travel and history books and biographies.

How did you end up in Dallas? I was a boarder at Hockaday and always felt like Dallas was home. And my mother, Jean Fine, moved here.

Always in your carry-on. Cayenne pepper. I use it to season my food but learned while going through security it is also a weapon. It was almost confiscated from me in the Delhi airport. I had never thought about blinding someone with it!

Best way to kill time on an international flight. I catch up reading my old New Yorker magazines … and a lot of daydreaming.

Tips for coping with jet lag. Eat light vegetarian food and drink lots of water and green juices for two days before your international flight and try to stay up until midnight in your arrival city.

Must-read blog. Mark D. Sikes: Chic People, Glamorous Places, Stylish Things.

Comfort food of choice. French fries, cornmeal-fried oysters and the pecan ball at Café Pacific.

Scents that evoke India, Paris and New York. When you get off the plane in India, there is a strange scent of curry, car fumes and both environmental and human waste. It sounds disgusting, but if you love India, you know you’re there the minute you arrive and smell this! In Paris, it’s the smell of fresh bread baking at La Polonaise. In New York, I cheat and go into Frédéric Malle when I want a delicious scent. My favorites are Lipstick Rose, Portrait of a Lady and Cafe Society.

I wish I had thought of … Spanx. What an obvious and brilliant invention!

Favorite way to unwind. I love to stay home on Sundays and read books or watch movies. I don’t always have the chance. I guess on a day-to-day schedule, exercise in the morning and a good martini at night.

Fashion designer. I absolutely adore Yves Saint Laurent. I love his unexpected mix of color, his reinterpretation of Russian, Indian, African style. He is responsible for bringing the gypsy and folkloric look to couture.

Six-word biography: Mississippi wanderlust who loves design, adventure.