Lorraine Tanyu Weinstein, Textile/Surface Design ’04, updates tradition at Lee Jofa

Handwork meets technology in the creations of Lorraine Weinstein ’04. As senior woven stylist for Lee Jofa, a leading luxury home furnishings company founded in 1823, Weinstein translates the work of fine artists, designers, and tastemakers into wallpapers, upholstery, drapery, and carpeting. These collaborations are “very involved, a lot of sending things back and forth,” she says. The bulk of the design work is done digitally, but “certain things you can’t really do well in CAD, so I’ll take out a paintbrush and hand paint something to send to someone.”
But she isn’t always the one doing the painting. When working with artist Hunt Slonem on a collection for Groundworks, Lee Jofa’s contemporary brand, Weinstein visited his studio to select paintings to anchor the line. She then scoured the company archive for examples of how the two-dimensional artworks could be translated into textiles and wallpapers. “Slonem is also a fabric junkie. When we showed him different fabric constructions from our collection, he was really gung-ho about it!”

Weinstein in her New York office. She started at Lee Jofa as an FIT student, when Adjunct Associate Professor Rena Sussman Silverman recommended her for an internship. When she graduated, Weinstein recalls, there was no job available, but the owner reviewed her portfolio. “She said, ‘You belong at Lee Jofa.’ And they created a position: junior design assistant.”

Although she finds inspiration everywhere from Instagram to Burning Man, Weinstein especially loves looking back to the rich history of Lee Jofa. In Bethpage, NY, parent company Kravet keeps an extensive archive of textile history. “You can get inspired by textiles of the Old World and think of how to do them in a new way.” For a project with Atlanta-based interior designer Suzanne Kasler, Weinstein started with the idea of very traditional woven damask drapery. In the end, a heavy linen fabric was digitally printed and then embroidered to create patterned sections. The resulting fabric could be cut into panels or smaller pieces, leaving it up to the decorator to decide how to use it.

Working with the firm’s vice president/creative director and a small team of designers and interns (including a current FIT student), Weinstein develops the firm’s 60 product lines, usually 12 at a time, 18 months to two years ahead of launch. Every Lee Jofa order is made to order, and turnaround times can be an issue. “A normal lead time for a hand block–printed textile would be three to six months,” she says. “But now designers want everything faster.” A few years ago, traveling with a supplier in North Carolina, she visited a mill that could keep looms at the ready for high-end production. Inspired, she worked with the mill to develop a line of fabrics with a guaranteed delivery of seven to ten days. The production program, called Lee Jofa Express, now offers 170 distinct fabrics and will continue to expand.

For Lee Jofa’s second collaboration with Aerin Lauder, spring 2016, Weinstein wanted to evolve the collection from pretty and romantic to something richer and more sophisticated while maintaining Lauder’s connection to the decorating style of her grandmother, cosmetics mogul Estée Lauder.

Though well versed in contemporary technology, Weinstein still finds herself gravitating to the luxurious and labor-intensive textiles from early modern Europe. “No one ever does brocatelle anymore,” she muses, referring to the densely woven silk jacquards developed during the Italian Renaissance to imitate tooled leather. “It is just too cost-prohibitive. But maybe if I used an alternative fiber like bamboo…” she continues, clearly thinking of more ways to update Old World elegance for today. – Julianna Rose Dow ’08

Featured Photo: When working with Hunt Slonem for his spring 2015 Groundworks collection, Weinstein was inspired by a wall in his studio hung with what looked like “thousands of mini bunny paintings,” Weinstein designed a wallpaper with the trompe l’oeil effect of the framed artworks hanging on a black wall.