As this summer was getting into full swing, we were invited to visit with the recently named Design Director of Pollack, Rachel Doriss, in Pollack's Varick Street design studio in New York. Through her extensive knowledge, passion for the industry and her belief in the materials driving the development process, Rachel embodied why Pollack fabrics are so unique in the market. We knew at once that we had to share her enthusiasm here among our stable of Creative Types.
How and when did you begin your career at Pollack?
I started my career at Pollack in 2000. I had been living in NY for a year designing silk scarves for Echo. Mark Pollack was given my name as a potential candidate for a designer in the Pollack Studio and he called me at work. I almost fell down when I realized the opportunity in front of me. I had been pursuing textiles for fashion and had preconceived ideas about textiles for home furnishings. After seeing the Pollack fabrics and the creative process of the design studio, I realized that I could be so much more creative at Pollack and realize my original ideas.
What excites you the most about your current role?
I still get a thrill out of seeing an original idea translated into giant bolts of woven fabric. Being able to collaborate with the finest weaving mills in the world is an amazing opportunity as well.
Ideas in development (left) are eventually stored, sampled, cut and distributed from the on-site warehouse (right).
When we met, you expressed a real passion for textiles. When and how did that begin?
My grandmother had a passion for cloth in all three dimensions. She taught me to sew, knit, crochet, weave and bead weave. When I would visit her growing up, we would work on projects together- mostly sewing projects. We would go down to the local fabric store, pick out a pattern and fabric and she would help me sew new outfits. I was never that satisfied with the fabric options so I would dream up new pattern ideas. My first official textile design project (in 3rd grade) was splatter painting some curtains that she sewed for me out of an old sheet. I made most of my own clothes in high school and explored batik and dyeing. It was a natural progression to study textile design in college. Most recently, I would send my grandmother Pollack samples and she made bags and pillows out of them, so we came full circle in our collaboration!
What is a typical work day for you?
I work very closely with the other designers in the studio. We discuss (in detail) patterns, colors, yarn choices, weave structures for all of the fabric projects in work. Some days I will be drawing a repeat or specifying yarn colors (which can take one full day), and some days I am emailing our weaving mills detailed instructions for how to weave a fabric and which yarns to use. We often meet with our European Suppliers who travel to NY to show us the latest yarns and constructions they are weaving with. Textile design can become highly detailed and we pride ourselves on our attention to detail in all of our fabrics.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
That is a question that we are often asked and it is the hardest to answer. We gather inspiration from everywhere. We don’t specifically create collections that have one specific inspiration. We are gathering ideas and inspiration just from keeping our eyes open and looking around us. There is inspiration from Fine Arts, Interiors, nature, textile books, yarn textures, the way the light filters through a window. Being in New York there is a constant source of inspiration that we find just by walking around. Many times the pattern design is secondary. We might work for months getting the right yarn and weave construction before we even start thinking about the pattern.
What sets Pollack apart from its competitors and what is your favorite Pollack design?
We are true textile designers. It is not just about pattern. We are engineering the fabric from the ground up and using the machinery to the best of its ability. Our deep knowledge of fibers, yarns, woven construction, technique and our attention to detail (or you could call it our obsessive nature) sets us apart. Wow, it is hard to choose my favorite Pollack design, but if I had to choose a handful: Ring-o, Stepping Stone, Square Root, Hmong Plush, Glimmer, Squirt Sheer, Linearity.
An array of Glimmer and Stepping Stones. Top (L to R): Glimmer Rose Gold, Stepping Stones Sapphire and Amethyst, Glimmer Tinsel. Bottom (L to R): Stepping Stones Quartz, Glimmer Ice, Stepping Stones Jade.
Can you share a few of the fabric development stories?
Glimmer: I love the beautiful texture of birch bark. I had wanted to simulate this texture for a long time but hadn’t figured out quite the right woven quality to capture it in. We found this special wide lurex yarn at a mill in Switzerland. We realized that this yarn could be the perfect answer to create the horizontal dash texture of birch bark. In this fabric, we run the Lurex in a pocket weave construction allowing it to shift within the pockets. This shifting lets the light through which creates the same slash texture in the bark.
Stepping Stone: For this fabric we collaborated with Alpha Workshops, a New York based decorative art studio that trains and employs people living with HIV and AIDS. We worked from one of their artist’s loose sketches and started developing it in a multicolored embroidery. We quickly realized that this was a monster color challenge. There are seven different embroidery thread colors that work together. We envisioned the colors being very close in color and value so that you can really appreciate the shift of stitch direction within each motif. It was also a way of playing down the graphic. We were trying for a subtle tonal effect. Working from tiny reelings of embroidery thread and visualizing the end result in fabric form was quite challenging during the development but in the end produced beautiful results.
A few more of Rachel's favorite Pollack fabrics. Top (L to R): Square Root Cherry Cola, Squirt Sheer Cashew, Linearity Painted Desert. Bottom (L to R): Hmong Plush Caramel, Ring-O Fruit Loops, Square Root Driftwood.
If not a designer, what other profession would you have considered?
Oddly, I would have gone into Physical Therapy or Chiropractic- some sort of natural healthcare. My father is a third generation Chiropractor, so that healing power is in my blood. I would probably be knitting in between patients though ;)
What your best advice for an up & coming designer?
I think for any person, it is important to really think about what you are truly interested in.
What would you enjoy doing even if you were not being paid?
I think that is the place to start rather than being obsessed with what kind of jobs are out there. Being happy in your chosen profession is incredibly important. If you follow your interests, hopefully doors and opportunities will present themselves. When I decided to study textile design, I had no awareness of the industry or possible jobs; I just knew that I loved fabric.
The beginnings of a future Pollack fabric.
How would you describe your personal style?
Urban eclectic. My wardrobe has been building since I was in high school. I have many vintage pieces that I combine with contemporary accents. I have an embroidered jean jacket that I got at a thrift shop when I was 15. I still get compliments on the street when I wear it. I also have a lot of cool jewelry. I just have to watch myself so that I don’t pack on too many accessories in one outfit! I also like to be comfortable and able to walk miles, so I really consider that in my shoes.
What’s one thing you will always splurge on?
A good pair of shoes that are sassy but comfortable, skin care, and good healthy food.
What is your most prized possession? Well, I am still a fan of that jean jacket! I also have some great rhinestone jewelry that I love and the most beautiful vintage quilt that was given to my grandparents as a wedding present in the 30’s.
What are your favorite books or resources on art, style and design?
I love looking at interior design trade magazines, Vogue and W, and several blogs.
What's been playing on your iPod lately?
My husband is a record producer, so I mostly just listen to what he brings home. Lately I have been loving The Parkington Sisters, John Vanderslice and the Brazilian musician Jorge Ben.
We hope you've enjoyed this little sliver of Rachel's life. We're enormously thankful to you, Rachel, for giving us a glimpse into the world of true artists in the textile industry.