WESLEY MANCINI - Textile Designer
Updated: Apr 20, 2021
Everything you own is because something caught your eye and you had to have it. Your clothing, your couch, your bedspread all had an allure that beckoned you to buy them. The texture of the fabric might’ve given you a feeling of sophistication, or coziness. The color combination and inlaid design on the material may have been the pick-me-up of your day you couldn’t live without. And of course the designer label christening your chosen wares played a factor in what to buy. Although you may feel like you conquered chic by name-dropping the designer of your clothing and housewares, you may be surprised to realize that the majority of what drew you to your purchases—the texture, design, and color of the fabric—are the workings of a designer no one realizes exists, the Fabric Designer. Multiple upon multiple fabric designs are made each year by these virtually anonymous designers that enable the fashion, furniture, and interiors industry to pick and choose from their fabric creations and ultimately form “The Look” consumers have to have. Pioneer fabric/textile designer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Wesley Mancini, sheds light on the artistry, detail and technical expertise that go into the fabrics that create “The Look,” and finally puts a face to an otherwise unknown profession.
There is no one better to be that face for the fabric/textile design community than Wesley Mancini, a veteran in the Interior Textiles industry for almost 30 years, which includes over 20,000 various fabrics produced. And what’s more, he is an All-American rags-to-riches story. Raised in Connecticut by a strong-willed single mother in the 50s and the youngest of three, Wesley was quite the introverted little boy growing up. Though his family had a special link to America’s founding heritage with his mother being of the Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as a descendant of the first Senator of Connecticut, his life was far from privileged. It was unheard of at that time to be an unwed mother and they were forced to live in a trailer park after her family’s estate was sold without any of the funds going to her. Wesley, schooled by nuns in the usual Catholic tradition, found his quiet nature yet charming disposition to be a saving grace as he was finding his footing in the world. He was always good at art, but originally set his sites on education and actually became a high school art teacher. After a short go of it, however, he found it wasn’t quite him and focused on a pursuit in the art world. He developed a penchant for working with fiber art in the interior textile field, having an affinity for the aesthetics of fabric design and weaving involved with upholstery, bedding and the like.
In the midst of obtaining the conventional training for fiber art, Mancini decided to do something nobody was doing at the time (and up and coming fabric designers still don’t think to do,) he went to a technical school for a year to literally learn the technology and structure of weaving necessary for designing fabric, putting his Master's degree on hold. He explains that as he became more immersed in the traditional training of fabric designing, which was purely aesthetic education for the most part, he began to realize there were technical aspects to fabric design and construction he needed to understand in order to create his designs. He then finished up his Master's, and as he comments, “I was able to put [them] together, and was able to create a unique position in the market. I could bring aesthetics to a price point; bring a look to the market with a perceived value.” And with his innovative approach to fabric and textile design, knowing both the technical side and the aesthetics, Wesley Mancini set his future in motion. He launched his career in the early 80s when he took the company Collins & Aikman to its highest level of achievement, garnering him a “Top 100” listing in Metropolitan Home Magazine two years in a row. He also brought the Conso trim company to its height with his trim concepts of tassels, chair ties and other furniture accoutrements, bridging the gap of furniture trim in a wholesale capacity and making it a more public fanfare. From these successes he opened his own textile design firm, Wesley Mancini Limited, in 1987 in Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the key cities for the textile industry.
I can tell Wesley has come full circle with his teaching days by how he goes through the step-by-step process of what really goes into creating one sample piece of fabric, one of a upwards of 150 for a given season. He graciously gave me a very concise overview of the world of fabric production, in a very patient manner mind you. He gently set me straight when I initially thought the interior textiles world was exactly the same as the fashion world--avidly watching Project Runway does not make you an expert as I soon found out. On the interiors side of the textile industry there are only two furniture “seasons,” an April market and an October market, whereas in fashion, there are four seasons of clothing lines literally based on the seasons of the year. Mancini continues saying, “Interiors last for years, and sometimes lifetimes, depending on how affluent you are and if you can redecorate and/or reupholster your furniture.” As I realize this factor, I marvel at how fashion-forward Wesley Mancini must think in terms of color and design trends for his creations. Because a fabric design has to be of a trend, as well as transcend a trend in order for it to be apart of a long-lasting interior design scheme, there must be a kind of sixth sense to style, which Mancini clearly has. The process of creating a sample, which takes 6 months per line, starts with “Team Effort Art” where sketches are reviewed, and transformed into Wesley’s vision. It is then ready for what is called a stylist, who then creates a weave, structure, color-palette for the whole feel of a particular design, which also includes setting a price point for the product. An editor then takes over and oversees the merging of the design concept with the chosen structure schematics, and through computer scanning is able to foresee if a design will work, and what things are to be done by hand. Once a concept is realized it goes off to the mill, which follows the weaving instructions formulated through the editor. The sample created at the mill is then scrutinized for any errors to be rectified, which sends the design concept through the process all over again until a perfected sample is rendered. A colorist is finally brought in to create numerous color variations for the design and its background, meaning anywhere from 70 to 700 options are made, with only maybe 5 to 10 being chosen as actual floor samples to be brought to market for one design created. Yes, that is the arduous process of just one design.
Mancini really opened my eyes to the world of the Textile Industry and just how integral a role fabric/textile designing is to not just the many products we use, but also the huge socio-economic affect with which it contributes. I liken its importance to that of a script used to make a movie. As they say in Hollywood, it all starts with a well-written script, and so it is for the fashion and textile industry in starting with a well-designed fabric. You have no movie without a script, just as you have no fashion trend without a beautifully constructed piece of fabric—which begins with the creativity of the fabric designer. As for Wesley Mancini, he is tireless and always searching for perfection since he considers his work in “constant evolution,” and is very hands-on throughout the process. With a new design concept down “the pipeline” every single day, Wesley is also well aware of how important his trusted staff is to his success. He only hired “the crème de la crème” and knows he couldn’t do what he does without them inherently understanding his aesthetic likes and dislikes, enabling him to move forward with designs that much quicker. And having such an extremely talented staff from start to finish, allows for a quality of design and execution that is unmatched by any imported goods from a foreign country, which Wesley hopes people will at some point realize. He feels the craftsmanship of American made goods is so under rated in this day and age that all he can do to reverse that, turn the tide so to speak, is to keep creating, innovating and designing exquisite fabrics that make people want to buy American.
Since becoming a Fabric/Textile Designer, Wesley Mancini has seen the industry’s heyday in the 80s and 90s, to its present state of decline, and has genuine concern for the future of not only the profession of the Fabric Designer, but also the future of American-made textiles that were a vital part of the South, as well as America in general. His textile company is one of the few that survived the overwhelming shift that began ten or so years ago with George W. Bush’s devastating decision to lift the embargo on the foreign importation of textiles. Wesley admits he went through many years of struggle and financial hardship in those times as the whole Furniture and Textile industry bottomed out with a flood of slave-waged goods imported from the East, which is still going on and terribly difficult to compete with. The companies he once helped bring to great successes early on in his career have all since gone under, however he is steadfast with his commitment to keeping his products made in America. He grappled with having to let go his loyal staff, which was at one point 30, to what it is today at 7, as his company diminished by 60%. Wesley had to make tough decisions, but knew he had to reinvent himself and diversify, which he is successfully doing. Besides creating the volumes of fabrics needed for the wholesale manufacturing side of his industry; doing collections for name furniture and interior companies; as well as creating fabrics featured in celebrity Interior Designer’s collections, he is venturing into rugs, drapery hardware, and other varied textiles discreetly in the works.
In connection to the declining textile industry, there is also the looming issue of the declining profession of Fabric Designer on a whole. As I have high-lighted through out this piece just how important fabric plays in our purchases, one would think a career as a fabric designer would be a popular and exciting one due to it being a part of the high-profiled world of style, whether it be interiors or fashion. But as Mancini points out, very little—if any—recognition goes to a fabric designer. Especially in the realm of interiors and other housewares, it goes without saying how befuddling it is to learn an actor or supermodel “created” a whole line of bedding or furniture, when in fact, the truth of the matter is they didn’t design it, and only picked a fabric to be sewn. And because it is the actor, or celebrity fashion designer that take complete credit for “The Look,” most artists have either a lowered attraction to go into the field or don’t even know the profession exists at all. Apart from the lack of exposure of the profession, Wesley, who is on the board of two museums, as well as the advisory boards to 3 colleges, also has concerns that the fundamentals of weaving that grounded his artistry and contributed to the success he has today aren’t thoroughly taught, and essentially there is a “lack of roots” to fabric designing. With such a computer driven, multi-media approach to design, coalesced with the continued separation of the aesthetic training and technical training that goes into fabric designing, Mancini is worried about the future of the whole craft. And maybe he is on to something on both fronts, since when doing research I couldn’t find any contemporary competitors that do the type of work he does year after year. When I brought that up, Wesley, as if describing a friend that didn’t make it back from war, confirmed that although there were a few well-known fabric designers when he was first starting out, they had since retired or died; and there didn’t seem to be any up-and-comers in the field with the same scope of work as he and his predecessors allowing the profession to keep thriving.
If you get a feeling of sincere compassion from Mancini, it is because he really has it. On almost every topic we discussed there is a reverence for everything that makes up the life he has now. When I learned about his upbringing and his struggles, I probed him about how it was that he became the mogul he is today. He, again modestly, tells me how he just always knew he was a different sort of thinker. The nuns instilled in him, for better or for worse, a guilty need for perfection, and the absence of a father-figure infused this over-achieving quality to create a secure livelihood. There wasn’t a mentor to show him how to become an entrepreneur, but boy, did he figured it out. And what’s fascinating to me is how he is still so levelheaded and quite a humanitarian. Beyond his own business ventures and making a concerted effort to thwart the looming decline of the textile industry, he also plays a large role in the gay and lesbian community, which is another cause dear to him. As much as his youth was filled with difficulties fitting, his college years found the same struggle when he realized he was gay. With remarkable inner-strength, he somehow managed to break free from the emotional angst that comes from being outside of mainstream society, and reached his potential as we all can attest to. He formed the Wesley Mancini Foundation in 2000 to give support to any gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender projects that otherwise would be disregarded. Mancini, who has endured death threats and other hate-related demonstrations, continues to evolve his foundation just as he is doing so with his business. He loves the town of Charlotte, and hopes to create a more loving and safe environment for people of all kinds and is laying the groundwork with his foundation.
It goes without saying how there is a depth of character to Wesley Mancini that is unusual and a very beautiful thing. He has such humility to him, such a soft-spoken manner and tender energy you would never know just how prolific a fabric/textile designer he is and how really prominent his work is in the industry. But when he begins to divulge the craftsmanship involved in fabric designing and the non-stop interworkings required, you will hear a very savvy tone arise, one of a keen sense of style, artistic ability, and most importantly, a grounded perseverance that knows what works, and better yet what sells. There is a reason fashion/textile designer Wesley Mancini is a rising star in his field and there is nothing anonymous about it. Originally published in DStripped Magazine
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