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A Moment With Iris Wang


Brentano Founder and Design Director shares her thoughts on art, life and her path of textile creation.

Its been over 25 years since Design Director Iris Wang and her husband, CEO E-Kwan Chen founded Brentano out of their own garage back in 1990. Now recognized across the country and internationally, Iris’s journey to a career in textiles was a winding road of unexpected trails and successes. Now preparing for the upcoming Clearwater Collection launching on August 1st, Iris took a moment to sit down and muse on her past both in design and life that lead her to this day.

Clearwater has inspirational roots with nature.  When or where did your reverence for the natural world start?

It’s a natural feeling—I’ve always had it. I grew up in a very small city, nothing like you would think today. No overly large buildings with a nearby river and access to nature all around.  I never had any toys during childhood, so I played outside, all day, until my mother would call for me at sundown. Taiwan is a very beautiful, green country, so It was easy to grow up with inspiration from the great outdoors.

Do you have a favorite place in the world not touched by civilization? A forest or mountain, for example?

To be honest, instead of places far away from civilization, I think of places that work in harmony with it. I would say Kyoto, Venice and Vancouver but if I have to pick a favorite, it would be Kyoto. It’s a city completely entwined with its water. They have streams designed to go into every house. It’s a very inspiring mix of architecture and respect for the land.

Before you were a textile designer you were an artist.  How did you get into the world of fabrics?

I became an artist to do some soul-searching. In my youth I practiced musical and artistic disciplines but when it came time to decide what to finally pursue I concluded painting was the best because it was the most expressive and reflective type of discipline. Later I would come to the U.S. for grad school and grew to be doubtful in the political attitude of the gallery system. This was very discouraging, and I wasn’t sure how to move forward.

…It was a partner I gained in the interior design industry that sparked my interest. I was inspired to make an honest business from my partner who was soon heading towards retirement. I continued the trade with fabrics after he stopped.  Fabrics was a natural fit from fine arts because it was a visual, 2D medium. It works well with my natural skill set in art. I would say it’s a multi-faceted medium, I’ve been able to express my broad interests into textile work. Such as my love for music which appeared as early as our Rhythm Collection. Clearwater and my pursuit of water consciousness is similar in this regard.

Do you have a preferred medium to work with?

Oil painting. But for fabric design specifically, I use gouache*.
*= opaque watercolor

When you create art is it always with the idea to make a fabric, or do you paint organically and later decide to translate them into fabric?

I paint for the purpose of creating fabrics in mind. I would love to do more personal work, but I simply don’t have the time. There’s always another collection ahead.

Lutra has been a long personal project of yours. What pushed you to create an outdoor velvet?

I see the need for it in the industry. Not only for outdoor purposes, but for indoor use too– people like how it can resist water but keep its velvet hand. And I personally love velvet.

Was there ever a fabric you didn’t expect to make/came out differently than you expected?

Actually, Equinox. The design looked really good on paper, and it came out exactly like it looked. I always thought it would be difficult to render, but it translated beautifully. I feel the same way for Fontaine in Clearwater. You always expect revisions, it’s part of the process. But these two coming out perfectly on the first trial was very impressive.

What do you aim to say with Clearwater collection as a whole?

I would like people to hear the name and have a sense of beautiful, clean images even before seeing the fabrics.  And to inspire conservation of water and nature, to go out more, see the sun everyday.  We cannot live without water, you know? Every time I touch water, I’m thankful for it. We should cherish what we have, our clean water and air. Not everyone has that.