Masters & Muses

Lisa Fine

Interview by Camilla Frances
Images from Miguel Flores-Vianna, Brett Wood and Mark Luscombe-Whyte
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Left: Lisa, photographed by Brett Wood. Right: Belmond Orient Express; Mark Luscombe-Whyte for Cabana Issue 17.

Mississippi-born textile designer Lisa Fine lives between New York and Dallas in homes gloriously adorned with many of her own patterned fabrics and wallpapers. Drawing inspiration from her travels in India and the Middle East, Lisa established her eponymous fabric line in 2007 and has been inspiring customers and clients ever since. Her book, Near and Far: Interiors I Love, was published in 2019 by Vendome Press. Here, Lisa shares with Cabana her greatest challenges, unorthodox childhood, dream dinner guests and enduring love of India.
 
The most memorable trip I’ve ever taken:
This would have to be Syria and Jordan, which I traveled to with the World Monuments Fund in 2002. We drove from Jordan's capital, Amman, and saw the ancient city of Petra, as well as Syria's Krak des Chevaliers and Palmyra, and the Souk and Citadel in Aleppo. Some of the most memorable places were the restored houses and palaces in the historical old city of Damascus. They were absolutely breathtaking.
 
The best party I’ve ever been to:
The most spectacular was my friend George Farias’ three-day birthday celebration. On the first night, designer Matteo Corvino created a magical wonderland at Palazzo Pisani Moretta in Venice: candlelight, Venetian glass, and all guests were asked to create head dresses; I made a Turkish turban out of a silk Indian sari with large towering plume. The next day we boarded the Orient Express for Paris. It was surreal and every bit as glamorous as I'd anticipated. On our last night in Paris, Nicolas and Alexis Kugel hosted dinner at Galerie Kugel. Each table had a rare gilt clock and masses of pink and red flowers on a scarlet table cloth. It was truly beautiful, very French. Every night was a fantasy, and most touching was the generosity of George and friends from all over the world.

 

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Left: A dinner at Galerie Kugel in Paris. Right: A gilt clock centrepiece. Images: Miguel Flores-Vianna.

A moment that defined or changed my career:
On my first trip to India, I knew within 48 hours that I wanted to work with textiles. I went to Jaisalmer, Delhi and all through Rajasthan on my first trip 25 years ago, and went back to India two to three times a year for the next 20 years. I spent most of my time between Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai but traveled to new cities and villages each trip as every region specializes in their own type of dying, printing or embroidery. I particularly loved Ahmedabad in Gujarat where I went to The Calico Textile Museum, Lucknow, where Chikan embroidery originated, and Calcutta where surrounding villages specialize in unique dying and printing techniques. No matter how often or how much time I spent in India there was always a new discovery in the world of textiles.
 
The greatest challenge I’ve overcome:
Staying home, alone. I now LOVE staying home, but it’s my natural inclination to always want to go out and surround myself with people. Being comfortable alone was something I learned when I first moved to Paris, although the pandemic has refined it.
 
I would describe my childhood as:
Happy, yet a mix of traditional and unorthodox. I grew up in Mississippi in the 1960s where racism was raging. My parents entertained many journalists and civil rights leaders, which was scandalous for the time and place.

 

Image from oltrepò pavese

Lisa's home in New York, photographed by Miguel Flores-Vianna.

My favorite flea market or antiques fair:
I love London's Olympia for many reasons; June in London may be the first, but I also love the variety of dealers and the tradition. The combination of textiles from Turkey and India with English porcelain and Delft, all such high quality, is something you don’t see in many fairs. I have a small collection of architectural drawings and paintings and never miss visiting Charles Plante or Adrian Sasson. I just wander around and always discover new dealers.
 
I feel most confident when wearing:
An Yves Saint Laurent black tuxedo that I have had for decades.
 
My signature scent:
To wear, Frederic Malle - Lipstick, and to smell, coffee brewing and bacon frying in the morning.
 
My all-time favourite fabric:
That’s difficult as it’s usually the one I’m working on. At the moment, it's Mirabel (background image).
 
Ideal interiors in three words:
Timeless, comfortable, imperfect.
 
Distasteful interiors in three words:
Fake, pretentious, contrived.

 

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Fabrics from Lisa's textiles collection, including Calista and Madras (right) and Mogambo (left).

The person I call for good advice:
My roommate from boarding school, CC Armstrong. She has listened to me almost daily since I was 15. I wish I had listened to her more.
 
The person I call for a good time:
My friend Alejandra Cicognani, we have never had a bad time!
 
My dream dinner party companion:
The historian and author, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who I met at a dinner in New York many years ago. He was rude and inappropriate initially, but by the end of dinner, I was so charmed by his quick wit that we have remained great friends for decades.

 

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Lisa's home in Dallas, Texas, photographed by Miguel Flores-Vianna.

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Lisa's bedroom in New York with walls covered in her Mughal fabric; Miguel Flores-Vianna.

My Go-To recipe:
Always curry, usually chicken or crab. I love Rick Stein’s coconut curry and curries from The Bangala House in Chettinad restaurant. The key to all curries is to roast your spices in an iron skillet and then crush them with a mortar and pestle before marinating (chicken or lamb) for a day. Before India my go-to recipe was shrimp and crab gumbo or Beef Bourguignon. I also love cooking stews and dishes with many layers of spices.
 
An exhibition or artwork that took my breath away:
The Islamic Museum in Cairo, Egypt really took my breath away. Also, a house in Cairo (pictured below); breathless describes how I felt seeing its rooms: Islamic tiles with animals and geometric patterns; carved wooden JALI screens; mother of Pearl inlay.
 
A new artist or designer whose work excites me:
[British-Italian ceramic sculptor] Tancredi di Carcaci.

 

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Left: Lisa (centre) pictured during one of her many trips to India. Right: Bayt Al-Suhaymi, Cairo, Egypt. 

Just one more thing...

 
One master: Historical references
One muse: Lee Radziwill
One city: Istanbul
One artwork: John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo
One book: The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
One museum: National Portrait Gallery, London
One shop: I’m embarrassed to say I now shop so much online
One song: Louis Armstrong, What A Wonderful World or Dean Martin, That’s Amore
One color: Pink
One flower: Magnolia
One word to describe your style: Evolving
One word to describe Cabana: THE BEST, inspiring, beautiful and worldly

 

 

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