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Koltes revs for 30th anniversary as industry designer

New York - As industry legend Nancy Koltes approaches her third decade in the home textiles business, the designer is getting ready to launch a new collection of color-centric linens that represents a new avenue for her signature line.

"This is a big anniversary for me. I have managed to survive 30 years in this very volatile business," she told HTT. "And for this anniversary, I would like to present a reinvention of classic patterns in my line. I still have some classics that are part of the collection and I am looking to continue with them and regenerated and reintroduce them."

Koltes, who is participating in the summer 2013 New York Home Textiles Market from August 17-21, is gearing up for the unveiling of the new offerings from the New York City showroom of her company - Studio Domus - at 230 Fifth Avenue in suite 1906.

Koltes' career in textiles got started in 1984.

"I came out of the design side," she said. "I had a textile collection - all Italian, wide width, and back then most designers didn't know what to do with wide width. So I made many custom bed linens."

She recalled that all-natural cotton linens "were unheard of in those days. People were not using them at all."

Koltes tried to convince people to buy and use all-natural cotton sheeting, "but it was not easy," she recalled. "Particularly, ladies in New York City were concerned about using them. They didn't know how to care for them and didn't know how to train their housekeepers to wash and iron them."

As she observed, "the industry has since then changed enormously."

It was not much later, in 1988, when Neiman Marcus decided to launch a fine linens book that featured collections of luxury bedding, cotton bedding and other upscale linens.

"A few players were involved in here in New York and elsewhere - just a few of us purveyors of fine linens and sheeting," Koltes said. "But most importantly, what [Neiman Marcus'] linens book did was introduce fine Italian linens to the U.S. market, and ultimately changed the whole industry. It launched the category in the marketplace."

At the time, Koltes was focused mainly on custom work. For the Neiman Marcus book, she offered several collections - including her Eleanor's Ribbon, which she still carries - and added accessories to the mix like top of bed components and decorative pillows.

With that, "my whole manufacturing side of the business was launched."

But the story is not that simple.

Koltes created several photo samples for the Neiman Marcus book and was waiting for the fabric to arrive at the Milan-based facility with which she had a partnership to get to work on the products.

"But it was August, and basically everything shut down in Italy for the month," Koltes said. "So at the end of July I got a call that they could not get the color for border because they were closing in two days [for summer vacation]. So I had them send me the fabric and I'll get it done. I got an extension from Neiman's, set up a workshop in my [New York City] loft, gathered people who could do cutting and sewing, and we got to work."

She noted that she needed to have the border specially dyed, which somewhat complicated matters.

"In those days, New York had a much more extensive fashion industry, which extended all the way to where I was, in the Flatiron district. I got the color. And that is how I started my domestic work room," she said. "But I will say, it was a good thing I knew how to cut and sew. My grandmother was a wonderful seamstress and taught me, and I in turn was able to teach my staff to make the product. It was a happy ending to what could have been a disaster."

Another feather in the cap for the fine linens category came in the early 1990s when ABC Carpet and Home launched a home store, and included Koltes' wares in the merchandise mix.

"We had a nice association for a number of years," she said. "The business flourished, and fine linens became a category that was well known. Cotton sheeting became a strong category. And the rest, as they say, is history."

It was also around that time that Koltes served for almost a decade as the president of then-Scandia Down (today known as Scandia Home).

"I was running the business as well as manufacturing linens for the Scandia store," she said. "We were interested in making sure the store carried a larger breadth of products, and not so specifically oriented to just one category, being down."

Retailer became another title on Koltes' resume in 1993, while with Scandia, when she bought two of the company's California-based units amid Scandia's bankruptcy. They were located in Costa Mesa and Beverly Hills.

Eventually, her chain grew into seven stores around the country.

But a few years ago, when the recession started, Koltes decided to restructure her company to adapt to the many shifts in the home textiles industry.

In May 2009, she formed Studio Domus by partnering with Ridvan Tatargil - principal of Eastern Accents.

Studio Domus' president and creative director is Koltes, and she works from here at the company's showroom. Tatargil serves as managing partner/director of operations. All of her linens still originate in Italy, but cut-and-sew production is done from Studio Domus' Chicago-based headquarters.

Since forming the new venture, Koltes has turned her focus, via Studio Domus, on designing, manufacturing and wholesaling her lines to specialty retailers - a segment of the industry that she noted is experiencing notable sales increases post recession, thanks to some improvements in the economy paired with customers' new perspectives and attitudes about fine linens.

"The world has changed and today we have a new generation that understands this category better than their predecessors," she observed. "Fine linens and all of the different products that make up the category have emerged as a category that is accepted and embraced."

With that in mind, customers' tastes have also become more sophisticated, and in response, Koltes is looking to diversify her offerings in tandem with her 30th anniversary with a keener eye on color.

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