BY LAURA GOLDSTEIN
Like a time traveler flying back and forth straddling ancient cultures visionary German carpet designer, Jan Kath has captured the best of all worlds as a self-proclaimed “couturier for floors.”
Playing with long established hand-knotted techniques with reverence to bygone motifs, he skews rules of composition and color to create contemporary carpets that are so striking you might prefer to hang them on a wall. Some recall the worn patina of an 18th century Italian wallpaper; others resemble a spectacular distant galaxy of exploding nebulas, a dilapidated Oriental rug or a neon streetscape in Tokyo. All are vibrant works of decorative art that embellish the floors of fashion houses Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and Ferragamo worldwide; in private homes of royalty and former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, rocker, Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers, actor Bruce Willis and international art museums.
Raised in the industrial Ruhr area of Northern Germany as the third generation in a family of antique carpet dealers, Kath travelled as a boy with his father to visit manufacturers in Iran and Nepal. But he never intended to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I ran away at 20 to India to live the life of a hippy, organizing raves in Goa,” laughs the charming Kath, in Vancouver to launch his newest showroom and carpet collection, Angles based on his interpretation of the art and sculpture of 20th Century Cubists. “I ended up in Kathmandu and had run out of money. By coincidence, I met one of my father’s suppliers who complained that he needed someone to run quality control at his factory, and jumped at the opportunity. Three years later he retired and I bought the factory.”
“It was always important for me to follow my inner voice,” confides Kath, looking boyishly younger than his 42 years. “I wasn’t classically trained in design. I don’t mean to sound big-headed but I trust my intuition completely. In 1999 I spent my last bit of money on a catalogue and my business just exploded – up 15-20% every year!”
Loomed in small village homes in Agra, India the Erased Heritage Collection is an homage to the traditional patterns from hundreds of small villages in the East that make Oriental carpets. “We’ve created an antique finishing technique that resembles rugs lying in an estate for years. Parts of the carpet are deliberately designed to appear obliterated, soaked with acid and corroded, says Kath. “ These ‘errors’ are computer programmed by our senior designer, Dimo Feldmann, and his team at the flagship showroom in Bochum, Germany. Pixel printouts showing colors and number of stitches are sent electronically to be hand-woven in our workshops,” Kath explains.
However, in the village homes in Agra, directions for weaving are still traditionally sung aloud by the looming master and the weavers, sitting side by side, repeat instructions in a chant to keep the pace. It’s an extremely labor intensive process, with 100 to 300 knots per square inch taking up to three months to complete a single 8X10 carpet. Prices range from $150. per square-foot to $275. for bespoke
rugs with the client’s name and date embroidered on the back so the carpet can be passed down for generations.
Constantly inspired to create new styles and weaving innovations to stay on top of a very competitive industry, Kath was presented with the International Domotex Award in 2014 (the most prestigious in the carpet design industry,) for his flat weave Haik Collection woven in Morocco. He also created a technique for hand tufting that has revolutionized the carpet industry.
“Only produced in our Thailand workshop, instead of hand- knotting, silk , velour or wool threads are hand-shot from a tufting gun onto a prepared canvas. It’s so much faster without sacrificing quality and results in a quicker delivery to clients,” explains Kath. “For Prince Albert II of Monaco’s wedding in 2011, they walked down the aisle on a 103-meter-long red carpet I designed, weighing 1.3 tons, with a fine white silk border. Produced in just two months, if it had been hand-woven it would have taken three years! “
With his headquarters in a renovated factory loft in Bochum, five in other cities throughout the country, plus London, Moscow, Zurich, Vienna, New York and the newest in Vancouver and Miami, Kath is on a mission to globalize his brand.
Finlay and Kath Inc., opened this month and is Kath’s first showroom in Canada. Partnering with Vancouverite, Jenni Finlay, who has worked in the industry for over 20 years, it’s located in Vancouver’s Railtown design district, with future plans for others in Calgary and Toronto. Kath describes the soaring 6,500 square-ft. space, with 16-foot ceilings overlooking the Port of Vancouver, as “a cathedral of rugs.”
With thousands from which to choose, which collection does Kath prefer to adorn his minimalist loft over his Bochum showroom? “I have three antique Oriental carpets from my father’s original business,” he grins. “I can look at my own all day long in the showrooms.”