Entrepreneur Margot Elena carefully turns the page of an oversized portfolio book, yellowed and torn at the edges like aged parchment, stained by the touch of many hands over the years. It—and each page that follows—reveals swatches of fanciful, intricate prints: delicate roses and feathery greens here, muted stripes and vibrant splashes of lilac there. Smudged, hand-written script is scrawled across the margins—design notes from artists of a bygone era. The book—more of an artifact, really—is a minuscule piece of a prestigious historical design archive recently acquired by Elena, whose eponymous Englewood-based company makes bath, body, and home products (think: TokyoMilk and Lollia) known as much for their whimsically beautiful packaging as for their seductive fragrances.
Purchased from textile collector Dimitrios Apostolou, who has housed the collection in New York City since 1969, the archive comprises thousands of antique textiles, original mill paintings, block prints, and wallpaper swatches and panels sourced primarily from centuries-old European collections—plus Marie Antoinette’s hand-embroidered headboard and a library of Coco Chanel’s tweeds through 1950.
For decades, the archive has served as inspiration to modern designers in need of French Provincial, vintage rose, or dreamy ocean motifs for their fabrics, wallpapers, or apparel. In fact, many of today’s prints are re-interpretations of original designs in archives like this, very few of which exist in the world. “We’re extraordinarily privileged to have one of the biggest in the country,” Elena says. “There isn’t a major designer anywhere who hasn’t accessed this archive at one point.” Elena too has drawn upon the collection for her products’ branding and packaging. When she heard Apostolou wanted to sell the archive, she worried that a buyer would divvy it up on Ebay; thus, the collection’s migration across the country.
The goal, Elena says, is to make the archive—previously somewhat of a secret resource—more accessible to the design community. Her studio can provide the restoration and digital services that designers need to reproduce an original motif for a new design. The idea: Take a floral thread from one print and a lovely bird motif from another, put them in the same repeating pattern, tweak the colors, and voilà: new custom wallpaper for a client’s accent wall or a killer upholstery fabric for a chair in the foyer.
Elena’s team is still working on a plan to open the archive’s contents to interested shoppers; she hopes to create a digital platform in the name of sharing the collection with as many people as possible. “[This archive] was such a gift to me as a young designer,” Elena says. “It feels like a real gift to be able to make it available to starting designers, to spark that passion and love of the art.” margotelena.com