By VIBHUTI PATEL
Visitors to “Flowers for You,” the exhibit up through Aug. 12 at the Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, are greeted by an unusual multipiece installation dominating the venue’s storefront display: an easy chair, ottoman, rug and cushions all upholstered in fabric patterned with brightly colored flowers. If that sounds like a mere living-room set, consider that its creator, the Israeli-American entrepreneur Liora Manné, patented her process of making high-end, painterly materials—her “Lamontage” textiles—and customizes them for designers, architects and museums.
Ms. Manné moved from Israel to Atlanta with her family at 16, and was still learning English when she enrolled at Georgia State University. After moving to North Carolina, she got a job and took masters classes in product design and textile engineering at the state university. Seven years later, her family returned home but she stayed, moving to New York and launching her unique combination of design and technology.
The artist, who is 59, spoke with the Journal recently in her art-filled Midtown brownstone about building her brand from the ground up.
This is actually the first time you’ve been in an art exhibit. How did it happen?
I met Stephan, a passionate gallerist, when I walked into his gallery. Then he visited my studio. He really got my work—the relationship between the wall, the floor and the third dimension in furniture.
You began in fabric design. How did you get started?
I’d been working in R&D for Cotton Inc. in North Carolina throughout grad school. Upon graduation, they hired me as a marketing and fashion consultant. I came to New York, for the first time, with the product I’d developed and my two-week old baby. I left her at the hotel with a babysitter while I visited factories in New Jersey. Soon I was advising various companies in the South on product development, printing and knitting machines.
You were actually a drama major in school. Did you want to be an actress when you got to the city?
I dreamed of auditioning for plays as I walked along Broadway. That never happened: I loved design. I moved to TriBeCa and juggled new short-lived ideas. If they succeeded, they got copied and produced cheaply overseas. We were catering to K-Mart, Walmart—my challenge was to develop items for that moderate market. I was at the frontier, creating fuzzy, brushed fabric, metallic or puff-printed or glitter-printed fabrics.
Did you do well?
I had vision but no finance—my compensation was tied to sales. I designed wonderful things that sold but I wasn’t building anything.
What changed that?
In 1990, a supplier offered to back me if I started my own company. So I rented a studio—Andy Warhol’s Factory in Union Square—developed the raw material, bought a small machine for hand-processing. I bought fiber, hired artisans, found a factory for final processing and invented Lamontage.
What is Lamontage exactly?
It’s a process that uses loose synthetic fiber to create an artistic product by hand-blending colors to make designs, and then uses hi-tech needle-punching: needles with barbs poke and blend the fiber, going up and down, as the barbs catch the fibres and entangle them. There’s no stitching. Durable, utilitarian textiles which are neither woven, printed nor knitted are produced. Just as an artist uses paints to create different effects—watercolor, graphic, whimsy—endless artistic expressions are possible in Lamontage.
Is this a new process?
Needle-punching for utilitarian fabrication isn’t new, but I hand-make artistic fabric with colors and designs. Knowing the technology helped me create this new “textile” that goes from wall to floor to furniture. I found factories that cooperate with me—it’s costly to stop machines for experimentation.
You eventually moved much of your production oversees. Why?
When Gagosian, Stella McCartney and other art galleries moved into our building [on 11th Avenue], rents rose. And technical difficulties—acrylic fiber was no longer manufactured domestically, machines were being scrapped—created problems. I converted our space into a studio-showroom-office combo and moved production abroad by partnering with Trans-Ocean, a rug manufacturing company, operating in China. I designed conventional tufted rugs for them under licensing. India came next: I love working with Mirzapur’s creative weavers. We sit together on their floor, using my aesthetic sensibility and their beautifully colored yarns. Trans-Ocean distributes these “traditional” rugs through its warehouses under my name to Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s. Trans-Ocean’s owner, Charley Peck, and I traveled together for years. Then we married—second time for both of us.
Describe your clients.
For [Rubin Museum of Art founder] Shelley Rubin’s brownstone, I designed a Lamontage rug with a dragon climbing the staircase, changing colors from floor to floor. She loved it and commissioned their Museum’s staircase rug. We made floor covering for Brown University’s library, a wall covering for the University of Chicago’s Art Center, the Gramercy Hotel’s rugs. Architects appreciate that I custom-design my product—often a mural—to their space, not the other way around.
Pottery! I’d designed dinnerware for Dansk and Sasaki early on. Now I crave to put my hands into clay, to get dirty—for pure pleasure, not business.
A version of this article appeared July 26, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Fabric of Her Life Makes a Artful Debut.