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The Story Tells it All

A mysterious novelette by renowned designer Kirk Nix serves as the inspiration for a new collection for Robert Allen Contract.

By Janet Wiens

A mysterious novelette by renowned designer Kirk Nix serves as the inspiration for a new collection for Robert Allen Contract.

There is a story behind every product line, but the award-winning Kirk Nix Collection for Robert Allen Contract embodies that truth more literally than most. Nix, principal of KNA Design in Los Angeles, laid the foundation for the collection of striking textiles with a novelette set at the city’s famed (and fictional) Hotel du Spectre on Beverly Boulevard, and filled it with a unique cast of characters—all of whom share a predilection for high design.

The premise behind the collection, as detailed in the novelette, is that “it’s not what but rather who that makes the perfect hotel experience.” According to Nix, a property’s style, provenance and experience are created by a sense of people, not place.

“The patterns and colors in the collection grew out of the story,” says Jane Riback, design director for Robert Allen Contract. “The individuals in the story, both guests and hotel employees, are intricate, sophisticated and mysterious. Their professions and interests serve as the foundation for the 20 patterns in the collection. The story, coupled with Kirk’s extensive work looking at a range of materials, brought the individual patterns to life.”

The company’s goals for the line were clear. The first was to fill an identified need in the market by creating a new collection that would be appropriate for use in a wide variety of contract environments. The second was to develop fabrics with vibrant colors that would take the company’s already successful portfolio to another level. Riback believes these goals were achieved through clarity of color and the development of patterns that are fun and modern.

And fun they are—the patterns in the Kirk Nix Collection grab your attention with a variety of bold shapes and effects. Rockstar boasts large-scale linked circles with metallic yarns; Slither, as the name implies, replicates the look of reptile skin with lots of texture and a calendared finish. The other 18 patterns, with names like After Hours, Chains, Guest List, No Photos Please, Until Dawn and Velvet Rope, capture the sense of luxury and celebrity embodied by the collection.

The Design Process - Kirk Nix

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The patterns and colors of the Kirk Nix Collection were inspired by the unique characters that inhabit Nix’ fictional Hotel du Spectre on Beverly Boulevard—here’s a sampling of the personalities you’ll find in the new line.

When Audrey has her Mod night at Moxie’s Bar, she notices that there are a few people who show up just to see what she will wear next. Fringe, ‘woven’ furs, ruched and quilted leathers, and layered transparent sheers are some of her favorite loves. She believes in wearing designers who went ‘further’ and expanded their techniques—Cardin, Gernreich, Pucci, Prada and Chanel. On the other end of the perspective she’s drawn to the re-inventions of Macrame, burn-out patterns, hand stenciling, etc., taking hold at the shops along Abbot-Kinney. She appreciates the amazing amount of creativity among the new clothing designers in their tiny shops and pop-up stores.”

Monique, a bookish retro-freak obsessed with the classic studio scene painters, collects gouaches of landscapes done by once-famous studio legends at flea markets. Bitter at how CGI ‘ruined everything,’ she also collects Zuber wallpaper fragments salvaged from Bel Air homes at her local Hadassah Thrift Shop. Only one undisclosed “friend” has ever seen how this young woman lives—a lone, white bed in the center of a painted forest background from a forgotten movie gently hung in a way that preserves the canvas and obliterates all corners to her room.

Riback believes that Robert Allen Contract’s strengths are showcased throughout the line. “We are known for the depth and range of our collections,” she says. “The patterns and colors are vibrant and engaging, and the range of fabrics addresses all needs found within a hospitality project—sheers, draperies, quilted fabrics and general upholstery. We even provided for outdoor needs in Terrazza, an outdoor fabric adaptation constructed of Sunbrella Contract fabric that can be used in both indoor and outdoor settings.”

For his part, Nix says that the chance to diversify his company’s client base was intriguing. “We saw an opportunity to reach a wider audience and to touch more lives. We design a variety of spaces, but the chance to focus on the graphics of the message of fabric design was inspiring.”

Nix recalls that they began the process with no definite ideas regarding the number of patterns or colorways. In addition to the images that began to emerge based on the novelette, Nix and his staff searched through an extensive catalog of imagery maintained by his firm that is used when new concepts are being developed. The research provided points of departure for individual patterns in the collection, which were then refined throughout the design process.

“The colorways speak to the forecasting that our firm had done for the coming year, and also to what the professionals at Robert Allen Contract are seeing in the market,” says Nix. “We talked about what felt right both physically and emotionally for the collection. There’s a great vibrancy that allows designers and their clients to create a range of images for their properties.”

The collection’s colorways include the aptly named 14 Karat, Deep Sea Dive, Black Tie, Riviera, Rare Orchid, Poison Ivy, Absinthe, Limoncello and Koi. Each pattern in the collection is available in two to seven colorways (with the exception of the dramatic Atrium pattern, which is available only in Black Tie).

The materials used to contract the fabrics reflect industry requirements for performance and a growing desire for sustainable content that can help contribute to LEED credits. The content for each pattern varies with blends that include polyester, post-consumer polyester, rayon, cotton, nylon and wool. The majority of fabrics are manufactured in the United States with a limited number of patterns manufactured in either Italy or the Netherlands, based on the desire to use the best source for each weave.

Viewing the wide selection of patterns and colors offered in the Kirk Nix Collection, it’s easy to picture the patterns being used in hospitality projects around the world; it also explains why the design industry has been so enthralled with the line since its unveiling earlier this year. It’s fair to say that despite the line’s basis in mystery and celebrity, the overarching story of the Kirk Nix Collection for Robert Allen Contract has a happy ending.

Learn more about the collection at


Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, Tenn. She was formerly a marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at