WHAT DO LINEN COMPANY FRETTE, fashion label Burberry and airline Swiss have in common? Answer: pizzazz. But that was not always so. These brands, which had a reputation for quality but a tepid name on the streets, employed fashionable designers or consultants to give them an overhaul and a much-needed boost in the hip stakes.
Now Tai Ping Carpets, the world's largest custom hand-tufted carpet maker, has gone not one but six better by bringing in half a dozen local designers to create rugs for its inaugural Asian Designer Collection. They were selected from across the spectrum of design: from fashion came Barney Cheng; Alan Chan represented graphics; from the world of architecture came Gary Chang and Moira Moser; from interiors came Simon Jackson; and Paola Dindo brought to bear her expertise with paint.
As you might expect from such a broad range of designers, the six creations are all different. Some hint strongly at the vocations of their creators: Chan designed a graphic Bridget Riley-style barcode stripe in technicolour shades, while Cheng produced graffiti-like paper patterns and care instruction symbols adorned with moonstones, aquamarine and silver raffia. Others allude subtly to professions: Chang's simple chartreuse rug comes with vertical light fixtures.
'We felt there was a market for brand-name carpets that wasn't being addressed by anyone in Hong Kong,' says Kent Yeh Man-chun, managing director of Tai Ping Carpets, which has supplied plush piles to Britain's Queen Elizabeth, the Sultan of Brunei, Bill Gates, Janet Jackson, Tiger Woods and every five-star hotel chain you care to mention.
Last year, the six designers judged Tai Ping's annual student rug-design competition and were asked to create one-off rugs of their own for auction at Government House for charity Mother's Choice; $800,000 was raised, and according to Cheng the carpets generated enormous interest. 'The response from the media and guests on the night was amazing, and [pointed to] an opportunity to promote Asian talent,' he says.
Depending on response in Hong Kong, the first collection will be rolled out in Tai Ping shops in Shanghai and Paris, followed by those of its 500 dealers around the world.
'The designs will speak for themselves,' says Yeh. 'There's no longer a 'Made in Hong Kong' stigma. I think the Western market is recognising that as long as designs are international in quality, Hong Kong products can be better than most in terms of value.' Which of the six designs would he choose? 'Gary Chang's carpet with the light fixtures is something you could put on the wall. It's like a three-dimensional piece of art,' he says.
Cheng takes an opposing view: 'Carpets are graphic and can be put on a wall as works of art. But that's something I wouldn't do because it can be pretentious. I would rather a carpet be artistic and functional than a high-and-mighty piece of art.'
Tai Ping Carpets, Prince's Building, Central (tel: 2522 7138) carries all six designs. Carpets are made according to the design and size required, and prices range from $4,000 to $15,000.