PIA BENHAM Heal's

Pia Benham, Head of Fabric and Design at Heal's. The luscious background is the 'Trees' print by Cressida Bell

Pia Benham, Head of Fabric and Design at Heal's. The luscious background is the 'Trees' print by Cressida Bell

London retailer Heal’s has unveiled 1810, its first fabric collection since the 1970s. Featuring upcoming designers and stellar names such as Zandra Rhodes, the exclusive textiles and accessories line is a celebratory mix of archive and new. Pattern pageant queen Pia Benham tells us more.

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

How did the collection come about?
Heal’s style has always been about innovation and design, but we also have a 200-plus-year history. With this new collection, named after the year the store was founded in 1810, we went back to our Bloomsbury roots. We wanted to be inspired by how things were originally done: working with designers to their own aesthetic, rather than a Heal’s house style. The aim was to inject fun and excitement into our fabrics once again, by working with established as well as emerging talents – in the same way we did in the 1950s and 1960s.

What makes the patterns relevant now?
The current is always influenced by what’s gone before. Capturing the best bits of the past while bringing them up to date, our designs feature beautiful painterly details alongside forward-looking bold and colourful pattern. Heal's 1810 fabrics can be used for soft furnishings or light upholstery, plus we've applied some of the patterns to coordinating cushions, aprons, tea towels, oven gloves, notebooks and journals.

What do you think makes an iconic pattern?
For me, great colour is key – things that are eye-catching and draw you in. Although a pattern may have its influences, it needs to demonstrate something unique that makes it stand out.

Zandra Rhodes' 'Top Brass 2' is based on a print she first created for Heal's in 1963 while studying at the Royal College of Art

Zandra Rhodes' 'Top Brass 2' is based on a print she first created for Heal's in 1963 while studying at the Royal College of Art

              A coaster in the 'Herbarium' print by Hvass & Hannibal

              A coaster in the 'Herbarium' print by Hvass & Hannibal

How did your passion for
textiles begin?

I grew up in Africa, which definitely made its mark. Also, my mother worked for Liberty in the 60s, so that was always a strong influence.

Which design aesthetic has influenced you most?
I like a mix of histories. While I admire the restraint and femininity of Georgian architecture, I also love contemporary Italian design by the likes of Moroso and Paola Navone, and Sweden's Svenskt Tenn. Mid-century Scandinavian designers are a great influence for me.

How would you describe your style?
I love symmetry and clean spaces that allow for a use of pattern and colour. My home is neutral but I have hundreds of pictures and many collections of things that stand out against the simple scheme.

How do you find inspiration?
I’m not particular in that I like one thing. It could be the incredibly theatrical designs of Leon Bakst through to Schiaparelli or Lanvin. I’m widely influenced but it very much comes back to pattern and colour. It’s almost down to the time of year. I’m seasonal in that way.

What social media do you use most?
I could quite happily lose myself on Pinterest for a couple of hours. It’s so visual, plus I have a real curiosity about other places and cultures. I like the joy of clicking on a picture and finding the source. You start researching one idea and before you know it you have a whole other thing going on.

Is there one interior that you really admire and wish you had designed?
James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room, where his art is stylized into these amazing designs. Originally part of a London dining room, it's now on display in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington's Smithsonian. If there was one thing I could have designed, it would probably have been that.
heals.co.uk

TOP ROW FROM LEFT:
'Tea Time' fabric by the late Diana Bloomfield
An apron made from 'Top Brass 2' by Zandra Rhodes  zandrarhodes.com
'Peacock Flower Killary' fabric by Malika Favre  malikafavre.com

BOTTOM ROW FROM LEFT:
Cushion covered in 'Trees' print by Cressida Bell  cressidabell.com
'Kenny's Stripe' fabric by Paul Vogel  paulvogel.com
'Lady Jane' fabric by Petra Borner  petraborner.com

Heal's 1810 collection is on sale nowFor more on the design inspiration behind the range, check out the video below