Designer Spotlight

Fantastic Zak & Fox

Textile designer Zak Profera, who established his New York firm Zak+Fox in 2012, draws inspiration from such sources as Tibetan rugs, antique kimono stencils and Madagascan board games when creating his versatile fabrics. Jeffrey Bilhuber, Kate Hume, David Easton and other A-list designers just can't get enough.

Textile designer Zak Profera showcased pillows in his 2013 Tulu pattern against antiques offered by 1stdibs dealer Lawton Mull, including a pair of Indonesian carved panels (photo courtesy of Zak+Fox). Top: The designer with his Shiba Inu, Shinji (photo by Testuharu Kubota).

In 2006, Zak Profera, who grew up in Los Angeles, dropped out of the San Francisco Art Institute just shy of earning his bachelor’s degree in conceptual art studies. Love was the primary reason; he followed a romantic relationship to New York. But, Profera explains, he also realized “I don’t learn well in a classroom. I learn by doing.”

“By doing” is precisely how he came to start, in 2012, his New York-based fabric firm Zak+Fox. Profera had been working at Sony, marketing mostly classic-jazz and blues artists’ catalogs (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin). An interest in this field ran deep: His mother was a co-founder and part owner of a music magazine in Los Angeles called Hits, and his father was a sea captain who ran charters. Knowing Profera was tremendously creative, however, a friend in L.A. whose family owned Decorative Carpets Inc. asked him to design a line of rugs in 2011. “I fell in love with making,” Profera recalls. “I cared way more about that than what I was doing in my day job.”

After a short part-time blogging stint for the interior design site Remodelista, he decided to go into printed-textile design. “I knew nothing about fabric — what a proper repeat was or even how to buy linen,” he says. “I started knocking on doors and just kept asking. It’s a tight-lipped industry, but finally I met some nice people.” Namely, his first textile printer, with whom he still works, though he now also sources from three other printers as well. “Without them, I don’t know if I’d ever have been able to get going.”

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Profera based his Tibetano pattern, released in 2013, on an ornamental Tibetan motif he saw in a painting. Photo courtesy of Zak+Fox

 

The fox-like appearance of the designer’s dog, a seven-year-old Shiba Inu named Shinji, provided inspiration for the name of Profera’s firm, which he founded in 2012. Photo by Testuharu Kubota

Today Zak+Fox (Fox is Profera’s ever-present canine sidekick, a Shiba Inu named Shinji who looks like a fox) offers 24 patterns in three collections — one for each year the company has existed — which are sold at to-the-trade showrooms around the world. (Last month, he debuted his own showroom in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.) His company remains small — there are just two other employees — yet his fabrics have received attention in, among other publications, Elle Decor, World of Interiors, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest France and Luxe. Top designers including Kit Kemp, Jeffrey Bilhuber, Brad Ford, David Easton, David Kleinberg, Kate Hume, Katie Ridder, Mark Cunningham and Robert Stilin, Tom Scheerer and Workstead have all used his creations in their projects.

Profera has also collaborated with the New York design studio Apparatus on a fabric and wallpaper collection, with another one due this fall. (At that time, he will unveil his latest solo collection, which will include woven fabrics and a variety of different fibers.) An ongoing and fruitful collaboration has been with New York gallery — and 1stdibs member — Lawton Mull, whose antiques and art, which range from a rare 19th-century painted Japanese screens to Old Master paintings, Profera has been using as elegant props against which to photograph his textiles.

Big Break

I haven’t had that one big thing yet. Social media has been the bulk of it, creating a fan base, a way to speak to designers. It’s still very personal. When people call, they’re shocked that I answer the phone.

The Aesthetic

The fabrics are meant to have a folkloric element and a narrative. They’re definitely traditionally inspired. Nevertheless, they feel contemporary in their timelessness and in the way they push scale. I try to find some sort of meaning in the patterns, to justify the design to myself before I make it. I adapted one line from a collection of kimono stencils I own. I do a lot of Japanese-inspired designs, though I pick the ones that don’t look too specifically Japanese. Another collection was inspired by a tiger print from a Tibetan prayer rug. My collaboration with Apparatus came from a hand-painted design by Gabriel Hendifar, one of the company’s owners. They wanted to adapt it to have a nine-foot vertical repeat. It challenges your way of thinking since you can’t really tell if it’s derived from rock or wood patterns.


“Most fabric designs are based
on process. I’m more focused on
‘What’s the story behind it?’”


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    Profera collaborated with the New York design studio Apparatus, helmed by Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson, to launch Strata Study in 2013 as both a fabric and wallpaper. The pattern is adapted from Hendifar’s own hand-painted design. Photo courtesy of Zak+Fox
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    The designer debuted his first-ever collection in February 2012, photographing it at the 19th-century Temple Court building in lower Manhattan. These three patterns remain popular."Blacks are one of our best-selling colors, which is bizarre for fabric-land," says the designer. Photo by Zack Hankins
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    A collection of antique kimono stencils and the traditional sash known as an obi provided the inspiration for the Fall 2014 collection, shown here with a ca. 1840 Japanese screen from Lawton Mull. Photo courtesy of Zak+Fox
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    "I went to Turkey two years back-to-back and became totally obsessed," says Profera of the country that informed his Fall 2013 collection. Damatlik, the pattern on the far right, is a take on a 17th-century Ottoman embroidery found on the smocks used by barbers during shaving rituals. Photo courtesy of Zak+Fox
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Like the other designs in his Fall 2014 collection, Hanami is inspired by an antique kimono stencil, this one depicting cherry blossoms. Photo courtesy of Zak+Fox

On the iPod

The War on Drugs made a beautiful album about heartbreak that I’m obsessed with, especially the song “Lost in the Dream.”

Favorite Artists

Yoko Ono, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Kara Walker

Inspired By

My designer friends inspire me — Peter Dunham, Brad Ford, the folks at Nickey Kehoe (Amy Kehoe and Todd Nickey), Jamie Bush, Joe Lucas and Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson, who are behind the New York design studio Apparatus.

Designers You Most Admire

Aside from the work of my friends, I love the elegance of Charlotte Perriand and Jacques Grange.

Favorite Watering Hole

The lobby of the Greenwich Hotel. It’s so beautiful, understated and quiet. It reminds me of the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood; it has that same sort of vibe.

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Profera liked how the formal, more masculine design of his Postage pattern from 2012, seen here draped over an oversized Regency ebonized-beechwood armchair, ca. 1825, echoes Lawton Mull’s collection of Old Master paintings. Photo courtesy of Zak+Fox

 

“I really like rug patterns for fabric. I think it’s pretty untapped,” says the designer of Khaden, a one-off design from last summer with a complex 10-color print that he based off a hand-knotted Tibetan rug. Photo courtesy of Zak+Fox

Design Hotel

The House Hotel, in Istanbul, which was designed by the Turkish studio Autoban. The showers are glass tubes that stand next to the bed. So much for privacy. It also has an exquisite view of the city.

Go-To Place for Dinner

The Odeon, in Tribeca. It’s super relaxed, consistent and near my apartment. I feel I could go there in my pajamas and nobody would notice. And you can actually have a conversation with people you’re with because there’s no music blaring.

On the Nightstand

Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin. I have this whaling obsession; it’s the craziest thing. But I find it fascinating that these guys would go out into the wilderness of the ocean and risk their lives hoping to strike it rich.

Favorite App

Instagram!

Favorite Possession

A wonderful Mazandaran rug — a kind of striped kilim — that I bought in Istanbul.


Zak Profera’s Quick Picks on 1stdibs

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    Ingo Maurer Uchiwa bamboo pendant lamp, 1970s, offered by Walter Design


    “There’s a sense of makeshift whimsy that I love. And it’s deceptively simple.”
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    Jean Lurçat maritime tapestry, 1940s, offered by Anne Hauck Art Deco


    “I admire the lack of restraint and wild imagination behind this piece — yet it is designed in such a way that would make you think otherwise.”
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    Pair of Giovanni Offredi Gambacorda chairs, 1976, offered by Lawton Mull


    “A modern take on the traditional campaign chair, with an unforgettable silhouette.”
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    Turkish Tulu runner, 1950, offered by Keivan Woven Arts


    “I have a longstanding love for old Tulu rugs, but I love this one for the shock of blue it offers.”
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    Adjustable Oak Table by Guillerme et Chambron, offered by Robert Stilin


    “I don’t think furniture necessarily has to be ‘clever,’ but I love the geometry of this piece and how function and form work hand in hand here.”
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    South African Zulu hat, 1950s, offered by Jacaranda Tribal


    “It’s an unapologetically bright and loud red circle. What’s not to like? The fact that it’s made of actual human hair is a bonus.”
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