From oversized blousy florals and chunky stripes to vivid toile de Jouy prints, nothing about the fabrics and wallpapers by the late French designer Manuel Canovas is understated. Which, when he launched his eponymous textiles house in 1963, was exactly what made them stand out.
His debut collection of large-scale patterns in bold, striking colour combinations caused a stir, so different were they to the comparatively restrained furnishing trends of the time. ‘All my life I have liked big motifs. They feel more elegant, more generous,’ he once said in an interview.
Born in Paris in 1935, Canovas studied art and archaeology at the École du Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts where he became interested in different cultures and in particular, pre-Columbian art.
While nodding to the French 18th-century art de vivre spirit in historic decorative scenes, his designs were also inspired by rare archival documents and far-flung travels to countries such as India and Japan. ‘Pali’, one of his most recognisable fabrics, which depicts the fruit of the cacao tree alongside stylised foliage, stemmed from a trip to California.
He retired in 1998, selling the company to The Colefax Group and today, the Manuel Canovas studio continues his vision (the current collection includes botanical prints, a Persian-style toile and contemporary interpretations of ikat and kilim-influenced geometrics).
His designs feature in the permanent collections of New York’s Cooper Hewitt Museum and the V&A in London, and the textile house is favoured by everyone from Marc Jacobs to Luke Edward Hall, proving that it remains as relevant as ever.
In recent years Canovas, who died in March this year aged 85, spent weekends with his wife Catherine and the family at their country manor house in Normandy. It’s said that while she arranged flowers inside the house, he chose the planting scheme for the garden – demonstrating his love of blooms until the end. manuelcanovas.com