By  on March 22, 2005

Dressed in a Tuleh print blouse and H&M jeans, Venessa Arizaga is ready to shop — for fabrics, that is. The Tuleh design assistant is in Paris for her fourth PV visit, this time selecting textiles for possible inclusion in the spring 2006 collection. Their ultimate fate, of course, depends upon the way they’ll strike Tuleh designer and owner Bryan Bradley. “We go over some ideas and then with that in mind, I just sample whatever catches my eye,” says Arizaga.

While at Luigi Verga, she zeros in on a raffia-and-silk blend. “I love the texture,” she explains. “We’ll probably explore new ways to make it softer and really try to bring the silk composition out more. Bryan would probably soak it in fabric softener for days and wash it about a hundred times until he got the right texture.”

Another of Arizaga’s favorite mills, Canepa, is bursting with new prints and wovens. “There’s lots of different looks here,” she notes. “They can do anything.” An abstract floral in silk charmeuse is just one of her picks. “This fabric is very ‘old Tuleh,’ meaning that it has a beautiful, feminine intricate floral pattern. But I can see Bryan figuring out a way to make it really young and different — maybe dipping it or splashing it with bleach to give it a modern element.”

She knows such processes well. In fact, just days before Bradley’s fall Tuleh presentation, his Lower East Side home-cum-studio resembled a veritable after-school craft project. Bins of RIT dye baths were strewn across the room and the designer was busy dunking a motley assortment of fabrics — an intricate lace here, a heavy metallic brocade there — into the bins. His goal? To create something new out of what he lovingly refers to as “hideous” or “tacky” fabrics. In the bathroom, other fabrics were being washed, bleached or soaked in Downy, a house favorite, to create blotched looks and, according to Bradley, “calm down the fibers so that the fabric looks almost felted.”

These homespun processes are something new for the house. Rather than the mills working on color development and finish, Bradley decided to take matters into his own hands for fall. Literally. “Experimenting this way has been a vehicle for the new direction I want to take Tuleh in,” he says. “I like it because it’s not creativity on demand. It’s more organic, and an honest response to my surroundings. It has also reenergized me in a big way.”

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