In the late nineties, joined a wonderful textiles and furniture company as their director of marketing. It was my first official foray into the world of home furnishings and – in retrospect – I joined this particular company when it was at its creative peak. I so very much enjoyed the work and the people I was working with, and to this day I am quite proud of the many things we accomplished as a team. We worked hard and - despite the overall positive atmosphere - a break was needed every once in a while. I don't remember exactly who told me about the little hole-in-wall store on quiet Crosby Street just minutes away from our offices on lower Broadway, but the second I walked into French General, I got that feeling I get at a really promising flea market, an amazing yarn store, or an as-yet undiscovered bookseller: a creative jolt and a surge of inspiration, the promise of utter delight, the excitement of amazing treasures to be found. I felt completely at home in this enchanting place that sold vintage bits and bobs, textiles, notions, jewelry, gifts and classic French household items. I returned many times to French General over the years and - though I certainly was not the only customer – I considered it my own secret haunt.
Fast forward to 2003 when, after a particularly taxing day at work, I returned to French General to find it permanently closed. A very sweet note on the door thanked all the New York patrons and announced a move to California. I was devastated...
That is not where the French General story ends. I happily discovered that Kaari Meng, the founder and the genius behind this wonderful brand, is an equally brilliant author. Over the past ten years, Kaari, and her husband, JZ, have written, photographed and designed six books highlighting all of the elements of the French General lifestyle. Books include: The French Inspired Home, French Inspired Jewelry, Home Sewn, Handmade Soirees, Treasured Notions and A Year of Jewelry.
In Los Angeles, French General was set up in an old Spanish style warehouse, on the edge of town and opened up one day a week for people to come in and browse their ever changing collections that they collected on yearly trips to the South of France. Offering a variety of vintage craft workshops and kits, French General also began teaching workshops using their vintage craft materials, including jewelry making, stitching, paper crafts, sewing, shibori, indigo dyeing, and weaving. French General has become a well recognized craft workshop which now features talented teachers from around the world who visit to share their techniques and inspiration.
And to relax... French General take groups of women to the South of France every summer to live in an 18th century chateau. For four weeks, four different groups of creative women come and learn to live like rural French women - visiting the flea markets, local villages and artisans. This is definitely on my bucket list!
What I am most excited about however is the textile collection Kaari has designed, now available at Calico : it embodies a rustic and lived-in simplicity, the beautiful natural textiles seem as if they have gently faded to blend in with the soft light that somehow is unique to South of France countryside.
Kaari has said about the collection: “After living in France and enjoying many old homes, I have come to understand the simple beauty of well edited combination of colors that flow easily from room to room. Our collection, with Fabricut, has been created and developed to have the same feeling - a simple vintage color palette of three main colors: rouge, bleu and bisque. Each collection of colors can stand on its own, but combined together, the prints, stripes, embroideries, wovens and trimming come alive.”
With a focus on linen and cotton fibers the French General look and feel is luxurious and authentic. In addition to the soft natural prints and wovens, there are also some basic solids - all in different weights of linen and cotton, and many are pre-washed for that perfect vintage appeal. It is rare to encounter a brand that has managed to stay true and authentic, and utterly committed to fostering and inspiring creativity. I have never met Kaari in person - though I'd like to think we might be good friends – so via this blog post I would just like to say to her: Well done Kaari! The French General textiles are gorgeous and timeless, and I'm convinced many of them will end becoming treasured heirlooms in their own right. Thank you for sharing your ideas and vision with the Calico customers.