Fashion Sistas, Part Two: From River Tweed to the banks of the Mississippi
Camilla Franklin wants to keep chickens. It could be she yearns for the farm fresh eggs she grew up on in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds in the south of England. And, being an English lass, it's not surprising that she loves gardening as much as she loves her house, her mate Jason Scott (restorer of historic New Orleans properties), and the textile business. But it would probably surprise her Cotswoldian neighbors to learn that she's growing a jungle instead of a typical English garden.
Camilla has had a long, hugely successful career in the textile business, from her Masters taken at the 200-year-old Scottish College of Textiles on the River Tweed to Blissett Textile, her custom fabric printing business at the end of Oak Street in New Orleans.
Her training and first love in textiles was and is industrial fabrics used for upholstery and office furniture. But when she got the call from Burlington Mills in New York City to design for the apparel business, she made the leap.
"I just love working in America. At the mills in England I'd say, 'I'd like to try this, I'd like to try that, and they'd respond… Ooooh, we've never done that before. But at Burlington, it was like, yeah, sure, try it. I just felt like you could fly here, experiment, and have fun."
But her heart was in the fine worsteds and jacquards of her training in Europe. So after five years at Burlington, she started looking around for a way back in.
She found Blumenthal Printworks in New Orleans and began an almost 20-year alliance with the company she describes as "a great mill, a great company, a great team, a great job. They were a big secret here in New Orleans; no one realized they had hundreds of looms and employed hundreds of people. I ran their design department here and in Shanghai."
When Hurricane Katrina hit, the staff at Blumenthal was evacuated to South Carolina, where there was a mill. Parked alongside the road was a 1960 Cadillac.
"I've wanted a car with fins since I was 8 years old," says Camilla. So her Katrina insurance money bought the dream car, which now acts as a gorgeous storage closet for textile samples taking up half the space in her studio.
She uses a bit of space for a desk and the rest is taken up by a huge digital textile printer. Camilla's expertise plus her state-of-the-art equipment attracts international fashion and interior designers. They send her specifications for fabrics, which she then can lay out so they'll repeat perfectly and print and match exactly to their desired colors.
She's a master, and another example of the world-class talent that resides here. It shouldn't surprise, and yet it always does, that New Orleans is attracting such excellence.
"Some of my biggest customers from the Blumenthal days and now with Blissett Textile love coming down here for inspiration. This is not a mall-driven town. They shop the city, especially Magazine Street for ideas. So If you're a creative down here and have a product to sell, you can actually work directly with retail in this town, unlike other places."
Camilla is cheerful. She loves what she does. She loves her cat, her jungle garden, and her man Jason. The only thing missing is the chickens.
To hear NolaVie president Sharon Litwin's WWNO radio interview with Camilla Franklin, click here.
Writer and artist Carol Pulitzer covers people and places in New Orleans for NolaVie.