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Luke Irwin

An eccentric Irish rugmaker wears a suit as vivid as his imagination

Georgia Grimond | November 11th 2010

THE MAN

“Technically, I am deeply inept,” says Luke Irwin. “So I have someone who turns my insane designs into workable rugs.” “Insane” might be a bit strong, but Irwin’s designs are certainly out of the ordinary, often repeating shapes from nature—whales, crop circles, sea urchins, trumpet vines—in patterns that are boldly abstract, but rendered in soft, muted colours. His best-known design, “Doves and Stripes”, was inspired by “a weird dream I had” in which the stars of the American flag were transformed into white doves of peace. Suitably enough, it was given as an inauguration present to Barack Obama by the Irish nation. Is it on the floor of the Oval Office? “I don’t think so. I imagine it’s been chucked in a presidential gift centre somewhere, probably some enormous hangar in Utah.”

No two of Irwin’s rugs are ever the same, but all tend to radiate a sense of calm contemplation. This is in direct contrast to their designer, a quick-witted, charming, 42-year-old motormouth. His career path—public school, followed by spells in theatre, PR and the antiques trade—suggests a flash posh-boy, but he’s more thoughtful than that. For every metre of rug he sells, painstakingly hand-knotted on looms in Kathmandu, he gives $5 to an educational trust for the weavers’ children. “It’s cutting off my nose to spite my face,” he says, “because in Nepal, an educated child won’t choose to be a weaver. But it means I can sleep easy.”

And he’s not only interested in what you might call the couture end of rugmaking—one of many plans is to bring bespoke to the masses, by printing customers’ fingerprints onto rugs. All he needs is a scanner, and the help of a mainstream carpet retailer. But for the moment he’s concentrating on his first shop, which he aims to set up in London by the end of the year. Will he wear a suit on opening day? “It’s easy to look like a greasy salesman when you’re selling carpets, so I don’t wear suits that often. But I like this one. The colour’s smashing.” High praise from a man so fascinated by hue and tint that he admits to spending an evening in his back garden “just looking and counting the different shades of green I could see”. So how many was it? “For the record, 37.”

THE  DETAILS

Purple cord jacket, £349, and trousers, £149, both PS by Paul Smith ; white cotton shirt, £25, Autograph at M&S; check silk pocket scarf, £59, by Etro; black lace-up shoes, £325, by Dunhill; rug, from £300 per square metre, by Luke Irwin