Thibault Van Renne: Aiming for Legendary

To read the marketing and promotional materials generated by Thibault Van Renne is to have an encompassing tour of the best, the finest, the most grandiose descriptive words a language has to offer. All written without a degree of hesitation, self doubt, or degree of irreverence, it’s as though his carpets have transcended comparison, existing only amongst the other supposedly incomparable rugs in – with my apologies to Marty Stuart – the land of fabulous superlatives. As an admitted fanatic of the best our industry has to offer (and of this semantical land), it was then an irresistible notion that The Ruggist would call upon Mr. Van Renne in order to find out more. So it is then that upon the occasion of “Iceberg” from his “Immersive Collection” being shortlisted for the International Product Design Awards, we take a moment to discuss what makes a carpet from THIBAULT VAN RENNE the stuff that legends are (potentially) made of. 

“Iceberg” from THIBAULT VAN RENNE

As the son of a successful carpet dealer who was raised traveling to and from the Middle East buying unique pieces for his father’s shop, his knowledge of the industry and rug construction is both time learned and extensive. Accordingly his sense of craftsmanship, refinement, and quality is one of extremes. And with the look, the style, and the je ne sais quoi that for reasons unbeknownst to us gives some carpet makers the success they so rightly deserve, if we were (and I guess we are) nominating an archetypical nouveau carpet maker he would likely be it.

So what motivates Mr. Van Renne? The Ruggist reached him via telephone in his Ghent Belgium showroom to find out and we begin somewhere in the middle of our conversation…
I could have sworn I heard Thibault say something shockingly disparaging toward other carpets, but then again I have partial hearing loss and English is not his first language so I had to be sure; as it turns out he had not. “You say you are making authentic carpets. Can you tell me what that means to you?” I asked in order to clarify. “I wanted to make the best, most authentic carpets I could” he began “and to do that I had to look at the history of carpet making. You know the carpet that was found frozen in Siberia, The Pazyryk Carpet?” Thibault asks – referencing the oldest known extant virtually intact carpet – before continuing “Well that carpet was made using the persian weave, so for our carpets to be authentic we had to use that weave as well.” Already I am more than intrigued so I keep listening. “I wanted to go back to the original way things were, where everything is done by hand. Hand carding, hand spinning, hand dyeing using select natural raw materials like cashmere, wool, natural silk, and nettle. We use only chrome based dyes which are more colourfast, but the fact this is done by hand causes an irregular dyeing due to irregular timing of the manual labor. [Thus mimicking the varied look of vegetable dyes.] By combining these authentic traditional production methods with experienced local weavers and high knot density my carpets are particularly strong and nearly indestructible. I’ve spared no expense in creating the best.” he concludes. 
Of course this is not the first time we’ve heard such talk of carpets and rugs. A cursory review of the work of the world’s premier makers and designers will yield much of the same embellishment – some of it hubris, some of it fully and technically accurate. Almost every high end maker seeks to make the best possible carpet according to their own knowledge, expertise, and beliefs and within the crème de la crème they (for the most part) genuinely succeed in doing as such. The carpets of THIBAULT VAN RENNE are no exception. With so many carpets and makers purportedly or otherwise asserting themselves as the superlative can we even rightly judge and compare them? “It’s not a competition. It’s not me saying I am the best.” Thibault explains “It is me looking at the product only. It is making choices for my own product to make what is in my vision the best carpets ever made today so I know it would be the authentic kind of rug with the look that I wanted for it.” It’s like the World Cup of Football (soccer for the North Americans). Using a myriad of judging criteria we can accurately narrow the field of potential winners (hence the best) to perhaps two (2) handfulls. But to pick the singular actual winner? That’s left to fate, circumstance, and the luck of the day. Surely as a fan of [TEAM NAME] you believe them to be the best, but what about the fans of the equally as good [OTHER TEAM NAME]? Do they not believe just as strongly as you? As it then applies to rugs and carpets we must be willing to accept that all things being equal, incomparable carpets such as those made by THIBAULT VAN RENNE are not without comparison because they are better than their peers, but rather because they exist amongst other superlative carpets.

Thibault Van Renne shown at his recently expanded (flagship) showroom. 
Returning to my aggrandized statement of above, I thought I had heard Thibault speak disparagingly of Tibetan Weave construction (which he did not). Rather he said “I didn’t want to see the lines” referencing of course the ridge and valley aesthetic for which Tibetan Weave is known. Were this a couple of years ago, this would have been a marked departure from the normative, but in recent years we’ve begun to see more innovations such as this. Designers and makers exploring other weaves, other techniques, other ways of innovating carpet production to make the carpets of today indicative of out times. For those who are fanatics of his work this is just one of the distinctions that cause them to, and I quote “never go back” to a different quality once they see one of his carpets. “Iceberg” as shown above is clearly one such piece, and as Thibault dutifully reminds, the image does not do it justice. It’s obvious the design incorporates layering of elements which is somewhat of a trend (and dare I say trendy) in rug design right now, but what may not be so readily apparent is the, and I quote again: “pixel by pixel designing that went into creating this very fine intricate design which explores the boundaries of what can be achieved via hand knotted weaving.” The later statement is the reason I included this reference to Tibetan Weave at all. Our contemporary modern rug aesthetic (which has been dominated by Tibetan Weave) has gone through many incarnations in the relatively short span of my career, but we are now seeing a renaissance and appreciation for the intricate and for the detailed even if the overall aesthetic does not immediately betray that intricacy. God is in the details, et cetera and so forth. It’s true of Mr. Van Renne’s work, and it’s true of so many others in the upper echelon of the world of rugs.
This newfound quest to push the limits of what we can weave is not new however. Look back (and around), as Mr. Van Renne has, and you will see innumerable examples of knot by knot, pixel by pixel if you will, designing and weaving. Fine silk carpets. Fine Tabriz Carpets. Even the wonderful and amazing detailed colour work of Abid Ilahi at Asmara to cite a more recent example. Amongst the rarified air that we love to breath this quest to make the best carpets and rugs universally returns to Mr. Van Renne’s self professed desire to make modern classics and to design carpets that strike a balance between the ancient and the familiar, the time honoured and newfound (as I once myself proclaimed). 
“Timelessness is the ultimate reward” he says, speaking of how he would judge the success of any of his carpets before continuing “That’s why I say we are ‘aiming for legendary’. I want to create legendary carpets. And yes it is a bold statement, and yes it is ambitious. But without ambition ones’ career is already over.” This is a lofty and worthy dream for our young aesthete. If Mr. Van Renne is the archetypical nouveau carpet maker of today, will we in the future judge his work as legendary? What inspiration (if any) will the carpet maker of the future find in the work of THIBAULT VAN RENNE? I cannot say at the moment, but if I’m still around and talking about carpets in thirty to forty (30-40) years I’ll let you know.

THIBAULT VAN RENNE will be exhibiting at The Rug Show in New York City 30 August – 2 September 2015. Please stop by to see his carpets. You won’t be disappointed.