Bright Young Thing
Textile designer Aelfie Oudghiri is the modern face of the age-old craft of rug making
My mom had a great textile collection. I grew up on a big Kerman rug. She’s a builder and a chronic redecorator; we moved around a lot. That was my first childhood encounter, my first experience with the importance and longevity of textiles.
I was 17 or 18 and had just gotten my first credit card, which had a $2,000 limit. That’s when I bought my first rug. My mom was shocked; she thought it was pretty irresponsible. But I still have it—I’m looking at it right now, in fact. It’s a great rug. It almost looks as if it were miswoven—as if the borders are on the inside and the medallion was split in two and woven around the edges. It has a really unusual look to it while still being within the language of floral Turkish carpets. I was there [with the rug dealer] for eight hours, negotiating, and I kept saying, “It looks like they messed up—can’t you do something for me?” And he said, “There’s no such thing as mistakes in carpets.” And I just thought that was so great—that was how they’re supposed to be.
I was studying at Columbia when I started selling rugs. My stepmother’s family friend had been a really successful carpet dealer. I went out to her house in Long Island and had an old-school tea with her, and she took me to her basement, where she had a ton of crazy textiles. She said, “I just want to get rid of my collection.” I took all her tribal textiles and put them into suitcases and brought them to my student housing at Columbia. That’s how I got started: selling them on eBay and to random anthropology students.
After I graduated, I started selling the [contents of the] rug owner’s entire storage unit. My apartment was filled with rugs—piles and piles of rugs. I was seriously trying to get a job, I was stressed, doing odd jobs and putting flyers out in the neighborhood. I made an Etsy page and posted on Craigslist.
My rug showroom in Brooklyn was also my apartment. There was a ton of word-of-mouth business. I had a lot of high-end clients who would tell their friends, “You have to go to this crazy Bushwick loft.” I had a lot of wealthy entrepreneurs, people who were looking for a rug and didn’t want to get ripped off—who wanted a real rug experience. They would come to my showroom and then go to Roberta’s [restaurant in Bushwick]. Everybody was so interesting.
In the spring of 2012, I started designing carpets. I’d gotten a really good sense of what people were looking for in the years I’d been selling antique and vintage rugs. I knew there was a market for new designs. I hadn’t really seen anything fun and innovative happening. I’d been looking at pictures in the library and doodling; I started asking if anyone knew any weavers. I was picked up by New York magazine [in December 2012], and it just took off from there.
My production takes place in Northern India’s Uttar Pradesh region. I wanted to do something that made sense for the area, and they’ve been making dhurries for centuries. My inspiration? A huge part of it came from being in Bushwick—all the street art, fashion, and nightlife there was really inspiring. I also went to the Metropolitan Museum, which has a great Islamic art wing. I was looking at certain kilims that I had. There was a big, awesome kilim woven by Uzbeki people, and I said, ‘Man, I wish I had this in black and white.’ I wanted a pink rug, I wanted to do more yellow and blue. And black. The new rugs are definitely a reaction to the antique and vintage varieties; I wanted to address the person who couldn’t find the perfect vintage rug.
I really like collaborating with artists and designers, both in the neighborhood and abroad. Alex [Proba of Studio Proba] just e-mailed me. We got together to brainstorm and came up with a very graphic, kind of new Internet-y art collection [for SHOP Cooper-Hewitt]. It’s really its own special, crazy thing. I hadn’t ever designed rugs with another person before, and it was fun because she wasn’t informed by all the vintage stuff. We’re not even in conversation with old rugs anymore. Which I think can be good or bad; we still have to think about the medium.