Have you ever looked at a drop-dead gorgeous fabric and wondered how it came to be? From the moment I met the burnt-out silk artistry of a Kevin O'Brien Studio scarf I tried to imagine how that complex pattern and iridescent shimmer could possibly be achieved.  Ten years later, I still delight in the lush texture and ever-changing color of the scarves I've snagged over the years at KOB Studio's holiday sales in their Old City, Philadelphia workroom.  So when I came upon their booth at last month's High Point Market, I felt like I was meeting an old friend, now grown up and expanded into pillows, bedding, rugs and very soon upholstery.  And it occured to me:  why not ask if I could take Style Maniac readers (and myself!) on a behind-the-scenes tour of the studio that supplies luxury goods to Neiman-Marcus, ABC Carpet & Home and Antrhropologie?

"Sure," was the quick and easy answer.  And despite it being Thanksgiving week--and the heart of the retail season--Kevin O'Brien personally greeted me, chatted over coffee at a table piled with luscious velvets and then gave me a tour of the studio.  A trained architect, accomplished painter and successful entrepreneur in a tough retail niche, Kevin's so talented the words "Renaissance man" come to mind--except that he's so easy-going and down to earth that would give you the wrong impression.  When asked how his studio has survived and thrived, he gives the credit to his staff, a tight and loyal group of mostly women, who chimed in often during our tour.  "The best parts of this job," Kevin told me, "are designing ... and being their 'boss.'"

The designs--medallions, twirling vines, snakeskin, woodgrain--begin in Kevin's head.  They are then transferred to a computer for refinement and to work out various colorways.  Despite the kaleidoscope of finished colors, fabrics all start out the same way:  as solid white velvet.  A screen print and acid process erases away parts of the velvet to create the various patterns.  Color comes from non-toxic dyes sprayed on one at a time using a myriad of recipes and techniques developed over the years.  A steamer sets the dye, fabrics are rinsed in a large sink and then put in a regular old washing machine for a final rinse (the part of the process that surprised me the most).

From there the glimmering fabrics take on life as pillows, duvet covers, throws (and still some scarves) destined for high-end retail stores, custom designer projects ... and lucky homes. (This year select items will also be sold at holiday pop-up stores and sample sales in Philadelphia and New York.)  Pillows retail for $100 to $400.  Pricey for a pillow, perhaps ... but not for a work of art.

Kevin O'Brien Studio
www.kevinobrienstudio.com   215-923-6378
Year-round boutique at ABC Carpet & Home, New York City.   Pop-up holiday shops & sample sales at these locations:

Kevin O'Brien Studio Shop 
Annual Holiday Sample Sale offering scarves, pillows, robes, bedding, fabric, stuffed animals and more. Up to 75% off retail.  Through December.  8428 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19118  215-923-6378

Echo Of The Dreamer Holiday Sample Sale 
Handmade jewelry plus Kevin O'Brien wares.  Through December 18, 2010.
242 West 30th St., 14th Floor, NYC 10001  212-594-8022  www.echoofthedreamer.com

Kevin O’Brien Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Store 

Up to 30% off retail.  Through January 3, 2010.  215-684-7960  www.philamuseum.org

Stacked bedding, closet and blue pillow collection images courtesy Kevin O'Brien Studio.  All other photos by Doreen Creede.

"Use the good china for breakfast."