New York Fabric Designer Zak Profera Finds Inspiration in Japanese Armory

Alex Viau; Courtesy Zak + Fox

Zak Profera mines global cultures for inspiration. Next stop: the sophisticated simplicity of Japan.

Georgia May Jaggar's London apartment is a chocolate box of pattern and detail, from its harlequin-stitched pom-pom pillows to a leopard-print valise. As seen in a recent issue of The World of Interiors, the home of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall’s daughter couldn’t be more eclectic—and somewhere in there, covering a mellowed-out sofa, is Khotan, a printed linen that happens to be one of the best-selling fabrics of Zak Profera’s fledgling textile and accessories brand, Zak + Fox. When friends called to congratulate him, Profera knew he’d arrived. 

Alex Viau

The designer was in the music business himself just eight years ago, marketing “dead artists,” as he calls them—Miles Davis was one—for Sony Music in New York. As he watched the industry spiral down, he started thinking about a new career that would make better use of his art-school background. A friend’s invitation to design some rugs led to his founding Zak + Fox in 2012; he named the company after himself and Shinji, his clever, bushy-tailed Shiba Inu, the idea being to reference the worldly adventures of a man and his dog. 

Right: Flowing from the maiko’s outfit is Sarasa from the Bushido line. The Sauvage wallpaper is in the background. Alex Viau; Courtesy Zak + Fox

This coming spring, the inspiration is Japan: Zax + Fox is producing Bushido, a 13-piece collection inspired by the art and craft of historic Japanese armor, with its intricate knotting and lacing details. “I was walking by the windows of Bonhams auction house and they had samurai armor in the window,” Profera says. “It was amazing! I go down rabbit holes like that quite often. Sometimes it leads to a dead end, and sometimes—here we are.”

Right: Zak + Fox’s recent Ntama wallpaper. Alex Viau; Courtesy Zak + Fox

Profera is sitting at a partners desk in his airy Flatiron district headquarters, a stack of samples piled before him. He pulls out Zuri, a subtle geometric weave and his first outing with a linen/silk blend, and Saru, a sparkler right up Georgia May’s alley that features macaques picked out in iridescent yarn. The mill producing it, near Como, Italy, also turns out couture fabrics for Hermès, Profera adds. The eclecticism of his designs—and the geographic scope of his inspiration— define Zak + Fox and differentiate the brand in a crowded field.

A blue silk blend called Kabuto took cues from Japanese armor. Alex Viau

“Zak has the ability to access a wide range of cultural references and masterfully fold them into a collection that speaks of adventure and discovery,” says fellow designer Gabriel Hendifar, of Apparatus Studio. The two collaborated on a nature-inspired fabric and wallpaper pattern called Strata Study in 2013. “You can see how much he’s in love with the process, and it makes the product that much richer.” 

Left: Samurai armor inspired Zak Profera's new line of textiles and pillows. Alex Viau

Like other designers of his generation, Profera puts a great emphasis on all aspects of his business. “Let’s do a lap around the showroom,” he says, heading into a space that feels more like a living room, with samples draped in generous, touchable swaths rather than tacked onto boards. His team moved into the former bank building just over a year ago, and the move has coincided with an expansion in its offerings as well; Profera now designs wallpapers and accessories, including a popular range of pillows. He admits that he’s come a long way in six years, and that every day is still something of a learning curve. Not that he doesn’t love it.

“When you study a craft, the technical side can confine you,” he says, drawing a distinction between his background in conceptual art and the very different world of textiles. “I had some major screwups in the beginning because I didn’t know certain things, but as a result, we do things differently.” His next adventure: an Italian-inspired collection with a strong hint of fantasy. Embroidery will play a big role, but the references won’t be too on-the-nose. “It needs to not feel so exact,” Profera says, smiling. “It should be a bit unplaceable."