In days past, a printed foulard was integral to the uniform of chic women everywhere. The lightweight cashmere wrap replaced it about ten years ago and ever since, silk scarves have had the taint of Grandma about them. But in a tiny studio in the heart of Primrose Hill, London, surrounded by swaths of fabric and Chanel nail varnishes in every shade of red for inspiration, a 30-year-old Brit named Jane Carr is on a mission to make the satiny square sexy once again.
In its heyday, movie stars, princesses, and movie stars turned princesses were rarely seen without a head scarf. In 1956 Princess Grace of Monaco made the front pages when she wore her Hermès kerchief as a sling for her broken arm. But it all goes back, of course, much farther than that, to around 2600 b.c., when the Chinese invented silk and then kept the secret of their worms for hundreds of years on pain of death. It took the French several centuries to launch their own looms in Lyon, and it wasn't until the early 1900s, when an inspired Elsa Schiaparelli invited artists such as Salvador Dalí to paint on silk, that a trend for printed fabrics began to catch on. In 1937 Hermès introduced the world to Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches (made in Lyon then as now). The print is so divine you could use it as a wall hanging. Pucci and Ferragamo famously followed.
The silk square is, really, the perfect accessory: The fabric stays warm in winter (the fibers expand with cold) and cold in summer (fibers contract in heat). Clearly this Jane Carr is onto something.
After graduating from the same London art school as did Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, Carr was recruited to be head of printed textiles for womenswear at Versace. Over the next four years, Carr put her own mark on the label. Eighteen months ago she said goodbye to Milan and launched her own luxury label in England. "This started as a hobby, designing for my friends," says Carr, whose social network includes model Sophie Dahl and Princess Alexandra of Greece.
Her first collection, which debuted last spring, centered around an almost psychedelic design of ten clashing colors punctuated with geometric shapes and Moulin Rouge–type gymnasts. It has already earned Carr quite a following. "I absolutely adore my heavenly scarf," says Dahl, who's worn it in her hair, around her neck, and tied to her bag à la Babe Paley circa 1962. "It's beautiful and multifunctional." It also hasn't hurt that until recently Carr's business was largely a for-those-in-the-know affair. Everyone loves a secret.
The second collection, Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night), premieres this month. "My signature pattern is inspired by a surreal dreamworld," Carr says. "These are tonally more subtle, less psychedelic." The names of the scarves tell the story: Midnight (moody and dark for evening), Capri (beach-ready brights), Denim (a casual combo of blue and peach). There's also a choice of shape: a traditional square Foulard of pure silk twill and a Skinny made of pure silk satin. Coming soon...a women's cravat.
What sets her apart from the competition? Hermès generally uses a figurative pattern; Pucci is purely abstract. Carr mixes the two together. Already Koh Samui and Matches, two of London's best—and hippest—boutiques are buying her creations. As for an American scarf revival? Jane Carr is poised to lead the revolution.
Jane Carr, 44-207/483-0947; www.jane-carr.com