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Christie's Magazine 2016   
 
Rugged Individual 
 
The creative force behind the ethical carpet maker Veedon Fleece, Adam Gilchrist has always been keen on doing things his way, says E Jane Dickson.  Photographs by Tobias Alexander Harvey 
 
Adam Gilchrist is exceptionally convivial company - but in conversation with him, sooner or later you find yourself staring at the floor.  His carpets are entrancing.  The floor is his midnight-blue drawing room is dappled with pale moons, the shadowed discs have an almost op-art effect, a sense of deep space and spinning movement.  'All the really good designs, even from antiquity, have a certain amount of movement in them' explains Gilchrist.  'That's the difference between making potato prints and making one-off, bespoke carpets.' 

Veedon Fleece, the company Gilchrist founded 20 years ago, is the haute couture of carpets; handwoven creations are designed to commission, made to measure and touched with fantasy.  'I couldn't think how to finish this one' he says, gazing at the sky beneath his feet.  'Then we took the children to a Harry Potter film, and there they were fencing, with wands on the phases of the moon.  So that gave me the idea for the border and a name, Moonphase, for the carpet.'  
 
Working closely with interior designers such as Mlinaric, Henry and Zervudachi and David Collins Studio, Veedon Fleece deals exclusively with the fabulous end market.  Gilchrist's order book features rock stars, press barons, heads of state and fashion houses.  'We don't name names', he says, 'but our client base is probably the top one per cent in terms of wealth and the top 0.5 per cent in terms of taste.  We've made carpets for the English aristocracy and the majority of the Middle Eastern royal families.  Super yachts are another important area for us, we've done three of the top 10 largest super yachts in the world'. 

The name Veedon Fleece, borrowed from Van Morrison's 1974 studio album, reflects Gilchrist's quest for perfection, which is both romantic and ideological.  Padding through his family home, hidden behind high topiary hedges in Guildford, is a unique sensory experience, like treading a secret, silken garden.  Pattern sings from the floors and the walls; there's carpet draped over tables, carpet tucked into sofas.  'feel this', says Gilchrist, running a 1920's Isfahan fragment, shining and supple through his hands.  It's a real sensation, Like velvet.  And I can't make carpets like that'.  
 
It's a singular kind of sales pitch, but the entire ethos, and much of the success of Veedon Fleece is predicated on what Gilchrist won't do, namely his refusal to use child labour.  He flips the antique carpet over to show its barely less intricate backing.  'Every one of these little bumps', he explains, 'every tiny needlepoint stitch is a hand-tied knot.  The Persians can still tie two or three hundred per square inch.  It can probably only be done with child labour and by the time they're 15 the child weavers are half blind with hands the size of a man's.  Back in the early 1990's, we were the first to say no to child labour and it went down terribly badly with the industry.  I was just about put up against a wall and shot for making such a hoo-ha about it.  But we never have and never will employ weavers under the age of 15.   And 120 knots per square inch is enough.  Really it's enough'. 
Gilchrist's vision and tenacity are, he says, at least partly attributable to his severe dyslexia.  It's a blessing, he says, because you learn to think outside the box'.  Academic difficulties at school were offset by enhanced visual and spatial awareness.  'When I was a little boy and couldn't sleep at night, I used to get up and put yellow dusters under pieces of furniture and push them silently around the house - we had wooden floors - so that when my parents woke up, it would look different.'  
 
He found his calling in the rugs and carpets department of Sotheby's in the early 1980's.  'God, it was so much fun!  I got into Sotheby's by nepotism through the Bleasdale Beagle Pack,' he recounts cheerfully.  'Finding the carpets was like the missing piece in the jigsaw of my mind.'
 
 As a dealer - Gilchrist went on from Sotheby's to run his own antique carpet business in Dorking, he w3as often asked about the possibility of creating his own contemporary collection, but the child labour issue seemed, at the time, intractable.  'Plus the fact,' he adds, 'that all modern carpets were more or less horrible, because they were made for the bottom price.'   A chance meeting on the Cresta Run in St Moritz changed his mind (Gilchrist has a certain style - he's not a man to have had a life-changing experience in Sainsbury's).  The next man in line turned out to be the Dalai Lama's biographer and he knew a former Tibetan monk who would be just the person to run an ethical, world-class carpet factory in Nepal.  I remember standing up there, petrified and thinking' If I get to the bottom of this bloody run, I'm going to make this work,' says Gilchrist.  'I thought, I've spent so many years of my life living with antiques; I want to start living my life in the future and I want to leave something behind that's wonderful.'  
 
Established in 1994, the Veedon Fleece factory in the Kathmandu Valley has survived 10 years of Maoist insurgence - 'thought there was a hairy moment when agitators 'turned' a section of the workforce - and the 2015 earthquake'.  If Gilchrist is hardline on ethics (he has refused to sign up to labeling schemes such as Rugmark and GoodWeave because he feels that they don't go far enough), he is equally intransigent on quality. 
 
It's the Cresta Run thing again,' he says.  'If you take shortcuts, you're riding for a fall.'  Veedon Fleece, is he believes, the only company in the world to produce carpets from Muga, a natural golden silk produced in Assam.  It has also developed its own Veedon' yarn, which combines hand carded, hand spun Tibetan wool and silk to match the luster and patina of the best quality antique rugs.  Pashmina works best for subtlety of shading.  We have clients who have a roomful of beautiful impressionist pictures, and in the case like that you really want pashmina for its wonderful softness of colour that follows the light,' explains Gilchrist. 
 
Veeodn Feece has a close association with the Inchbald School of Design, where Gilchrist lectures and sponsors an annual competition in carpet design.  Patterns range from recreations of Charles Voysey carpets to art deco and abstract schemes.  For each carpet, point papers, drawings on graph paper of the final design, are created with respect to the talents of individual weavers.  'some are experts in curvi-linear, some are better at rectilinear design, ' Gilchrist points out.  A large and complicated design can take 12 weavers a year to make, after which it is washed and left to dray naturally.  ('You can dry them in kilns, but the fiber goes brittle and you lose a lot of luster'.  When the carpet is finally baled and shipped there is 'the mother of all parties' in thee workshed.  
 
Given the exceptional care taken at each step of the process, the price of a Veedon Fleece carpet, from £700 per square meter to £1,600 a square meter for pashmina, is not immoderate.  'Our carpets are going to be around for 200 years, so why would you try to save a week or two, squeeze a profit here or there, by cutting corners?' ask Gilchrist.  he sounds as though he genuinely cannot fathom such idiocy.   'We take care,' he says, 'because we're not just making the world's most beautiful contemporary carpets.   We're making the antiques of the future'.  
 

 
 
 
Christie's Magazine 2016 
 
link to article:  

 


This Spring, Veedon Fleece delivered two hand knotted runners for GF Watts' original studio at Limnerslease House, recently restored by the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey.

An interesting design brief led to the recreation of two Mughul Indian inspired designs, one designed as a complete runner, the other as if it had been formed as a fragment from a larger 17th Century carpet.

The strict arrangement of the new studio gallery meant that the carpets had to complement and then follow the original interior plan.

The interesting point is to see how the carefully coloured and proportionally designed runners mellow along with the interior over the next 100 years.

We are delighted with the initial response from the gallery says Kerri Offord at the Watts Gallery "All our volunteers and so many of our visitors have been really impressed by them. We’ve even had a couple of instances when visitors have thought they are original and been reluctant to stand on them, so a complete success”.


            

         



For recognition in print, The English Drawing Room, a large volume concentrating on some of the finest classical British drawing rooms written and compiled by Jeremy Musson.  With Broadlands in Hampshire featured on the cover, the carpet was produced on our looms and
was the only contemporary carpet featured in the book.  Justifiably on the front cover as Hugh Henry’s subtle design, colouring and our unique veedon quality resulted in a carpet which looks like it could have graced the room for the last 200 years and will hopefully remain there for 200 years to come.

isbn 9780847843336

The next publication was David Collins’ ABC, another large volume in which Veedon Fleece carpets feature eleven times and their dominance is especially noted in the ‘Luxury’ section.

 

isbn 9781614282297

The American Publication Architectural Digest presented an extremely chic apartment designed by Veere Grenney which featured and credited us for luxuriously textured silk carpets. 

Our carpets also featured in House and Garden February 2015 issue, which extensively details the masterful redesign of Encombe, a romantic country house in Dorset where one of two commissions can be seen in the Drawing Room.


     

 A notable installation towards the end of the year was a new set of carpets for the award winning Rivoli Bar for the Ritz Hotel, London.  This set was skilfully re-coloured by Mr Douglas Barclay and adds yet another layer of warmth and luxury to this unique space designed by Tessa Kennedy. 

 

Now writing in January 2015, things are looking good with international commissions.   London, as ever, remains busy and we thank all the designers who have and continue to allow us the opportunity to turn their inspirational designs into reality.