How Illulian, Giorgio Armani’s Rug-maker, Stays Cool

MILAN — Bendis Ronchetti Illulian retraces the adventurous path his parents first made to the mountain tops of Kathmandu in the 1970s about twice a year. Since celebrity clientele like Giorgio Armani boosted the image of Illulian over the decade, the link between the local artisans of the Himalayas is stronger than ever, as the second generation works to satisfy the appetite for their artful luxury carpets worldwide.

And while the ancient method of punching strands of wool and silk into a canvas that is stretched on a frame hasn’t changed in the last 10 centuries, the family’s clientele has been increasingly looking for outdoor carpets with the same sculpted allure. For Bendis, outdoor meant weatherproof. And for that, the answer was found in the same mountain tops of Nepal, where upcyled plastic was being turned into luxury threads by a local supplier.

“Feel how soft this is,” Bendis mused, inside the family’s newly renovated Milan showroom on Via Manzoni 41. “You can’t even tell the difference.”

Like their traditional, sculpted carpets, the sustainable rugs can be made in two different versions: Platinum 120, the most exclusive, is made with 180,000 knots per square meter, while the Gold 100 is crafted with a density of 152,000 knots per square meter. Bendis added that it takes 30 kilos of discarded plastic to craft one rug.


Illulian’s “Exotic White Jungle” motif by Simone Guidarelli in its sustainable version.

Courtesy of Illulian

The sustainable threads Bendis discovered in Nepal from a local manufacturer turned out to be conveniently resistant to atmospheric agents and UV rays.

All of Illulian’s collections can be adjusted to a sustainable version. This includes its Design Collection, Palace Collection, Limited Edition, Essential Collection, Marina Collection and Kids Collection, with custom made services also available.


Illulian’s mapping process.

Courtesy of Illulian

Bendis said the family’s success was built on his mother’s perseverance, entrepreneurial roots and sense of curiosity that has fueled the family business into a modern age.

The Illulian family left Iran in the late ’50s well before Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini came to power. And while the family patriarch moved to Los Angeles to begin a new life, his daughter Shahnaz moved to Milan, where she fell in love with an Italian man and started an antique business in the same building in which they lived, in Piazza Cinque Giornate.

By the ’70s the couple caught the itch to branch out. Everything changed when their neighbor, a yoga enthusiast, told them about the carpet making tradition in Nepal. After a trip to Kathmandu, the couple forged their own contacts there and Illulian carpets were born. The artisans are also part of the brand’s distinct aesthetic. “The artisans were able to evolve their creativity from traditional designs to more modern designs,” Bendis noted.

By the ’80s, their luxury carpets caught the eye of fellow Milanese entrepreneur Giorgio Armani, who commissioned them for his home and later, for Armani Casa.

Their first limited-edition collection was made for one of the most famous fashion photographers: Bob Krieger. “Things picked up when the fashion world discovered that we own our own production, are capable in following through with all sorts of requests, and also, we know most of these iconic designers that we have worked with since they were first clients themselves,” he added.

Today, Shahnaz’s sons Davis and Bendis Ronchetti Illulian fueled a new chapter, one marked by collaborations with some of fashion and design’s biggest names: Brazilian fashion designer Paula Cademartori; Egyptian industrial designer Karim Rashid; design duo Draga & Aurel; Italian designer Paola Navone and Zaha Hadid Architects among them. Bendis met Rashid in a per chance encounter at Salone del Mobile Milano and his playful aesthetic fit well with Illulian’s colors and whimsical designs.

The Middle East is the brand’s primary market and the focus now is on expanding in the U.S. market. “Looking ahead, we’re focused on building up new collaborations within the private label segment for the most prestigious brands and expanding our distribution,” Bendis added.

A space with furniture and objects sourced from Artemest.

A space with furniture and objects sourced from Artemest with an Illulian carpet.

Courtesy image

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