Although she is best known for her incredible collection of luxury bed linen, Bella Notte, in the 1990s Designer Kathleen McCoy created a range of polar fleece jackets called MARINWEAR.
'The line was doing well and it was fun because polar fleece had just come on the scene, but as a designer you want to experiment, so I sampled a few of my jacket styles in linen. I presented them to all of my buyers but unfortunately they still wanted the fleece and fleece alone. I was left with a couple hundred yards of linen lying around and I thought, 'why not try it in bedding?' I tested to see if I could wash it and it happened to wash beautifully, and actually got softer. I knew it wasn't complete by itself so I brought in silk and velvet and as it turned out they too got softer with each wash.'
Although she may not have realised it at the time, Kathleen had planted a seed that would later grow to become one of the most exquisite collections of luxury bed linen available.
'I developed a line and added some vintage fabrics that we cut up into pillows. The idea of washed velvet and linens and silks really took off because up until then, high-end bedding was dry clean only and in shades of white and ivory. We broke the mold and in addition we brought in a lot of soothing colours. I was initially inspired by some Dupioni silk sample cards. I wanted my linens and velvet to match the soft greens, dusky blue, and creams. I approached a local dyer with my idea and initially he looked at me and said, “no one garment dyes bedding’, but to his credit he matched the colours perfectly and successfully dyed each product. I was thrilled, and hence the invention of garment-dyed bedding!'
Today, Bella Notte is elegant and sophisticated, with a relaxed feel that can be attributed to the fact it doesn’t have to be starched, pressed, or dry cleaned. The collection's romantic feel and couture-inspired styling is impossible to resist. We caught up with Kathleen to learn a little more about the woman behind the brand...
What inspires your designs?
'I’m inspired by the way designers treat fashion — I take that and apply it to our bedding so that each collection has special detailing. When I find a high-quality fabric or an incredible texture that dyes beautifully, I envision how I can finish it to become an item you can’t live without.'
What do you love most about designing bedding?
'I appreciate the challenge of working within confined shapes. How many variations are there on a square?! It pushes your creativity to think how you can add or subtract from the design to keep it fresh. I also love collaborating with my design team. We find a print or colour inspiration and then make it come to life with our Bella Notte touch.'
Can you tell us a bit about the design process, from initial idea to finished product?
'We usually start with a concept or inspiration. Most recently it was a vintage embroidered shawl and an intricate hand-sewn kimono from a local flea market. We break out what we love about the piece — be it the construction, design, needlework, or colour combination—and decide how to apply it to our bedding. We consider if the fabric and styling lends to a full collection of shams and a duvet cover or if it will be decorative with simply throw pillows and blankets.
I sketch out plans for different ways to finish the products; will they have ties, tassels, ruffles, or ruching? How will they look once dyed and will they blend seamlessly with the rest of the line? We study and perfect the samples, paying close attention to the finish and the shrink of the fabric. Sometimes what looks beautiful on paper doesn’t fully translate in the final product and sometimes once the sample is sent to dye it returns soft and tonal and we know it is right. Then we create spec sheets where we include drawings and indicate how to cut, sew, and finish each piece with measurements and shrinks accounted for. Our stylist in the UK then takes the drawings and creates mood boards for each set, and we take inspirational photographs to help our buyers and end-customers dream up their perfect ensemble.'
What's special about the products in the Bella Notte collection? What sets them apart from other items on the market?
'At Bella Notte we always strive for the highest quality, whether it's the softness achieved by our dye process, our vibrant colour palette, being American Made, the variety of fabrics, or the detailing of each item. Our line is not a “bed in a bag”, meaning you can mix and match colours and textures to create a look that is unique to you. It’s also not a line that you can find everywhere – and I’m okay with that. My goal is to manufacture linens that are timeless in style, last longer, get better with washing, and are passed down to future generations.'
If you weren't a designer, what would you do?
'Fine art painting; I’m currently studying oil with an emphasis on classic realism. I enjoy the challenge of refining my craft and finding patience and meditation through the process.'
Can you share 3 things that make you happy on a daily basis?
I’m grateful for technology in that I can check my email and connect with faraway friends. I love the mornings and having a great cup of coffee, and just as equally the end of the day where I get to spend time with my husband. It sounds simple but those are everyday things that make me happy.
As a designer of luxury bed linen, can you describe your ideal bedtime routine? How do you unwind and relax at the end of the day to ensure a good night’s sleep?
'I like to do yoga in the evening to clear my head or hike to take advantage of the beautiful area I live in. I like to have a wonderful dinner and share conversation, and I am thrilled when I have a stack of good books by my bed. It’s comforting to curl up and lose yourself in a story.'
Kathleen's right about the simple pleasure of immersing yourself in a good book at the end of a long day, but we know just how wonderful it is to curl up in Bella Notte bed linen! Shop the full collection here and experience the supreme softness and beauty firsthand.
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