By CARYN ROUSSEAU
CHICAGO - Many housewares and kitchen design companies are looking to the world of fashion for hints and clues to inspire their lines.
"What we've generally found, if something is hot in the runways in fall it's going to take hold and move into the home a few months later," says Kristin Martin, brand manager for cast iron at the cookware maker Le Creuset.
For example, Martin said, last fall Le Creuset designers noticed an eggplant purple color "all over the runway."
In March, the company launched its new color: a purple called cassis.
"It definitely influenced our decision because it was a color people were excited about," Martin said.
"Because people were excited about it in terms of fashion, they were going to be excited about it in terms of their homes."
Cookware, she said, is "not just a tool, it's a statement. And that's the same thing with fashion - you are making a statement when you wear it."
The subject intrigued the folks at faucetmaker Brizo, which sponsored a panel discussion about kitchen fashion, form and function in the springKitchen and Bath Industry Show in Chicago. Brizo also sponsors New York fashion designer Jason Wu, who made first lady Michelle Obama's inaugural gown.
"It seems all of us, although in different areas of design, look to each other for inspiration," said Wu, who spoke on the Chicago panel.
Judd Lord, Brizo's director of industrial design, said the company looks to fashion mainly for shape, form and pattern ideas.
"How it's flowing, what form it's taking as it's coming down the runway, where the belt line is being placed or the sleeves," Lord said. "It's things like that that will draw a designer's eye."
At the luxury appliancemaker Thermador, whose ranges, refrigerators and dishwashers shine in stainless steel, designers look to fashion accessories such as watches and jewelry for trends, said company industrial design manager Graham Sadtler.
"Whether it's a gloss metal finish or matte or a certain treatment on the metal, (that) is one of the biggest things we look at that influences our design," he said.
Kitchen designer Cheryl Kees Clendenon of Pensacolasaid she turns to fashion magazines for inspiration and rips out pages when she finds striking textures or materials.
"It regenerates my enthusiasm for what I do," said Clendenon, who has been a kitchen designer for 11 years and also was on Brizo's panel. "I can look through fashion magazines and even though I can't personally wear those clothes, it's the idea part of it."
Clendenon adds fashion to her designs in small ways, through layers, kitchen rugs or a backsplash, for instance. That keeps a kitchen from looking or feeling dated, she said.
"What we design needs to live for a while," she said. "You can't change your kitchen design as often as you can your clothing."
Wu said he loves to cook and finds a sense of design in the way meals are plated. His own kitchen has an open design, gray palette and island cabinet.
"I think everything I do is a piece of me and what I'm about," Wu said. "I think the kitchen is no different."