Bulgaria’s rug weaving heritage was a prime catalyst behind designer Amber Rankin’s 2019 launch of Rankin Rugs as a British ‘luxury statement’ brand. Hand-knotted at a family-owned Bulgarian weaving mill that has woven rugs for royalty, Rankin designs her collections to contrast contemporary references and patterns with the traditions of Bulgaria’s celebrated rug culture.
Rankin’s company grew out of her 2017 Fine Arts degree at The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford where her interest in the dematerialisation of colour and how it relates to contemporary materials merged with her interest in traditional art and functional design. For her degree show she used paints and aerosols to apply decorative surfaces onto second-hand rugs. The process made her realise how carpets completely change a space. ‘I’ve always known I wanted my own design based business’, she says, adding that her experiments with rugs made her ‘fall in love with interior design’.
Rankin’s decision to have her rugs woven in Bulgaria was inspired during an annual trip to visit family in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Scouting trips revealed she could produce eco-friendly hand-dyed 100% wool rugs in Bulgaria while supporting an ethical and sustainable supply chain. The location of her weaving mill and its hand-knotting technique is information Rankinprotects as proprietary, but the mill has been in business for generations and has made rugs for a number of high profile individuals and institutions. Woven on upright looms, the traditional high knot count Bulgarian weave is deliberately contrasted by Rankin with the contemporary patterns she designs in her Oxford studio.
Rankin’s design process is complex. ‘I often start with hand drawings and a lot of experimenting with materials,’ she says, then moves on to collages as she looks for patterns to emerge. Her patterns pop with references to popular and traditional culture, art movements, retro vibes, graffiti, and natural materials. W.O.W encapsulates her lengthy design process and is also one of her first rug designs. Rankin embellished rocks she collected on holiday with fluorescent paints then created a print of the rocks inspired by textiles she’d seen in Sofia’s textile museum. The rug resembles a clever manipulation of a traditional medallion rug design, but heightened with considered colour choices. The motif of Chintz might be cross-sections of fantasy geodes, while Rankin’s mastery of colour is best expressed in Lapis, where fused colours inspired by a trip to Morocco seem to pulsate with energy. Rankin’s goal for Lapis was to ‘express the emotion’ she felt in Morocco. Rankin Rugs are clearly invested with her emotion, colour sense, and skilful choreography of motifs. And of course, invested also with the artisan quality and heritage of her Bulgarian weavers.