While there exists a team of professionals that touch every part of the business, service, and manufacturing processes, we want to start at the beginning by highlighting Bella Notte designer and founder, Kathleen McCoy. A confident businesswoman with an aesthetic that is both simple and elegant, her influential and highly adaptable lines of linens appeal to an audience with a range of tastes. Having moved beyond interior decor, Bella Notte is representative of a lifestyle that is detailed, bold, and couture. Now let's meet the woman behind the design.
|Designer Kathleen McCoy in her home.|
When I was in design school in LA, pretty much everyone in the industry said you can’t do a design business in San Francisco. Fortunately at the time there was a very large company called Jessica McClintock, formally known as Gunne Sax, and I got a job where I learned a great deal and made a lot of contacts—many of whom I still use to this day.
That being said, it is challenging. There is a much smaller industry than in LA, a smaller pool of sewers and contractors, and therefore I believe they are more expensive as well. We have been fortunate, but it has been a challenge. We utilize all local craftspeople, from cutters to sewers to dyers.Q: How did you get into designing bed linens?
I originally had a polar fleece jacket line called MARINWEAR. The line was doing well and was fun because polar fleece had just come on the scene, and we decided to cut the fleece more as a traditional jacket.
But as a designer, one gets bored and I had decided that I wanted another fabrication. Having always been very fond of linen I decided to try my jacket styles in linen. I presented them to all of my buyers, and my buyers loved them but still wanted the fleece, and fleece alone. So I had a couple hundred yards of linen lying around and I was devising ways to get rid of it. I thought, 'why not try it in bedding?' since I loved the product so much. 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 went back and thought about what my other favorites were… silks and velvet. I brought some into the line and as it turned out they too got softer with each wash.
I brought my samples down to the local furniture store in downtown Mill Valley and asked if they would dress the bed on consignment. For some reason, I guess it was timing, the idea of washed velvet and linens and silks really took off. They approached me asking if I would dress their beds at a very large furniture show in North Carolina and I agreed. People were approaching me to represent my line, but at the time I didn't even have a line! Just some samples. So I developed a line, presented it, added some vintage fabrics that we cut up into pillows. Washed everything. It was perfect timing, they took off.
Up until then, high-end bedding was dry clean only. We broke the mold with that and in addition we brought in a lot of soothing colors. At that time most bedding was in shades of white and ivory. I was initially inspired by some Dupioni silk sample cards I had with soft greens, dusky blue, soft creams. I had the colors in my silks but I wanted my linens and velvet to match. I did some research looking up local dyers. Luckily a very good dyer was just 15 miles north of me so I approached him with my idea. When I initially came he looked at me and said, “no one garment dyes bedding’ and I said, “so, can you do it?”. He was hesitant at first but to his credit he made it happen. He’s a very good creative formulator and matched the colors perfectly and successfully dyed each product. I was thrilled, and hence the invention of garment-dyed bedding!
Yes. When the bedding line came about, I still had the jacket line. But it was clearly too much for me, my little garage and my young family to accommodate.
|A family Halloween photo from the 90's, from left: Kathleen, Taylor, Mike, Sean, and Bob|
So I had to decide. I chose the bedding for one reason: I didn't have to change it out five times a year, which you have to do with fashion. On that note, I have found in this industry that they really don’t want you to get rid of anything. I think if our customers had their way we’d have every product we've ever done still in the line while at the same time still introducing new. As opposed to fashion where they really just want what’s next. As a creative, I’m always coming up with new ideas and really enjoy that process. I almost have to keep the reigns on as you can only introduce so much. So yes, I do miss that change and the stimulation of seeing what’s new.
|Kathleen at age 16|
My children are raised at this point, but any working mom will attest that it is extremely challenging to participate in your children’s lives in the way that you want to and at the same time run a business. As far as being a business owner as a woman, I think it’s had its advantages and disadvantages. When I first started my company around 16 years ago, the industry was still dominated by men business-wise, though many of the designers were women. You do have to learn to be a little tougher than you might naturally be. But in general I wouldn't say that I've hit any glass ceilings.Q: How did you come up with the name Bella Notte Linens?
I was at a dinner party with friends and we were discussing my new line. I knew that I needed to change from MARINWEAR and my friend Ken Demont suggested, "How about "Belle Nuit?", which is French for beautiful night. I liked it, but thought people might have difficulty pronouncing the name so we translated it in a few languages and came up with the Italian, Bella Notte. (Below: MARINWEAR LINENS in early 1996, and Bella Notte in 1997)
Q: What did the first Bella line look like and how has the brand matured?
We were so young and naïve when we started out, it was a very serendipitous move to even be doing what we were doing. It has very much evolved. We have listened to our customers over the years and to the best of our ability given them what they request. We have realized what has made us special is our innovative uses of our fabrications and not being afraid to try something that hasn't been tried before, like garment-dyed bedding, and pushing the envelope a little. But that being said, we aren't so far out of mainstream that most people can’t relate to our collections, our fabrics, our colors, and find something that inspires them.
We have moved away from what I like to call the “country cottage look”. Though it is still quite pretty, it is now a much smaller part of the line. We have simplified our look, cleaned it up, adding a bit more of an urban feel. At the same time, it will always be a little bit different because our colors are not necessarily mainstream…they have a unique quality to them, giving a couture lean to our collections.
|bella notte gets a new logo|