Friday, December 21, 2012

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM BELLA NOTTE!

Happy Holidays from Bella Notte Linens!
Last week the whole Bella Notte team showed some spirit and bundled up in holiday sweaters to pose for our yearly holiday photo.

And here's a couple snaps with the local Novato Firefighters from our Toys for Tots drive. We made custom Santa sacks with Velvet and trimmed them in Crimson for all the gifts!





Wishing you a warm holiday season and prosperous New Year from all of us at Bella Notte Linens!

Monday, December 17, 2012

ON SET WITH PHOTOGRAPHER JAY GRAHAM

A major source of pride for Bella Notte, second only to our luxurious linens, are our beautiful images. Not only do they reveal the versatility of the line and unique color palette, but the photos are art unto themselves. Many of our national retailers display the images front and center on their websites, in their stores, and for advertising purposes, which we love. 

In previous blogs we introduced our stylist, Juliet White, and Bella Notte designer and founder, Kathleen McCoy. In this entry we have interviewed Jay Graham who is an accomplished photographer in both interiors and travel, and helps us to display Bella Notte in its "best light". 

Q: Have you always been interested in photography?
My grandmother was a photographer so I've always been surrounded by photos, but the first time I took it seriously was during a course I took at UC Santa Cruz called, "The Making of a Photographic Book." Ansel Adams was the photo expert teaching the class along with Beaumont and Nancy Newhall renowned historians of photography. I was such a beginner I barely knew the difference between the aperture and shutter speed. We did produce a book and I had one image published in it.
Legendary photographer Ansel Adams with students at UC Santa Cruz
Q: Did you go to school for photography? If so, what was your emphasis?
I didn't switch to photography as a career until my mid-thirties. I'd been a real estate appraiser and general contractor until then. When I did switch, I went back the Academy of Art in San Francisco and took one course at California College of the Arts in Oakland. I did a year taking the classes that I needed to get me out in the field. But I had a family and had to start producing income quickly. I assisted other professionals for about two years and then started knocking on doors. Architectural and interiors photography was my primary focus.
©Jay Graham - Interior Photography

Q: How did your relationship first begin with Bella Notte Linens?
I think I was introduced through a mutual friend, Jeanne Delparte. All I can say is that the way we've worked together has evolved so much that our photography and production process is amongst the most seamless and high-tech processes for any of my shoots.
Q: Bella Notte works with a stylist, Juliet White, in England—how do you help to connect Juliet to the Bella studio during the photo shoot? What applications and accessories do you use? How has this process evolved? 
We're connecting to Juliet via the internet mainly using Lightroom, Skype, Dropbox, and a program called CamTwist. In the early days we started communicating with Skype. Juliet could talk with us and see the general layout of the scene we were photographing but it wasn't the exact angle I'd be shooting because she was viewing through the iMac's built in camera.  I'd email her small jpegs to get the exact angle and make final decisions. We shot for eight days on this first shoot and at the end we almost felt as if Juliet was in the room with us.
Stylist Juliet is able to see both the live set and the actual screen of Jay's camera
On the next shoot, we incorporated Dropbox which made transferring jpegs (images) much smoother and the process faster. The latest innovation has been utilizing CamTwist to allows me to designate the video feed in my Canon SLR as the camera for Skype. Juliet is able to see the setup exactly as we are seeing it. I can zoom into specific areas to give her a more detailed look if needed. We still send her a medium resolution images to confirm the styling, but the process is much more fluid using CamTwist. Again, this is pretty cutting-edge stuff and it really allows us to work together seamlessly as a team.
Q: What steps are involved in setting up for a photo shoot? Lighting? Camera placement?
Set up involves connecting the camera and computer, setting up a file system, and making sure all the software including Skype are syncing. Lighting is fairly simple - we use natural light so controlling it's direction is the main focus. We close off any overhead skylights with black plastic to give our light a directional feel from the side to highlight the textures and depth of the fabrics.
A wide angle look at how each shoot gets its perfect natural lighting

Q: Once the photo shoot begins, how does your day look? Please give us an idea of a day in the life of a Bella Notte Linens photo shoot.
We generally have two set-ups going at once. As I'm shooting one, the other is being assembled so that it's pretty much ready to go when we're finished with the first one. As a side note, I arrive on the scene on the day of the shoot and begin my part that day; the Bella Notte team has already spent weeks designing and preparing for the shoot.
Designer Kathleen preps the bed on one set while Mitchell hangs Linen Whisper curtains on a second set
Once the set is ready to go I take a look at the sketches and take directions from the team on what's important to show and what angle we'll be shooting from. I set up the camera, take a preliminary shot or two until we have a rough first image. I then crop and do a rough tuning of color and exposure. The Bella Notte team including Juliet in the UK check the photo on the computer and via Skype to make sure we're in the ball park. I then create a medium resolution jpg image that I put in a Dropbox that Juliet has access to. She opens the file and can make more precise styling decisions based on the higher resolution shot. We repeat this process until everyone is satisfied then move on to the next.
Q: What is your favorite part of the process?
That's a tough question. I like the whole process. It's collaborative from the beginning to the end and it's all about pulling things together, solving problems and creating the best photo we can. If I had to pick one thing it would be seeing the sets for the first time and composing the shot in camera. I love photographing beautiful things. 
©Jay Graham - Bella Notte Linens 2010

Q: Does it ever get dull shooting "still life"? How do you keep it interesting?
The only time it gets dull is when the flow slows down for some unexpected reason like having to rebuild the set because of lumps in the bed etc. The team is incredible and team is the operative word. There aren't any egos getting in the way – only collaboration and a lot of humor. The Bella Notte photo shoot is my favorite product shoot.
Q: What was it like working with things like live bunnies and floating bubbles?
Did I mention humor?
Q: What percentage of the final image is achieved through post production?
I don't know what the percentage would be but it's not much. It mainly entails cropping, color correction, fine tuning of the exposure, and a little photoshop to clean up things like dust bunnies on the floor, and small blemishes on the set walls.
Q: Do you ever "miss the shot"? Do you ever feel like you need to go back and do it again or do you just make it work when that happens?
If we feel like we've missed the shot we definitely re-do it even if it means rebuilding the set. We rarely have to do that. We rarely have to redo a shot for technical reasons because we can see the final shot in full detail as soon as we've shot it. Generally a re-do happens when we look at all the shots together and see one that is just not up to par with the others.
Q: How do you feel when you see the final inspiration books?
Great! The books and the sets that they dream up and build are such a great representation of the quality and possibilities of Bella Notte linens.
Q: Where you do you get your photography inspiration?
Beautiful, exciting things in interesting light. My wife can tell you that one of my favorite photography tools is the u-turn. If I see something interesting, I stop and get an image.
Q: What style of art and photography is in your home?
Eclectic. We have photography and art that I've produced as well as that of our friends and things we've found on our travels.
©Jay Graham - Travel Photography
Q: Who is your photography "idol"?
I have so many that I can't pick out one. But honestly, it's the photography and not the photographer that intrigues me most. If it's beautiful, I don't care who shot it. I just like it.
Q: What do you think about Instragram and other similar editing software apps?
I think it's helped a lot of people get interested in and take part in photography and that's great.
Q: What's your biggest challenge as a photographer?
The business end – I'd rather just shoot.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

COMFY FRENCHIE

Many of our customers love our linens so much that they send us photos of their own bedrooms and personal style. Here's one of our favorites this week from Debbie Sweet:
Little Potato Pie snuggling up in his Bella!
"I am merely a customer in LOVE with my Bella Notte bedding. This morning, I found my Frenchie (named Potato, Sweet Potato, Potato Pie, Tater Tot, etc...) resting on my pile of Bella Notte pillows…I thought it was a quite lovely image of your delicious linens in real life!"
We think it's a lovely image too - If you'd like to send your own photos to be featured on the blog, email us!

Also, we're excited to launch a line of durable and soft dog beds coming in January 2013 so our furry friends can have their very own bit of Bella.

Monday, December 10, 2012

BEHIND THE DESIGN, PART DEUX

Now that we've been introduced to Kathleen McCoy in Behind the Design Part 1, here's her testimony about who and what inspires her, the sourcing and textures that make Bella Notte stand out as a brand, and a brief peek into what's in store for the next collection.
Q: What is your favorite part of the process of creating and introducing a new line? 
I think my favorite is when all the parts come together. This doesn't always happen but when it does you just know that it’s right. I wish it was every single time...there is just a feeling you get that's beyond explanation; it’s the proportion, the color, the mood. And then seeing and hearing peoples' reactions. Generally I have found if something truly speaks to me it will speak to my customers as well.

Q: What is your main source of inspiration for fabrics, colors, styles, prints, and patterns? 
Everything. I read trade magazines all the time, a real variety from all over the world, and glean styles and general feelings from those. Travel—any textiles I come across, from batiks in Bali to the simplicity of styling in Australia, the colors of Mexico. 
A collage of snap shots from a recent trip to Europe for MAISON&OBJET and Heimtextil

I also go to museums quite a bit, art exhibits, textile oriented, and those are always very inspirational. The last one I saw that just blew me away was at the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I think I saw it two or three times! He is a genius; I could have seen it time and time again.


Q: Do you have a favorite designer? 
I’m not necessarily influenced by fashion design per say, I don’t follow the trends very closely. But as far as interior design, I am very intrigued/influenced by Muriel Brandolini. Her use of colors and textures and layering is very inspirational.
Q: What do you do when you are feeling uninspired? 
If I’m uninspired it usually happens because I need a break, I’m over saturated, burnt out, and need to take some space. When I’m on vacation I can get very inspired because I’m rested and reflective. A vacation in Hawaii each month should be mandatory!
Q: What makes Bella stand out from other brands? 
I think part of it may be the fact that we source fabrics globally. I have discovered that many other lines have found a particular vendor that they like to work with so their line maintains a specific aesthetic, whether it’s from India, Portugal, China, or anywhere. In contrast because we source globally, Bella brings in a multi-cultural feeling. Yet all of our textures are able to remain cohesive because they are dyed into the same palette. 

Our palette range  is also something that sets us apart. We have anywhere from 17 to 20 colors depending on the season. The garment-dye process helps us to achieve this tonal quality in our products; they aren't necessarily a perfect match to each other and just that slight contrast gives a little friction between the colors which I think makes them more exciting. 

And, just the sheer appeal of these soft, beautiful fabrics will always help us to stand out.
Kathleen inspects new fabrics
Q: How does it feel when you see other designers with a similar aesthetic? 
That is always an interesting series of emotions when you see your product being copied. I think initially one feels very proprietary and taken aback that someone would blatantly copy you. But then again, it’s the fashion industry, the bedding version, and that was Design 101. I try to find a sense of adulation in it…'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' as they say. And then what it usually does is get me in gear, it lights a little fire. It inspires me to continue looking for that next design, that next great color, that next collection.
Q: Why do you put such an emphasis on local, eco-friendly, and charitable causes? 
It’s part of doing business in the 21st century. And even prior to that it’s been important to us. Using non-toxic dyes has made producing consumer goods less impactful on the environment.We are making a product that uses resources, but because it utilizes a process that doesn't pollute so heavily, it is not making so much of a negative footprint. And to the best of our ability we bring in organic fabrications or products like Tencel (made from wood-pulp), which have much less impact on the environment. It just makes sense. 
As far as being charitable, when you’re in a business like this it doesn't feel balanced when it’s only about the profit and the gain. There is plenty to do with our scrap product so that is doesn't get thrown away. Plus we like to donate our end use product to causes that are dear to our hearts. One of our mission statements when we first developed the company was that family comes first. That translates to our donations as well. We donate to battered women’s shelters, Habitat for Humanity, Marin Food Bank, anything to do with families and aiding local community members. It makes for a more balanced company.
Q: What are you thinking of introducing throughout 2013? 

We have a few colors we've been playing with, the first being a coral—but not too bright, the bright shades don’t seem to harmonize with our palette. Another possibility is a soft greenever since we discontinued Pistachio, we have had many requests for the addition of a green into our line. We're also sampling a color we have named Ebony, a just nearly black color with a softness to it that really complements our current palette. And lastly for a classic tone, we're looking at Wedgewood Bluea gorgeous, soothing addition that harmonizes well with the whole palette. 

As for prints, we’re looking to bring in a large floral and a beautiful bird Toile. 

Q: What is your biggest success and biggest challenge in the industry? 
I think they are basically both the same: I believe our biggest success is having mastered and refined the art of garment-dyed bedding. And our biggest challenge is marinating this difficult process and continually producing pieces that meet our high standards. 
Q: Some might think you are the face of Bella, who else is a part of the creative team and how do they help with your vision? 
There is a very large group of talented individuals that comprise our company—everyone here plays a vital role in our success and within the creative team, we have quite a few key players. One being our extremely talented stylist, Juliet White. She lives in England and we correspond via email while brainstorming ideas and organizing sets, then graduate to Skype during our actual photo shoot. Her ideas, use of props, color and texture combinations always push the envelope ever so slightly, constantly inspiring us and seemingly our customers as well. 
Our head of visual media and design assistant, Taylor, is also a contributor to this team. She is able to channel the constant flow of ideas within our company into cohesive projects, whether that means seeing out the development of a new texture or tone with me, organizing and collaborating on a photo shoot, or traveling to the design shows to aid and research and development of new collections.  
Photographer Jay Graham
We also have our photographer, Jay Graham, who works with our team masterfully. He is an extremely gifted photographer who is able to take our information and designs and, in the midst of a chaotic photo shoot, truly capture the essence of Bella Notte. 
Our dyer, Mark, is able to problem solve and relentlessly interpret the colors that we come up with. It can sometimes take as many as 10-15 attempts, but he has the ability to meet those challenges as he is not only a technician but also an extremely creative individual.   
Mark our dyer

And it’s important to mention that Bella Notte Linens wouldn't be this company without my partners, Mitchell and Bob. From the beginning, Mitchell has made what we do possible because he is the "can do guy". Bob has always been constant force, a very sound and pragmatic business man.

Look for more introductions and interviews with the rest of the Bella Notte team in upcoming posts! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

BELLA NOTTE ON THE SARAH & VINNIE MORNING SHOW!

Last week Bella Notte Linens made a cameo appearance on the San Francisco Bay Area's #1 rated Sarah & Vinnie Morning Show! Many of our staff are loyal listeners, so we dropped off a gift (a Silk Velvet Quilted throw blanket in Flax) to one of the DJ's, Sarah Clark. She famously adores interior design and cozying up on her couch, which she calls "command central" - so we thought we'd offer a Bella addition.

The response was par for the course with our soft and luxurious fabrics - you'll love hearing their banter and the unintentional jealousy that ensued from the package! Enjoy this 3-minute segment courtesy of Radio Alice @97.3.


Sarah and Vinnie, the morning show Hosts

Thursday, December 6, 2012

BEHIND THE DESIGN, INTERVIEW WITH KATHLEEN McCOY

If you've pored over a carefully crafted Inspiration Book, felt the luxurious textures of our silk satin and velvet, or cuddled up in your own bed dressed with dreamy Bella linensyou know that Bella Notte is more than just a bedding company. From the selection and global sourcing of fabrics, to the custom mixing of unique colors, and adornments of delicate lace or satin trims, Bella Notte embodies its mission of everyday luxury.

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.
Q: What was it like starting a business in the San Francisco Bay Area (versus LA or NY)? 
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 contactsmany 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!
Q: Do you ever miss fashion design? 
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
Q: What's like to be a woman business owner? And a working mom? 
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 na├»ve 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.
1996

1997



2004
2004

2006

2006
2006
2007
2007
bella notte gets a new logo













2010