Maya Romanoff, the man who made tie-dye hip for non-hippies, celebrated four decades of creating drop-dead wall coverings last night at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. Resplendent in pink striped socks and a tie-dyed velvet necktie, Romanoff sat silently in a metallic red wheelchair as his wife, Joyce, the company‘s president, closed her thank you speech with a quote from Oscar Wilde who, on his deathbed, reportedly said, “Either the wallpaper goes, or I do.” “Except if it’s from Maya Romanoff,” she quickly added.
Romanoff, whose speech has been robbed by Parkinson’s disease, munched a cashew and looked amused.
In recognition of Romanoff’s work, the walls of the museum’s seventh floor were hung with 70’s era tie-dyed fabric in psychedelic reds, yellows, and oranges. In the corner, two mannequins modeled vintage Woodstock-era dresses that Romanoff had created for upscale hippie-wannabes, who shopped for their Lucy in the Sky wardrobes at such tony shops like I. Magnin and Bergdorf Goodman.
After graduating from Berkeley in the ’60s, Romanoff took off with his girlfriend to bum around the globe. In Tunisia, he discovered the ancient art of tie-dye and, once back in the States, the two experimented with the technique, using Rit dye and rubber bands. After selling out their entire supply of T-shirts at a Rolling Stones concert in Miami, they headed for New York.
In Manhattan, they were all the rage, creating a leather vest for The Who’s Roger Daltry, and a caftan for supermodel Cheryl Tiegs. An opera coat Romanoff conjured up hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But designer Jack Lenor Larson cautioned Romanoff that fashion was a fickle business and urged him to turn his talents to something a little less volatile. He discovered that there was a business to be had in exotic wall coverings, and soon he was selling to society decorators like Albert Hadley and Sister Parish.
Romanoff, whose given name is Richard, but who long preferred to be called Multifarious Maya, a moniker given him by an Indian guru, soon branched out into wall coverings made of things never before used on vertical surfaces–Capiz shells, glass beads, paulownia wood, and kenaf reed.
David Rockwell has designed wall coverings for Romanoff that resemble stitched leather and embroidered felt. Romanoff’s “Bedazzled” pattern, made of tiny glass beads, decorates the new Barbie store in Shanghai. In last year’s Kips Bay Showhouse, Romanoff created a three-dimensional floral pattern for the mansion’s dramatic staircase. Recently, the company introduced a pattern called Meditations, Nepalese Iokta paper with flecks of mica, handmade in the Himalayas.
Although the company manufactures in eight countries, the majority of its work takes place in its factories in Skokie, Illinois, where 60 workers glue mica to paper, or painstakingly build a pattern of Capiz shells like an elaborate puzzle, into rectangles of precious wallpaper.
Long before sustainability was fashionable, Romanoff was committed to preserving the environment. “Maya is cheap,” his wife says. “He always wanted us to use every bit of material.”
But frugality is only one part of the equation. Romanoff’s glues are all water-based, and no toxic chemicals are used in his plants. “The only thing you smell in our factories is food from the microwave,” says Joyce.
Before urging guests to go and see a demonstration of the company’s techniques taking place in a studio at the museum, Joyce Romanoff had one more message for the assembled group: “Please give generously to Parkinson’s research,” she says.