A New LeafAuthor:Jessica Ritz
How CW Stockwell CEO Katy Polsby mines the company’s bold past to build a bright future
CW Stockwell and some musical artists share a commonality. The textile and wall coverings company’s Martinique print is a classic, thanks to its instantly recognizable and showstopping banana-leaf pattern. Much like a musician whose other work doesn’t become a karaoke staple compared to a signature big hit, the brand behind this design has a deep repertoire of other prints that resonate with contemporary tastes.
“When we relaunched in 2019, I knew that Martinique was going to be a gateway and a calling card,” says CW Stockwell CEO and owner Katy Polsby. The beloved graphic backdrop evokes escapist glamour and is associated with cultural icons such as the Beverly Hills Hotel and Blanche Devereaux’s bedroom in The Golden Girls. It’s also proven to be a powerful way to reach “people who maybe didn’t know our brand name, but knew the pattern.”
Polsby’s revival of the Los Angeles venture that Clifton W. Stockwell established in 1905 was a personal and professional passion project. Save for Martinique, which always remained in production, CW Stockwell stopped releasing new patterns during the years leading up to the 2013 death of Stockwell’s grandson, Remy Chatain Jr. In 1950, he joined his mother, Lucile (Stockwell’s daughter), who was the company president. Remy was a close friend of Polsby’s family in Pasadena, and Polsby’s mother, Jill, became executor of the estate and wound up buying the business.
Katy Polsby’s own lightbulb moment came in 2017, when she rediscovered wallpaper sample books in her parents’ Pasadena garage and decided to apply her design industry merchandising expertise to what essentially felt like a calling. CW Stockwell joined the Harbinger showroom roster in 2019, and Polsby has since opened a showroom in San Francisco, where she lives. (Products are available both to the trade and to the consumer.)
Martinique, which was created by Remy and Lucile Chatain, with botanical illustrator Albert Stockdale, in 1942 following a tropical vacation, has been a fruitful creative muse and subject of reinvention. Twists include grasscloth wallpaper, performance fabrics, various colorways, a collaboration with Voutsa and hand-printed denim. But there’s always been much more to the CW Stockwell story. Polsby explains that the latest archival reintroductions are “complementary to the existing line, but also an extension,” since the company created “a huge wealth of totally different patterns, subject matters and scales. There’s a lot of classic material that still feels super fresh,” she adds.
The most recent launch comprises the designs La Vendee, originally dating from 1968, Ocelot from 1973, and Basket Plaid from 1959. Each resulted from deep dives into the archives, with artwork and screens that required rebuilding from scratch. While the colorways are new, the processes remain true to CW Stockwell traditions, which embrace idiosyncrasies and imperfections. Such attributes “retain the nature of the original artwork and the original intention,” Polsby observes.
Honoring the brand heritage doesn’t mean staying tethered to faithful reproductions. “The common thread is constantly talking about innovation and pushing things forward,” Polsby says. “I’ve always felt like that’s my owner’s manual.”
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