Editor’s Note: The first in an occasional series focused on Lady Virginia Vintage customers and their projects using our fabrics.
Earlier this year I received a delightfully excited note from one of my fabric customers who had picked up a few vintage Kent-Bragaline pieces in my Etsy shop, Lady Virginia Vintage.
“Hello! I just wanted to say thank you. I am the grand niece of Edward Bragaline and I am always in search of his fabric samples.”
This thrilled me so much!
I love the history of decorator fabrics, including individual designers and design houses. Far too many of the designers who worked in these firms are obscured because they were essentially designers for hire, rather than the brand itself.
And in the case of Edward Bragaline, cited above, whose firm was the boutique-sized Kent-Bragaline out of New York, and others like him, very little has been done publicly to unify their histories and contributions to decorator fabrics and wallpapers and make that history — and their influence — readily accessible to the public.
I had sourced about eight vintage fabric samples from Kent-Bragaline in early 2020 and was immediately taken by his modern style, bold color palette, and subtle abstractions within his designs. So I went looking to find more information. I didn’t learn a lot, but what I did learn I added to my Etsy listings for his pieces.
However, if after TONS of research to try to suss out snippets of the Kent-Bragaline history I ended up steering some pieces of his fabric back into the hands of a family member, that was so heartwarming to me.
So I want to share what Allison did with her fabric finds, and also add a little more backstory on Edward Bragaline for anyone who might one day write that comprehensive book on America’s rich fabric design history.
I asked Allison if she’d let me feature her on my blog and in her answer she said, “if you’d like to read this in your best New York accent, please do! I’m far more charming and charismatic in person versus text solely based on my accent.”
Already I was in love!
Someone to Look Up To
Allison Speciale is 45 and was born in New York City, growing up in Elmont on Long Island, in a multi-generational family set up that she says was very common for Italian New Yorkers.
Her family of four lived on the top floor, while her grandma, “Nana,” Elsie Bragaline-Speciale lived on the main floor, and her Uncle Edward (Speciale) occupied the basement.
“My Nana was the youngest of 10 children to Italian immigrants that came through Ellis Island around the 1900s. Edward Bragaline, who is my Great-Uncle was one of two sons of the Bragaline Family. My Nana and Edward Bragaline were siblings.”
Though she’s lived out West, in Henderson, Nevada, for the last 15 years, Allison’s heart still belongs to New York, and to the memories of that multi-generational family. It’s a memory she’s proudly determined to hold on to and make a part of her life today, in a new way — by sourcing and framing her great uncle’s work in contemporary pieces for her current home.
“My earliest memory of my Great Uncle was Christmas. He would come out to Long Island along with his partner, Louis Bowen, for some coffee and dessert and gave us grandkids $100 in a card. Even as a child, I could tell this was a successful, special man. He wore a nice shirt and pants, came via car service and gave us $100 bucks! That’s huge for a 10 year old!”
Allison, who loves wallpaper as much as she loves fabrics, also had an affinity for her Edward’s partner in life, Louis Bowen.
“Louis Bowen was equally accomplished in the design forum via wallpaper. He was a lovely, loving, sweet man and he will always be my Uncle Louis.”
Early Design Influence
Nana’s brother Edward was generous with his little sister as well.
“One day, two beautiful, freshly upholstered couches arrived in my Nana’s living room. The print of the fabric was titled ‘Carnival of Roses.’ This particular design was created by a man named James Reynolds in 1942. My Great Uncle is quoted as saying that this design specifically kept his business afloat during World War II. The fabric has as much as disappeared but the design itself still lives on in wallpaper through Bob Collins & Sons designs in Florida.”
As a child that couch spoke to Allison. She was obsessed. Its bright, loud design didn’t go with Nana’s living room at all. But it became the source of wild imaginings for Allison, who would relax on it, imagining she was transported to that carnival of a garden.
“I spent a lot of time with my Nana. I loved her so much as still miss her to this day.”
I can identify — aren’t grandmothers the best? I miss mine so much too!
Though her Great-Uncle Edward was obviously very successful, living in Manhattan in Sutton Place, collecting art and giving generously as a philanthropist, the family simply viewed him as one of theirs, a big brother, an uncle, Great Uncle.
And he clearly viewed them as one of his — he loved Nana (his sister), and he loved her family, probably keeping an extra eye on her since her own husband had passed away, even though two of her sons lived with her.
A Family Collection
Later in life Allison felt a drive to dig into her family legacy.
“Both of my Dad’s brothers had passed away. My Nana and Grandfather were gone. We’ve even lived on without my own mother for 17 years. Anything tangible to have in our home that spoke to our family history, I was going to find it.”
Thus began a Google obsession focused around Edward Bragaline’s fabrics, designs, and art. She found an old booklet containing parts of Edward Bragaline’s personal art collection and she was really hooked, wanting to find out more and more. Not only was Google her best friend, she also turned to her dad to see what she could glean from him about his uncle.(Pics below taken by Allison Speciale.)
At first she didn’t even have an idea that she would do anything with what she found except fill in more details of her family history. Not being a seamstress or even a sewing hobbyist, making things with any fabric pieces she might find didn’t cross her mind.
Yet she knew that just finding them and storing them away in a closet didn’t seem right either. So she spent time researching places like Ebay and Etsy, buying what she could find, and letting the muse marinate in the background.
Then inspiration struck. She decided she would simply frame the textiles and let them tell their own story right there on her wall, a conversation piece for anyone visiting, and a source of pride for all those in the family.
“I love my framed fabric wall so much. I know my Dad loves seeing it too. I just had my brother and his family over for Father’s Day and they loved the wall too! I feel like it’s something that we will absolutely have forever and ever and I am so proud to have them on display in my home.”
Allison isn’t in the textile industry, but she’s been in menswear retail for 28 years, currently with Ralph Lauren. She’s sure that Great-Uncle Edward had something to do with her own sense of retail product staging. “I attribute my eye for color, balance, and merchandising to my talented Great Uncle Edward.”
I’m sure out there in the world are people who worked with Edward Bragaline, including at his firm Kent-Bragaline. If you have something to share about him, please post in the comments below or shoot me an email. I know Allison would love to hear about it even more than me!
Great Uncle Edward will always hold a special place for Allison.
“He was a philanthropist, internationally published art collector, innovative textile pioneer, and best of all big brother to my Nana. He passed away in 1999. He lived his last days in New York City surrounded by friends and family. His work will live on forever in my home.”
That my shop was some small part of making Allison’s wall of family textiles come alive is one of the best reasons of all to unearth these textiles, research their history, and put them out there. I absolutely LOVE what she did with the fabrics, it looks amazing!
Thank you Allison! I love your story!
— Lady Virginia