Georgia State Helped Add Color to Liora Manné’s World

Even a move across town can be stressful when you’re a teenager, having a comfortable routine disrupted by suddenly being dropped into a new environment with unfamiliar people. When that move isn’t across town but rather across an ocean, it can be more traumatic still.

Instead of retreating into a shell, though, Liora Manné — whose family moved from Israel to Atlanta when she was 16 — found herself eager to try new things and indulge interests she hadn’t pursued before. Her passion for creative expression first began to blossom at Georgia State, and it spawned a textile design business whose creations can today be found everywhere from exclusive hotels in Miami and L.A. to the pages of House Beautiful and the New York Times.

“When I look back, I guess it was just a time of jumping into a whole new world, a new country, and it was very positive,” Manné remembers of her time at Georgia State. “This was really a very exciting stage of my life.”

Finding Her Niche

Getting comfortable in a new country wasn’t instantaneous, of course. Manné remembers the “cultural shock” of arriving in Georgia and feeling like an outsider as she tried to adapt to an American high school. Even though she knew some English, she also ran into a bit of a language barrier in the Deep South. “When I started in the language, I studied English with South African teachers,” she says. “And then I come to the South, and I really had to tune my ears to make sure I was understanding everyone. It was a challenge, but an exciting one.”

After a semester, Manné’s high school gave her the green light to start taking classes at Georgia State. “That was a relief, that was a great thing for me. I was able to take classes at State and graduate from high school at the same time,” she says. And at last she began feeling comfortable in her own skin. “It was really positive, an exciting time,” she says, “just getting into a new culture, a new people, and new friends.”

She also found a wide variety of new opportunities. “I was really trying to take as many different kinds of classes as I could. When I was in school, I took journalism classes, and drama, and ceramics, breaking into a lot of different things. At that point I was young, and the world was open — it was a great opportunity to just explore and experiment. And the fact that I was able to do all that, it was wonderful.”

That urge to try new things and express herself creatively followed Manné after graduation, to Raleigh, N.C., where her boyfriend was attending North Carolina State. And though she was thinking of pursuing a career in theatre, Manné took some classes in textile design — “just for fun” originally, like the pottery and ceramics classes she’d tried at Georgia State.

“I’d always thought whatever I was doing in that area was just a hobby,” she says. “But before I knew it I was in the full-time program. I got my master’s and I started to work.”

A Hobby Becomes Art — and a Booming Business

Manné did fulfill her dream of moving to New York, not as a stage actress but as a textile designer creating fabric and apparel. “While I was in [graduate]school, I had the opportunity to do some design work at Cotton Incorporated, and I never turned my back on that,” she says. “I just really enjoyed the designing and the entire process, the challenges and the technical aspects. That was where my life was going.”

After about a decade in New York, Manné decided it was time to strike out on her own — not only with a new company but with a new technique. Her trademarked “Lamontage” process starts with acrylic and polyester fibers that are cut, blended and layered by hand; she then uses mechanical needlepunch methods to weave and entangle the fibers into a pattern. The result is a unique fabric — suitable for floor and wall coverings and even upholstery, indoor or outdoor — that has both the soft texture of felt and the durability of synthetic fabric.

Manné’s designs can be seen at her showroom in New York’s Design & Decoration Building and at home décor exhibitions around the country. Just because she’s doing what she loves, though, doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work. “The design process is what I really love — enjoying the expression through the different mediums that I’ve been designing, that’s the joy,” she says. “Obviously, to launch a business and create what I’ve done, I had to spend a lot of time on other aspects that were less pleasurable.

“To make a living doing this, I had to hire people to create it, had to get some machinery to process it, had to find a factory where I would be able to use their equipment. And I had to find the market, and that was the most difficult thing. That took a lot of work,” Manné says. The upside, though, to juggling roles as designer and businesswoman is “both your right and left brains keep working all the time. Every day you have new challenges with new projects.”

In her spare time, Manné continues to enjoy working with clay and ceramics. And she still has some of the pieces she created while she was at Georgia State — reminders of a period of growth and discovery for which she remains grateful.

“I had the same feeling about going into textiles as I did about pottery — it was something that I wanted to do for fun, and the doors of opportunity were open in front of me,” she says. “My love for the clay and the glazing and all that really remains with me, and I’m now finding times to go back to that and do it on my own.”