It would be an understatement to say that the French contribution to the world of fashion and arts has been enormous. From nurturing Haute Couture till date to giving us the gift of Chanel and more, how ever much you credit the city of Paris and its talents it won’t suffice. In introducing our Francophile series, we aim to learn and share the exquisite aspects of French fashion and culture. And since we love fabrics so much (that we named ourselves after one), what better way to begin than to talk about French fabrics and design and what makes them so unique!
When you say ‘Toile’ it literally means linen or canvas fabric in french which is also used as a test fabric to perfect garment patterns in dressmaking. But it can also be used interchangeably to simply imply the beautiful scenic prints that are more accurately referred to as ‘Toile de Jouy’ that literally means “cloth from Jouy-en-Josas”, a town in the south-west suburbs of Paris.
You may recognize a toile print from the upholstery and linens showcased in movies and pictures of colonial high society in America and Western Europe. It has also been widely used on wallpapers, teapots, beddings, clothing like aprons and dresses. That’s what makes this pattern so endearingly charming. It’s reminiscing of simple olden times yet very posh.
Signature mark: white/off-white/dull background with single color repeated print patterns in basic colors like blues/black/reds depicting pastoral scenes like countrysides and floral arrangements.
French for ‘Chinese-esque’, Chinoiserie is a french take on Chinese artistic influences. It warms our hearts to know that the French should value art and beauty from anywhere in the world and not hesitate to make it their own! Various European monarchs including Louis XV of France preferred chinoiserie in their decor as it also blended well with the reigning rococo style. It is characterized by the blend of the Eastern and Western styles of decoration, specifically Chinese imagery and the attempts to imitate Chinese porcelain. In fabrics, it translated into elaborate oriental floral designs.
Literally translating to ‘the lily flower’, fleur de lis is more than just a design motif in France. It holds religious, political, dynastic, artistic, emblematic, and symbolic connotations especially in the French Heraldry and Coat of Arms. In building and architecture, the fleur-de-lis is often placed on top of iron fence posts. The symbol has such varied and emphatic implications in the French world that we had to include it in this list even though its not necessarily fabric centric. But as is with most important cultural references, fleur de lis has found a big place in fabric designs. The fact that its a beautiful motif may have had something to do with it.
Seen on every ballerina, the tulle netting has even been given the adorable name of tutu for the garment so ubiquitous with the dance form. Apart from that, tulle skirts are worn under gowns and skirts to give them their uncrushed fullness and sometimes as and by themselves. Tulle is a city in the southern central region of France which was a center of lace and silk production in the 18th century and that’s where the fabric is believed to have originated.
We all owe this one completely to the French royalty who organized the manufacture of lace at the French city of Chantilly in the seventeenth century.In fact, all lace first originated in France. It moved to Paris soon enough and now into our wardrobes. By the nineteenth century every lady worth her fashionable reputation owned a black or white Chantilly lace shawl although black Chantilly was more popular and was worn on mourning occasions.
Chantilly lace is recognized by fine ground and very intricate detail, including broken stitches to mirror a shadow pattern for depth. It was almost exclusively made of silk but now we also get cotton versions.
The navy and white striped knitted shirt was the uniform for all French navy seaman in Brittany, France, featuring 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories. The distinctive style picked up wind and was quickly adopted by all mariners first and fashion circles second (courtesy Chanel herself who introduced it in her collection before anyone else). Since then every designer who has ever done a nautical collection (which is almost everyone) has included Breton Stripes on more than just knitted shirts. These were also very noteworthy during the Beatnik movement in the 50’s & 60’s.