In a bid to kill boredom at the doctor’s clinic, leafing through some old magazines I came across a two-year-old issue of Homes & Garden. The cover story intrigued me.
The issue featured a decor with Paisley and Jamewar weaves all set against Indigo walls! These designs, motifs, dyes formed the bulk of trade from ancient to medieval times. The fact that they still continue to be an inspiration for design houses all over the world is fascinating indeed.
There is indeed a shift in the way textiles are being used these days. A makeover from being functional or sacred, traditional fabrics are now used as artwork in urban homes all over the world.
The mango motif woven or printed has been a dominant motif for Indian textiles whether in Brocades or Jamevars, in Chikankari or Kalamkari. In India for centuries it was regarded as an auspicious symbol and was used profusely in all forms. Its origin is shrouded in different sources. Once it entered the European market in the 17th century, it took the continent by storm.
The New Oxford Dictionary defines paisley as 'a distinctive intricate pattern of curved, feather-shaped figures based on a pinecone design from India'.
A motif that entered Europe via the East India Company was soon to possess the continent. It became a part of the European design ethos. William Morris and the Arts-and-Crafts movement adapted the print and William Holman Hunt and other Pre-Raphaelites painted sumptuous paisley textiles! It became an integral part of the Aesthetic Movement and the Art Nouveau Movement – a symbol for sophisticated, arty bohemianism “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art,” said the famously flamboyant Oscar Wilde, who would languorously lounge in a silk paisley smoking jacket and cravat!!
As the designs made their way to western Europe in the latter half of the 18th century, the shawls became a symbol of wealth and status among upper- class women and a desire on the part of others to possess one. The textile manufacturers were inspired to imitate this rare and expensive product. It was rather difficult to produce as the shawls were hand woven and very few weaving centres in Europe were equipped to weave one.
The Industrial Revolution was to change the story; a town in Scotland was to weave the tear drop motif on power looms. It would make the once unaffordable shawls, fashionable amongst middle-class people and end up naming the pine cone motif as ‘Paisley’. Perhaps inspired by the Indian tradition of naming weaves after the towns from where it originated?
Western imitations of Kashmir shawls became competitive with Indian made shawls from Kashmir. By 1834, shawls with a value of over one million pounds were being produced in Paisley. They became even more fashionable in 1842 when the young Queen Victoria is said to have purchased 17 of them. By the 1860s, trade peaked with over 71 shawl manufacturers operating in the town and making, the colourful, fashionable ‘Paisley’ shawl affordable and accessible across the world. The Paisley Pattern changed everything for Paisley
In 2017, an expert panel convened for the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology named Paisley shawls as one of 25 objects that shaped Scotland’s history.
What accounts for the enduring popularity of paisley? Paisley has not been an ordinary mango motif. It has known no geographical boundaries. Once it entered the European market in the 17th century, its destiny changed.
Paisley was the motif that blurred Kipling’s distinction between East and the West. The twain did meet over Paisley. Paisley became the symbol of cultural exchange between continents. It became a European motif because it was named after the Scottish town – Paisley. The Persian Buta or the Indian Kairi became the universal and since then it has dominated the world of fashion; fashion houses, haute couture, fashion weeks till date.
It has been a versatile element of interiors right from the time of William Morris when he printed wall papers with paisley as motifs to this issue of Home & Garden which shows a Paisley upholstered chair, a curtain and a bag.
It is deeply symbolic, exotic, inspirational and cool - all at once! If the Beatles and Mick Jagger could don paisley, then one needs no proof of its swag quotient.
The appeal lies in its reach. It speaks to all. It appeals to all; fashion houses, decor studios, traditional weavers, everyone is charmed by it. It is no more a shawl sourced from Kashmir but a global motif; one can that be printed, embroidered or woven, one that is not confined to a region, strata, class or material but is truly universal.