These elaborately patterned fabrics claim a rich history almost as storied as the scenes they depict. Still sought after for their exotic indienne likeness, and once banned by King Louis XIV to protect the French fabric trade, irresistible toiles possess the stylish appeal that constitutes a timeless classic.
Captivating storytellers, toile patterns have been adored the world over for their romantic imagery featuring flowers, fauna, and idyllic scenes of genteel country life. The craze began quickly when the first printed cottons were imported from India to France in the sixteenth century. Lightweight and washable, these wildly colorful block-printed indiennes were met with an exuberant fervor that virtually paralyzed the French fabric industry. So imminent was this threat of competition that, in 1686, King Louis XIV commanded an embargo on the importation of all cottons and issued a decree to arrest anyone who violated the ban. Despite these deterrents, the quest continued to flourish in secret.
When the ban was lifted in 1759, the coveted printed cottons eventually rebounded from their scandalous beginnings, and French factories regrouped in hopes of fulfilling the demand themselves. Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf was one of the first to manufacture block-printed textiles in France alongside the crystalline river Bièvre in the town of Jouy-en-Josas; hence, the expression toile de Jouy. It was only a matter of time before the industrious Oberkampf adapted the faster and more precise copperplate printing method, a technique already implemented in both England and Ireland that produced sharper engravings with expertly rendered variations of shading and light. This process paved the way for commissioned artists to design extensive patterns depicting elaborate themes and historical events with detailed human subjects and complex scenery.
To create a sumptuous feel that sets the standard for luxury, savvy interior designers often turn to stately toile de Jouy fabrics to achieve a majestic look. Here, yard upon yard of vibrant yellow-and-red toile trimmed with silk tassels, fringe, and cording give this bedroom a distinctive regal style. Draperies and plush bed dressings are fashioned from a retired pattern by F. Schumacher & Co. called Les Quatre Saisons.
Not surprisingly, toile motifs continue to proliferate in the modern age with playful compositions such as the comic-strip-like Marquis de la Paillette. Created by fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, it portrays a cultural time line with jet planes, skyscrapers, and scenes from the eighteenth century.
Above left: This neoclassical-style toile print, flawlessly executed with precision detail, illustrates lavish bucolic scenes on an intricate diamond-patterned ground. Above right: A sophisticated black-and-cream toile wallpaper (a retired design from P. Kaufmann), above left, provides a stylish treatment for an elegant powder room.
To learn more about this pattern, see “Toile de Jouy” on page 64 of the September/October 2012 issue of Victoria magazine.