At first glance, French Toile fabrics just looks like various images of blue on white that give off the feeling that it belongs in your grandmother’s home as a wallpaper design. The images on these patterns are often overlooked but the saying “that the Devil is in the detail” rings true about the French Toile. The fabric depicts stories with meanings that range from calm and serene to sensual and ironic. The imagery used in French Toile is being constantly and continuously adapted to the personal style of artists, mixing the classic, nostalgic feel of grandma’s house with populist themes.
16th Century France
In order to understand the history of the French Toile, or more properly known as Toile de Jouy (which means cloth of Jouy), we have to dig deeper into the history of fabrics - specifically cotton. Cotton was first imported in France in the 16th century, and disrupted the status-quo as it quickly became the fabric of choice since it was cheap and easy to look after. The demand and success that cotton achieved was a threat to local textile industries such as wood and silk, to the point where cotton was banned in 1686.
This ban on cotton wasn’t lifted until 1759 - a whole 70 years later. Around the same time, German-born Christophe-Phillipe Oberkampf had recently moved to Paris, breaking away from his family cloth-dyeing business. Catching word of the ban on cotton, Oberkampf used his experience within the industry to set up his own business in Jouy-en-Josas which was just outside Paris. Influenced by Rococo art and its romantic spirit, Oberkampf joined with designers to create pastoral scenes for their fabrics which became the French Toile.
The fabric and the company became very popular, very quickly. It was so popular that Oberkampf even became the first mayor of Jouy-en-Josas in 1790. The business flourished and they began commissioning other designers, and by the time Oberkampf died in 1815, the company had a catalogue of over 30,000 patterns.
Toile prints have been around seemingly forever. Although their popularity waxes and wanes a bit, they never completely disappear. The resurgence of the French Toile seems only fitting for Spring/Summer 2019 as the fabric is the perfect medium for spreading not only populist themes and political messages but also doing just the opposite and taking a lighthearted approach with a bunch of ironic visuals.
Looking like a beach-day inspired scene, it’s in the detail. At closer look, we take our own spin on the classic print. Catch the Luau girl with the selfie stick, or the guy catching waves on a shark. Our design still holds the sense of pastoral scenes traditionally done on French Toile but with a Bather twist. Besides, there’s nothing like giving the cowabunga sign with your leg bitten off.