Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Passion for All Things Paisley

Paisley designImage via WikipediaBy Davinia Vitrac

Paisley makes for a refreshing look, this is a rather absurd statement of me to make when you consider that the paisley print actually originated as far back as 3000 years ago from Indo-European cultures. In Britain it is represented in Celtic art, but this disappeared after the rise of the Roman Empire. In India however it flourished in many different art forms.

Very few people know that the popularity of paisley in more recent times (from the 18th Century and beyond) is down to a small town of the same name that sits 4 miles west of Glasgow, Scotland. On our recent visit to Edinburgh for our photo shoot we couldn't resist making a pit stop at Paisley to find out more about the prints that we love so much!

The town of Paisley in Scotland became quite renowned in the 17th Century, similar to many other small towns in Scotland for its principal industry of weaving. Paisley produced simple fabrics such as lawns, silks and muslins. This heritage and the skills acquired over decades laid the foundation for what would become Paisleys most famous product - the Paisley shawl.

The paisley shawl was in fact an imitation of a garment that was brought to the UK from the East India Company in the mid 18th century. The paisley shawl became very vogue but the Indian versions were expensive and in very short supply. The shawls were quickly copied by British manufacturers and reworked, the original Indian designs were also modified to meet European taste and of course to allow for mass production! For 70 years the fashion of paisley shawls thrived and the term 'paisley' became established and recognized worldwide.

Our personal love for all things paisley could have its routes back in the 'Summer of Love'. I wasn't actually born at this time but if they ever invent a time machine I am going there! It was during the late 60s and 70s that paisley once again became extremely popular, this is thought to be a direct result of the heavy influence of the Beatles.

The Beatles made a spiritual pilgrimage to India in the late 60s, during this visit John Lennon was so inspired and affected by the cultural experience that he had his Rolls Royce painted with the paisley design that he associated with India. Around this same time Fender guitars made a pink paisley version of the telecaster guitar, perhaps this was a salute to the Beatles. Prince in more recent times also paid tribute to the Rock and Roll attributes of paisley when he called his record label Paisley Park Records, named after his song of the same name.

So what do these crazy swirling teardrop or tadpole patterns actually represent?

According to Valerie Reilly the curator of the shawl collection at the Paisley Museum there are many interpretations and theories behind the paisley design:

"Some people think the motif is a mango, others a Chinese dragon, others half of the yin-yang symbol. We prefer the idea that it represents the growing shoot of the date palm, which was a "Tree of Life" in that region of the world, important for food, shade and building materials. Gradually the symbol came to represent growth and fertility."

When admiring the array of beautiful shawls at the museum one cannot help but hear Valerie's final words lingering as the swirls and teardrops take on new meanings. One cannot help but feel the influence of the erotic east but for now the interpretation of this unique design loved by aristocrats, nobility, and rockstars alike, through the many decades, remains in the eye of the beholder.

If you have the opportunity to visit Paisley we highly recommend that you visit the Paisley museum where you will find the 'Finest collection of paisley shawls in the world'!

Davinia Vitrac is the owner of and a lover of paisley! is an online boutique specialising exclusively in ladies dressing gowns. Inspired by the 1950s screen sirens of yesteryear has one single mission - to bring the essence of femininity back into the world of ladies dressing gowns.

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