Friday, October 21, 2011


Ralph Lauren bedding design in traditional paisley-and-stripe pattern.
From the collection of Deanna Littell.

The 80's was an exciting time in the New York design world.  I had been doing stories on home furnishings, particularly the very profitable bedding area and was invited to attend a press opening of the new Ralph Lauren licensing program featuring the J.P. Stevens collection.

I remember the exhibit began with a small, token alcove that displayed  Ralph Lauren's denims and western look fashions for men and women.  The spotlight space  was reserved for a gigantic display of Ralph Lauren bedding towels and tablecloths by J.P.Stevens, finished off with RL china and stemware.  I can't remember if there was wall- and floor-covering at this time, but I do remember smiling at what I called "the 25 shades of white" displayed  in the Ralph Lauren paint collection. We all left with a paint color chart.  With the ignorance of a civilian, I didn't understand that there would be an on-going market for home stylists who indeed could tell the difference between Navajo and Nantucket white.

But most importantly,  I didn't have the foresight to appreciate that this underpinning of home licenses would turn Ralph Lauren into The Emperor. Well, someone else had that foresight!  Michael Gross in his book, Genuine Authentic:  The Real Life of Ralph Lauren credits Marvin Traub, then president of Bloomingdale's and a man who started his career in home furnishings, for advising the designer to develop the "unprecedented yet classic concept".  

Lauren was already hooked on the rich-uncle look of the well-worn Persian carpet against the hardwood floor, the fat paisley damask pillows on the sofa.  Why not paisley bedding, table linens, even for heaven's sakes, bath towel sets?

That began three decades of beautiful, affordable paisley designs for the home.  We are showing the paisley and stripe motif, similar to one that would be used on classic Kerman shawls from Persia. Gross also points out that the home collection didn't turn a profit until another six years.  At the book's writing in 2003, Gross estimates that Lauren's Home line had been doing "a couple hundred million dollars in annual volume". JP

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


A page from the 7th century Book of Durrow.
Note the paisley-like motifs that help support the circles.

Detail of embroidered Mass vestment from the Cathedral
at Loughea, built 1897-1903.

Since prehistoric times, it seems that the people of Ireland have been drawn to the visual power of circles and concentric shapes. Stone circles appear to have been dated there to the Bronze Age. Early Christian manuscripts are concentric super stars with illumination ranging from the long, skinny snake-like forms of St. Patrick's least-favorite animals to closely-knotted forms that work so well with the monk's calligraphy.  The Book of Kells of the 9th century is one best-known examples of this.

Although not in the center spotlight, paisley-like forms were generated as an occasional counterbalance to tightly-locked circular forms, see the page from the 7th century Book of Durrow.

The motif, called "boteh" in Persia and "buti" in India, owes its full formation to the leadership of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) in the Kashmir valley of perfect goats, textile-dying conditions and master shawl weavers.

Throughout 19th century Europe, the vestments of Roman Catholic priests worn for Mass  often featured the motif, although there were some earlier evidences as well.  Here is an example from the Cathedral at Loughrea county, Galway, built 1897-1903.   Center is a trefoil paisley-like motif that most likely references the Trinity.  At the secondary circles, naturalistic ears of rye.  The outermost circles show the characteristic Celtic knotted motifs. JP