Elana Safronsky, Managing Editor
Tuesday, November 2, 2010 5:59 PM EDT
Paris -- intimidating? (yes) Time to get over it. We definitely have our own style across the pond, but knowledge is power, and ignoring a major player in the history of style, doesn't make it any less relevant.
Modern fabrics and accessories from Pierre Freycollections.
This is why I jumped at the chance to attend a presentation by the patriarch of a prestigious Parisian fabric house, Pierre Frey, held a little while ago at the Textiles Museum of Canada. Mr. Patrick Frey (the said patriarch) brought with him examples from his extensive library of antique fabrics -- more than 30,000 'documents' -- dating back to the16th and 17th century and the Queen of aesthetes herself, Marie Antoinette of Versailles. (Btw, buyers can search through this library for reference, for custom reproductions -- the ultimate in luxury!)
Pierre Frey fabrics available at Toronto's Primavera showroom.
While the company represents every style of fabric you can imagine, from antique reproductions to collaboration with modern artists, there is much significance to Pierre Frey having bought the time-honoured Braquenié house, founded in 1824, and considered to be the quintessential producer of high French classicism. Braquenié fabrics had a presence in the Louvre, Chambord, the Vatican, all the European courts in the time of Napoléon III, the house of Victor Hugo, and so on.
Primavera Furnishings, a designer-go-to Canadian showroom representing Pierre Frey fabrics in Canada sponsored the presentation, and myself, among the who's who of Toronto's interior design community -- Linda Reeves, Shawna Levi (IDS), Peter Fallico, Vicky Sandersen, Sasha Josipovicz and many, many more -- got schooled indeed!
Overview: as we chase down the latest Ikat (pronounced eyecat), Hollywood Regency and block-printed, Eastern-inspired motifs, there is a whole other world of fabric that trades solely on provenance, quality, historical reference and quite frankly, art. This is not to say that others don't, just that Pierre Frey belongs to a small group of textile producers who are bound to a sense of history and place -- above all trends.
From the left; Pierre Frey (eldest), Vincent Frey, Patric Frey.
In a smallish auditorium, all of us gawking as Pierre, Patrick's eldest son, draped fabric after antique fabric nonchalantly over a clothing rack, the well-humoured Patrick Frey took us on a journey of textile evolution.
Here's what you should know before getting into a conversation with a (disarmingly charmant) Parisian fabric snob at a cocktail party:
A classic toile from the Braquenié collection.
- Before the 17th C. virtually all European-made fabrics came from Italy. Furthermore, upholstery and apparel textiles were one and the same -- indistinguishable.
- With the coronation of Louis the XIV, 1654 marks the beginning of the end for borrowing Italian style by France. French Style was in full swing by the mid 1700s, under Louis XV.
- Toile de Jouy: "Fabric of Jouy" -- pronounce twahl du jwee -- is from an actual place and factory called Jouy-en-Josas, near Versailles, France. Toile de Jouy refers to a French (do not mention the English versions in French company) cotton or linen, printed with pastoral designs and figures, in one colour, on a white background.
- In the 19th C., in the Napoleonic era, toile began to be produced with varied backgrounds -- colours other than white, and even intricate wallpaper-type background patterns.
- Origins of Toile de Jouy: The Jouy factory was started in 1760 by a Franco-German, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf. His designs were printed originally by a labour-intensive process using woodblocks (still in use today in parts of the world, and considered a mark of valued craftsmanship). From 1770 onward, however, Oberkampf adopted the technique of etched copper plates, which were flexible and could be fixed onto a roll. Thus, a mechanized process for toile was born, making production much easier. Oberkampf first saw the technique in England.
Got it? Here's some more photos from the event:
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Most impressive? To every new discovery, era and decade in the realms of textiles and style, the house of Pierre Frey pays exquisite homage. Check out their products and blog for a most educational browse. Oh, and happy times -- this year, La Maison Pierre Frey turns 75!