Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Flower Of Power And Perpetuity

‘I forbid you to wear that floral get-up!’...said no Great-Grandmother, ever, in the history of Grannydom; well, at least NOT the fashionable ones. Yes, fashionable I tell you, for Nana was onto a good thing. As she waltzed around the room in the arms of her buoyant beau, a vision of verdant whimsy, with a ‘festival of flowers’ festooned on her frock……no one could know, this delicate damsel in designers, was a ‘keeper’….or at least, her DRESS was!

C.1954 Hubert de Givenchy's vine-embroidered gown.
C.1750 Coromandel-Coast printed linen Petticoat **

The budding rose, the creeper divine – bulging, bursting fruits of the forest & orchids in animated orbit – were the patterned picks of the day……& they liked to go by their foxy, Indo-European name 'CHINTZ'

Section of an early 18th.C wall-hanging.
(*All chintz pieces presented here were produced in the Coromandel-Coast, India)

(Rani's own reproduction chintz) 
Section of a 17th.C chintz floor-covering from Khandesh*
Cotton print purchased at the Calico Museum, Ahmedabad

Black-iron, Indigo & 'Chay'

While in modern parlance ‘Chintz’ has been used to describe any floral print, painting or embroidery, on cloth, ceramics, etc. – & to some extent, bandied about disparagingly, when confronted by gaudy, florid patterns & psychedelic petal perversions – its true mien is multi-fold. Traditional ‘chintz’ (a corruption of the North Indian word ‘chint’, meaning ‘to spray’) describes both the process & characteristic motifs of this 17th century, Indian, textile phenomenon. 

Fancy cornucopia on a 17th.C  
bedsheet, incorporating yellow resist dye

21st.C reproduction chintz-style embroidery 
by the good Sisters of St Mary's, Amhedabad*

Designs, hand drawn with a bamboo pen (‘kalam’) onto calico (namesake of the city Calicut in Kerala, where the material derives), were filled in with colour, using natural dyes of black-iron mordant, indigo & red ‘chay’ (clay), one layer at a time, speckled or sprayed by hand, then made resistant via a dual technique of waxing & glazing. 

Early samples of chintz production

A process of steeping the fabrics in a mixture of acidic buffalo’s milk & a native plum, helped ‘fix’ the colours, while bleaching in dung (yes, dung!) ‘set’ the patterns. A good thrashing with the naughty stick (mallet) gave the fabric a luxurious lustre. This complex, bare-handed, hip-slipping, back-cracking process was repeated numerous times on the one fabric to produce intricate, multi-toned chintz.

C.1725 Section of a tent-lining

The designs themselves were a continuance of Hindu/Islamic devotion to the beauty of the natural world; organic shapes, flowers, botanics, vibrant tones, rich textures. 
The fruit of these efforts? Strikingly beautiful, sturdy, sumptuous bed-covers, drapes & floor-coverings. A fertile, textile treasure-garden had indeed germinated.

C.1750 Wall-hanging made for the french market

It wasn’t too long before the French, English, Portuguese & Dutch traders, already hooked & high on the ‘spice’ of the subcontinent, sniffed on the smelling-salts of another opulent opportunity. As early as 1600, they were sending Indian Chintz samples to Europe for reproduction. Of course the labour-intensive methods could not be reproduced & were instead replaced by inferior, mass-produced mimics. This did not pass the royal requisites of fashion-forward females of the day, who wanted the ‘real-Indian-deal’. So, with demented demand at hand and discerning buyer afoot, export from India for the Western market, still limited & hugely valuable, became de rigueur. 

C.1710 Small Yoke/Blouse made from a wall-hanging 
for the Dutch Market

By the late 17th, early 18th Century, chintz hailed & prevailed, becoming increasingly customised & refined for French & English upper-class tastes. Different royal insignia, French/English fauna & flora, etc. were incorporated….at first flaunted as home furnishings, but soon escalating to essential ‘closet couture’.

C.1760 Linen waistcoat

C.1725 Coat of arms, pegasus &  
crest, featured on a wall-hanging

Every person of prominence & position, from Queen Victoria and Marie Antoinette, right down to Madame Pompadour herself, sashayed & cavorted in chintz. It was the ultimate apparel for the Euro style-o-phile; exclusive, exotic &, make no bones about it, an exuberant display of one of the most profitable & propitious exploits of the East-India Company.

Francois-Hubert Drouais, 'Mdme de Pompadour'
Wearing Chintz garment. Oil on Canvas C.1764

C.1780 Jacket & Petticoat

C.1750 Section of a bedspread made from cotton petticoat linings

Though chintz production enjoyed considerable popularity for a generation or two, it was banned from import to Europe several times due to its threat to local mills. Ultimately, the invention of commercial roller printing saw to the demise of traditional, authentic Indian manufacture & trade.

C.1720 Section of a small, brightly colored cloth  
made for the Dutch market

'Jute-Garden' 'OneRoseOneRuby' shop's 
block-print, chintz cushion*

Indian chintz, & the demand for it in the 17th & 18th centuries, triggered massive international trade, stimulated economies, governed fashions, dictated class & clique and fuelled parliamentary debates, illegal shipments (when outlawed), chastened confiscations & other scintillating scandals. It also left the legacy of a reference to ‘flower-power’ in fashion & furnishings in almost every decade since. This then spurned a love or loathing toward the humble, floral flounce or flourish.

Mid 18th.C woman's Jacket

Rani's retro, 1960's, floral shift-dress*

Chintz upholstery at Chateau de Cheverny, C.18th - Loire Valley # 

In recent times ‘chintz’ patterns have remerged as a baroque breath of fresh air in the world of predominantly minimalist interior design and fashion; from embellished, floral, brocade pants that bloom in boutiques to damask flower & fruit-vined wallpapers that wow the ritziest hotels.

Henry Wilson's
contemporary chintz wall-paper**

 Young debutantes too are re-entering the world of herbaceous-patterned long hems, twirling madly to funky tunes in flowery, flowing frocks. Perhaps, even holding on for dear life to Great Gran’s blossomed ball-gown, never again to snigger at the delicacy or ‘out-datedness’ of patterns that once danced rapturously to the strings of a different instrument;.......& all in the shadow of a distant artisan, who created them with his bare hands.

Thank you for making space in your day to read my post

#Main images taken from 'Chintz - Indian textiles for the west', By Rosemary Crill (Personal Copy)
#Travel Photo
*Photos from the 'House of Rani'
**Images taken from 'Elle-Decor' - Celebrating India, Collector's Edition. (Personal copy)
#All Writing & Photography by Rani.C (Char) 

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