Thursday, April 6, 2017

Faking Luxury, c1770

Thursday, April 6, 2017
Susan reporting,

This is another post drawn from the new exhibition that opened recently in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial WilliamsburgPrinted Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home features stunning examples from the late 17thc to the early 19thc, all drawn from Colonial Williamsburg's own collections. It's well worth a trip!

One of the more interesting items on display are these two textiles, shown side by side to demonstrate how block-printed textiles were used to mimic luxury woven silk brocades. The block-printed cotton was created for a lower-price market that wanted the fashionable visual impact of the brocade without the costly price. To the upper left is a sample of a woven silk brocade. To the right is a block-printed cotton that attempted to copy a similar look, and in the lower left is a detail of the same block-printed cotton. (As always, click on the images to enlarge them.)

Here's the information from the exhibition's placards:

"Designs for printed textiles came from a variety of sources. Sometimes the inspiration was the more expensive and less washable textiles such as patterned silks [left].

"The pattern for this block print [right] was taken from fashionable and expensive woven silks intended for women's gowns. Compare this piece with the silk panel. The horizontal lines and other textural effects in the background imitate woven ribbed grounds frequently used on brocaded silks. 

"The design defect caused by mismatching of the blocks and the somewhat coarse ground suggest that this textile was an inexpensive product aimed at audience that desired fashionable patterns without the cost.

"The blue was brushed on quickly after printing the other colors, a technique known as 'pencil blue.' The rapidity with which the work was done is evidenced by the imprecise application and stray drips from the blue brush."

This kind of imitation continues today. Though the reproduction methods and technologies have changed, the fashion world is filled with examples of printed brocades, faux fur, vinyl handbags embossed to resemble alligator, and "leatherette" jackets.

Left: Textile, brocaded silk, Spitalfields, London, England, c1770
Right: Textile, woodblock printed cotton with addition of pencil blue, Europe, possibly France, 1765-1785. 
Both textiles from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott


Cynthia Lambert said...

Both are lovely. One could have a summer day dress out of the cotton, and use the silk for a dinner gown.

raquel said...

The fast fashion and slow fashion of its day.

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