For classicists, maximalists, and general lovers of home decor and interior design, it’s impossible to resist the charms of toile de Jouy. With its bucolic scenes and eye-catching contrast, the pastoral toile design took the world by storm during the 18th century after German entrepreneur Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf (1738–1815) established his printed textile manufactory in Jouy-en-Josas, France, and became famous for his fashionable creations that embraced the cultural zeitgeist. Today people flock to toile de Jouy for its storytelling abilities, and creatives are increasingly putting their own spin on it with locales close to their hearts—none more so than AD100 visionary Sheila Bridges with her Harlem Toile empire. Toile de Jouy–inspired textiles depicting destinations from Lake Como to Nantucket can even be seen on our list of recent fabric trends.
To expand and correct the general public’s understanding of toile de Jouy—which encompasses much more than pastoral prints—AD PRO has compiled this explainer on the beloved fabric.
What is toile? And is it different from toile de Jouy?
First things first, some etymology: The word toile means “cloth” in French. “Toile de Jouy,” therefore, refers to cloth (typically cotton) from the commune of Jouy-en-Josas, France, in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, just four miles from Versailles. Toiles from other French towns, for example, include toile de Nantes and toile d’Orange. “Today, toile de Jouy has become a generic term meaning all [single-color] printed fabrics regardless of the design’s origin,” explains Sophie Rouart, an art historian, Pierre Frey archivist, and coauthor of Toile de Jouy. “Historically, however, toiles de Jouy are the printed fabrics made by Oberkampf at Jouy-en-Josas between 1760 and 1843.” Because many companies were producing similar toile styles before, during, and after the Oberkampf Manufactory, historians can identify authentic toile de Jouy fabrics by a distinct printer’s mark that was required to be added during production.
Toile de Jouy often consists of white or off-white cotton fabric printed with single-color bucolic scenes—but there’s more to it than that. In fact, the majority of Oberkampf’s production was dedicated to floral and geometric motifs. Marie Olivier, who manages the Musée de la Toile de Jouy collection, and Rouart share that while there are 650 Oberkampf patterns featuring the emblematic pastoral imagery, there are over 30,000 polychrome floral patterns. Historically “it was only the scale that determined if the fabric would be used in fashion or interiors,” says Rouart. Pierre Frey’s own Petits appartements de la reine upholstery from the Braquenié line (a French heritage label the company acquired in 1991) is one example of an interior toile fabric, she explains—versus, say, the house’s smaller-scale Petit jouy, which was originally intended for clothing.
Rouart states that people remember toile de Jouy’s narrative French country patterns today because these fabrics were conserved more than their floral counterparts. “They taught us about mythology and literature” and recorded major moments in history, she says, and that storytelling capacity ultimately resulted in more of them being maintained over the years.
“Even if people don’t know the name ‘toile de Jouy,’ or Oberkampf, they immediately recognize the motif,” Olivier tells AD PRO.
According to Rouart, the oldest printed textile was discovered in Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan, and dates back to 2500–1500 BCE. The popularity of such textiles in the West came much later: In the 18th century, after trade had expanded between Asia and Europe, “Indiennes”—lightweight, printed cotton fabrics imitating textiles from India—became popular in France. The fabrics were soft, fine, and easy to clean. Rouart adds that although today many clients prefer toile de Jouy fabrics with a creamy off-white background to convey a sense of history and patina, these textiles were originally intended to be as white as possible. Indiennes also achieved rich colors due to using a mordant technique which helped adhere dyes to the cloth and prevent fading.
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