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Posted on Feb 06, 2021
Discover through this article the history of one of the world's most popular prints, which has traveled across time and cultures, from the Kashmiri sultans to the Bloods and Crips.
This popular twisted drop design has a Persian (Iranian) origin, but its western name comes from the town of Paisley in western Scotland.
The paisley pattern originated in Persia and the Sassanid Empire around AD 221. The pattern represents the cypress tree, which is a Zoroastrian symbol of life and eternity.
In modern Persia, cashmere is still called "Boteh Jeghe" and is very popular. Paisley patterns can be found on bandanas, carpets, curtains, jewelry, paintings, clothing and various works of Persian art.
The fashion for the paisley pattern then spread to many other countries in Asia and India, and it became most popular during the Mughal period, between 1526 and 1764. The pattern was used on almost everything from stone carvings to accessories and insignia of princes and holy men.
During the 1600's the paisley pattern began to appear on shawls. It was thus in India that this print started to be successful, especially in the Kashmir region.
It was there, during trade negotiations, that the English and the Scots discovered this print and brought it to Europe.
In the first half of the 17th century, imports from the East India Company made the Paisley motif even more popular.
However, the importation of finished shawls from Kashmir was far from meeting the European demand, so the Europeans rushed to produce their own designs.
Some factories in England and Scotland have thus started to produce parts with this type of Paisley printing.
But it is a textile center in Scotland, more precisely in the city of Paisley, which has had worldwide importance in the production of fabric with this printing.
Around the 1800s, the weavers in the town of Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland became the main producers of these shawls. This is why this design is still known today as "Paisley".
Patent wars then broke out to protect the new models and the know-how needed to weave them. Paisley patterns were a coveted intellectual property, much like today's computer programs.
Not surprisingly, legal battles only protected European designs; those stolen from Kashmir were considered fair use.
Shawls have changed as production technology has evolved, to the extent that cashmere has remained fashionable in one form or another for a century.
Woven on more primitive looms, the first "imitation" shawls were relatively sober: plain or furry in the center and patterned only along the edges. With the acceleration of textile technology, richer cashmere patterns were worked in the center of the shawl, then in the corners, and eventually consumed the entire shawl.
The fashion for cashmere patterned shawls finally broke in the 1870s. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 dealt the first blow: the French lost, leaving the country impoverished and depriving Kashmiri weavers of their biggest export customer.
A famine in 1877 also decimated the Indian weavers. But cashmere's popularity eventually faded due to inexorable fashion reversals.
But cashmere resurfaced in fits and starts: around 1904, Norwegian peasant women and Spanish ladies still preferred cashmere as church clothing. London's iconic Liberty department store, which opened in 1875, initially specialized in exotic fabrics from the Far East, but later diversified by creating its signature "Liberty prints", fabrics for clothing and furnishings, many of which feature paisley patterns.
Among the many inexpensive printed fabrics produced in the early 20th century was the bandana, printed with polka dots or cashmere on a red or blue background (the name comes from the Hindi word bandhnu, which means both "tie-dying" and "tying" in general).
Cheap bandanas printed with paisley patterns grew around the necks of American cowboys, on the sweat-soaked foreheads of farm workers, and on the noses of wilderness firemen.
Printed on bandanas and scarves, the paisley pattern became more and more present and popular.
The paisley pattern also regained its place in the 1960s. With its psychedelic details, the paisley pattern fueled the hippies' fascination with all things Indian. (John Lennon had cashmere painted on his Rolls-Royce after the Beatles' visit to India, and the group's adoption of all things oriental greatly raised the profile of paisley.)
The paisley patterns later conquered even more social groups. In the 1970s, for example, the homosexual community used bandanas with paisley motifs as a signal. They invented the "handkerchief code", communicating their sexual inclinations by putting bandanas with colored paisley patterns in their back pockets.
Subsequently, in the gang wars of the 1980s, bandanas with pasley patterns took on very different meanings for certain social groups: Crips with blue bandanas clashed with their rivals, Bloods with red bandanas.
At the same time, the paisley bandana was also adopted by the Boy Scouts. They wore blue and tan bandanas to signal their membership in a troop.
The paisley or paisley pattern has thus crossed the ages and spread over a variety of fabrics. It has been taken up by many different social groups, from homosexuals to gang members and scouts.
It is, and thus will remain, a legendary motif.
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