Is there anything that typifies “French Country” style more than Toile de Jouy fabric? – probably not. Tranquil pastoral scenes, shepherds and shepherdesses, playful animals, oriental figures and flowers, birds and trees all pictured on plain coloured fabric background. That’s the well known Toile de Jouy. These printed cotton fabrics, along with small all-over designs – mignonettes – and multi-coloured designs were first made at a factory established in 1759 in the village of Jouy en Josas by an enterprising 20-year old, Christophe Philippe Oberkampf. He arrived as an immigrant with no money, hardly any French language skills but experience and knowledge of fabric dyeing, bucket loads of courage and entrepreneurial spirit and at just the right time to pounce on the opportunities arising from the end of the French government’s ban on fabric printing.
The Jouy factory no longer exists; all the Toile de Jouy prints made now are re-editions of the original style, but you can visit the Toile de Jouy museum and enjoy an excellent presentation of the history of Monsieur Oberkampf’s inspiring story: his passion and drive for innovation, his canny ability to negotiate the political turmoils of the time and the outstanding success of his business. An immigrant success story that is relevant today.
The village is only a short train ride out from Paris. Not able to go? Take a virtual visit on the marvellous free-to-download App. There is an English version and a French version if you want to practise your French. The Toile de Jouy App includes information on how to get there – train lines, bus and car routes.
The museum exhibits recount the experimentation and innovations Monsieur Oberkampf pursued: the best way to bleach fabric, the increasing mechanisation of dyeing and printing using copper plates, then copper drums.
Equally fascinating are the displays of fabric designs that marked significant historical events like La Liberté Americain.
Sometimes a dramatic turn of events necessitated design and marketing modifications. One design from 1787 featuring Louis XVI as a Roman Emperor started out with the name “Louis XVI, Restaurator de la Liberté ”. It was soon modified to include scenes of the storming of the Bastille and by 1790 Oberkampf marketed it as “the design of The Revolution” and “The Demolition of the Bastille”. Records show that by 1793 he noted there was very little left of the fabric but he was offering it for the same price as other designs (a bargain!), however with the emergence of the reign of terror it was sold off at a reduced price then finally put to rest – perhaps stashed away at the back of the stock room?
He also created fashion trends. At the time that The Fables de la Fontaine was a bestseller he printed toile with scenes from the fables. When hot air ballooning was the thing, lots of balloons appeared on the fabrics, and when pineapples were popular they too appeared on fabric. (They’re still popular judging by the wares in the fast fashion shops!)
The museum is well worth a visit, there is a small gift shop where you can buy a Toile de Jouy souvenir or two, and the trip out to the village is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
The fabric shops in the Marché Saint Pierre fabric district in Montmartre sell Toile de Jouy prints in a variety of designs and price ranges commensurate with fabric type and quality.
Toile de Jouy isn’t only for the French Country chic brigade, take a look at Historically Inaccurate: Richard Saja’s fabulous embroidery art for punked-up Toile de Jouy embellishments. You could try something at home. How cool is this shopping bag that Barbara made and embroidered for me.