Provencal fabrics – From India to Provence

Provencal fabrics convey the sunshine and vibrant colours of Southern France, the sun-drenched colours of happiness and holidays.

Provencal fabrics

Amazingly, Provencal fabrics didn’t originate in Provence, but came from India and Persia (modern day Iran) in the early 17th century.

The first colourful printed fabrics were imported from India via the busy port of Marseille.

They were an instant hit despite being quite expensive!

The sale of Indiennes, as they were known, spread through the French Kingdom like wildfire to the point that imports could not meet demand!

The beginnings of French production

Colbert – the Finance minister of King Louis XIV –  soon realized the commercial potential of this new trade.

Provencal fabrics

He founded the trading company Compagnie Francaise des Indes Occidentales (East India Company) in 1664.

However, he also invited Armenian dyers and fabric makers to France in order to teach their know-how to local producers!

The Indiennes became such a craze that they eventually led to the decline of the French silk and wool industry!

In 1686 the silk manufacturers lobby, however, managed to convince the king to ban not only the import but also the production of Indiennes.

The problem was that the fabric was very much in demand and the ban benefited… smugglers!

Meanwhile, the manufacturers of Indiennnes closed down their workshops and moved to Avignon.

Provencal fabrics

Indeed, the ‘city of the popes’ was not under the jurisdiction of France, but under that of the Vatican!

They then hired Jean Althen, an Armenian dyer who worked in one of the workshops of Avignon and introduced the use of the  superb red madder dye known as garance.

Finally, they also hired fabric makers who taught their skills.

They therefore soon mastered techniques of production such as the application of card printing to fabric.

The ban was eventually lifted in 1759 and the popularity of the Indiennes soared once more to new heights!

Classical Provencal style

Provence weavers then started to produce their own version of the traditional Indian designs and hues by adapting patterns and colours.

Provencal fabrics
Lemons and mimosa

The popularity of the Indiennes never ceased growing until the industrial boom of the mid 19th century that proved so detrimental to artisan production.

Production obviously slowed down.

However, modern manufacturing methods relaunched it.

Provencal fabrics are today more popular than ever among French and foreign tourists!

The patterns also evolved through the decades.

The original Indian designs therefore slowly left place to the classical Provencal style we are all so familiar with!

Provencal weavers were indeed blessed with a natural artist palette.

Provencal fabrics
Olives and cicadas

They found inspiration in the “purpleness” of the lavender fields, the silver green of the olives groves, in the vibrant yellow of the sunflowers, mimosas and lemons, in the rich ocher and crimson soil of Roussillon and in the glorious blue sky of Provence…

Each region has left its name to a specific pattern.

You will find various styles in Manosque, Carpentras, Côte d’Azur and Lubéron to name a few.

Some Provencal fabrics are even named after a weaver –Marius or Orane.

The colours change with the region.

You won’t be surprised to know that Roussillon produces 17 different shades of ocher that range from saffron-yellow to orange, ocher-red, rust and crimson!

Colourful stripes mixed with flowers, fruits and insects create these unique patterns that end up in the manufacturing of tablecloths, bedspreads, lavender bags and clothing.

Provencal fabrics are today very affordable and come in a wide array of designs and colours for all to enjoy!

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