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Feeling the love for Paisley

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From an exotic import in the 18th century to a fashionable commodity that would become synonymous with Scotland, Paisley has captured the imagination of designers all over the world. This month our style blogger, Mette tells us why she chose to tie the knot in a Paisley patterned wedding dress.

I LOVE EVERYTHING PAISLEY!! There, I have said it. It’s out! But seriously… how could you not? Paolo Nutini, Gerard Butler, David Tennant, the St Mirren football team, and their fab buddies, plus my wonderful husband… oh I could go on and on. But what really gets my juices going (sorry husband), is that wonderful story of the evolution of the Paisley pattern, the production and, not least, the pattern’s strong hold in fashion. The pattern is as strong now, if not stronger, than when the first shawls came to Europe and Britain in the 1770s, brought by Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers back to their girlfriends or to sell on. Today, the pattern is so recognisable and is used in so many ways and loved by more people than ever.
When the first shawls came to Britain, fashion was a far cry from how it is today – ladies were basically meant to stay indoors, so they really didn’t have outer garments. But the shawls came in handy. The start of changes to how people lived came rapidly and when people started travelling, there was a need for fashionable outer garments to go over the traditional dresses for ladies in transit.
Some clever business men soon figured out there was a dime or two to be made, and these lovely, light and warm shawls began to be produced both in Edinburgh and Norwich. But Paisley ran off with the medal and by around 1840, the shawls were pretty much exclusively produced in Paisley mills. They were sold all over the UK as “Paisleys” – the shawls named after the place in which production was commercialised.

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Paisley has been embraced by designers throughout the years. From left: Etro shorts with the label’s signature Paisley pattern, updated with bohemian florals;  Adidas Original Stan Smith Paisley-print shell sneakers; Rockins Prickly Paisley fringed printed silk crepe de chine scarf; Etro Paisley-print silk maxi skirt, all available at Net-a-Porter.

For me, one of the most exciting things about the Paisley pattern is that the shape is something that is represented in nearly all cultures on earth. The first known examples of this shape are from Persia, where it is a symbol of life and eternity, it’s also described as date palm – also known as the tree of life. The pattern is part of Indian art and Celtic art, and seen in classic motifs from Greece and Rome. From a branding point of view, Paisley had made it, they had commercialised a pattern which was already present in so many places and cultures. Some people say it is the shape of the human embryo.
The Paisley weavers got more and more industrial and could produce the shawls faster than ever, and they became really skilled in weaving with many colours at the same time – Jacquard weaving. Some shawls were printed with the patterns too. The weavers of Paisley did amazing product development and changed the shapes and colours of the shawls to suit fashion’s ever increasing demand. Lots of industries were supplying the weaving trade, one of which was the thread merchants, one of two such Paisley families ended up building Dundas Castle.
I could go on and on about this. I am fascinated that such a simple pattern, represented in all cultures worldwide, was commercialised and mass produced in Scotland and has left us with such amazing history and designs to last, hundreds of years on. Paisley shawls are not used so much any longer, but the pattern is represented in many things.

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We love this Paisley inspired coat Mette designed for one of her brides. Made from woven Paisley-patterned lambswool, with a shawl collar and matching buttons, it not only looks fabulous but kept out the most wintry of winds (photo by Fred Phillips).

Even today, the Paisley pattern is the only pattern – along with dots and stripes – deemed acceptable for men to wear in a modern business context. Paisley patterns are often garish and it’s one of the only times men would introduce vivid colours and patterns to their wardrobe. I bet you can name a guy with a Paisley patterned housecoat, even if it is from a period drama.
In the 1960s, Paisley had a renaissance as a “phsycadelic” pattern. But pretty much every century had its own version of “Paisley”.
I got married in a Paisley patterned wedding dress, so I am a bit biased, but would you consider introducing a pattern to your wedding planning or interior design – one that has proven a winner in several cultures and is a symbol of life and eternity in many places? I think it’s a no brainer. Guys and girls, go crazy on the business ties, your wedding ties, waistcoats, cravats, you can do some patterns for fashion, wedding planning and your interior designs. Steep yourself in the Scottish cultural history!
I must confess that I used to harbour a severe dislike of Paisley ties. But this post has changed the way I think about the pattern entirely. For that, and the excuse to feature Gerard Butler (again!), I owe you a big thank you Mette! Christina x
Originally hailing from Denmark but having now made Edinburgh her home (it was love at first sight!), multi award-winning designer dressmaker Mette Baillie is the incredible talent behind Freja Designer Dressmaking.