Sunday, October 20, 2013


Green bottle with motif center and upfront displayed at The Art of Arab Lands, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art. Below: Vera Bradley tin for mints.

We are at a silly point in U.S. marketing, where humanity is being drained out of advertising and public relations communication.  The symbol or graphic image is all, and the product is lifeless.  Years ago, the ultimate branding concept first sent shivers down my spine when Martha Stewart told PBS's Charlie Rose that she wanted to become a brand.  Yes, from a corporate sense, it was a logical decision.  After she is gone, the corporation will have an identity.  But at what cost to her humanity?  I remember Ms. Stewart  from her early days in the Kmart licensing program.  She may have acted up behind the scenes, but she was still human with a lot of great advice for home and table.

On to the green-glass bottle that was displayed in The Art of Arab Lands at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the past spring-summer.  Some smart person in the 17th century decided to do a nice fragrance bottle with a large boteh (paisley) motif simply placed up front and center.  It wasn't designed to sell billions.  It communicated love of the motif, and it was probably a pleasant experience to use that bottle.

Vera Bradley, a successful gift company both online and in stores - known for its prints in fabric totes, home accessories and children's wear - produced the little round candy tin pictured.  Lovely to put in a handbag.  This year, they even have a paisley Christmas ornament.  I don't think paisley is the total branding message for them but I am sure that the gift customer loves the beautiful design when it pops up in the collection.

Perhaps the point of all of this is, perhaps we should get back to making products that are pleasant to use and stop obsessing about vacant, unhuman brand images. Remember, humanity separates us from the limiting world of the algorithm. JP

PS: VB candy tin is courtesy of Dodie, who is this blog’s copy editor.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Edoardo Nesi's book, Story of My People, is an emotionally difficult book to read. It takes you right into the Northern Italian city of Prato and its ghost-town of empty factories and of factories turned into sweatshop dormitories. Nesi's book also reminds me so much of my hometown, Detroit. In one of my first blogs, I wrote about visiting Prato and seeing first hand how the spirit was cut right out of its textile craftsmanship and its community.

As Nesi points out it had a long tradition of the highest level of work, patronage and commercialism that dates back to the 15th century, the days of Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici. In fact, it was a chance to see Lorenzo's final villa located close to Prato, that brought me there in the first place. And it was the overwhelming sadness of the current Prato that made me flee once I had visited the villa – a villa which Lorenzo planned but never lived to see built.

We are coming to realize that globalism for the sake of chasing the lowest price will not only lead to corporate riches but also to the grief of individual societies and to the destruction of highly-developed and century-honored trades.

For Detroit, the motto is "Speramus meliora, resurget cineribus." (We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.) This is from a quote from Fr. Gabriel Richard after a terrific downtown fire in 1805 that included his parish. And people of Detroit are talking about that motto today.

In my opinion, for an understanding of the true spirit of Detroit, the best book is Detroit City Is the Place to Be by Mark Binelli and for Prato, it is Nesi's Story of My People.

In the most recent decades, Prato seems to have done more fine menswear stripes and plaids than paisley motifs. But since the teardrop is a symbol for life springing forth, maybe someone in town will weave a little paisley for me? I also recommend that Mr. Nesi read the story of the Highland Park firemen in Mr. Binelli's book. It will give him heart but also might make him cry.

The urban struggle and struggle of the spirit are not new. Marsilio Ficino – translator of Plato into Latin and mentor to both of his patrons, Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici –wrote in one of his loving letters to mankind: "Labor so that you may be good and shine with beauty; suddenly all things are good and shining with beauty for you." This, even when the outer world looks like hell as it often did in Ficino's Florence. JP

Tuesday, August 6, 2013



After the first appearance of the woven paisley shawl in 17th century Kashmir, some citizens of the Middle East expanded shawl usage for the home.  They hung shawls as wall coverings for warmth and beauty, placed  them over windows and doors as shelter from the sun and used border strips to accent shelves .Shawls were spread on the ground for lush banquets.  In the late days of  the 19th century, retailers sourcing The East India Trading Company,  developed an Empire cache by popularizing paisley upholstery and wall covering. And  of course, there was the ubiquitous shawl that got draped over the grand piano.

Now, working artist Jolie Stahl , has incorporated  bits of a fine paisley-printed scarf fabric into one of her house paintings-and-found-object collages being prepared for an exhibition titled Home Economics. It will be held at New York's Hudson Guild Gallery in Chelsea, starting March 20, 2014. Stahl is also curating the show that will include the sculpture of Tom Otterness.

Here, Stahl shows a home referencing the American Colonial period circa 1740, not that colonials had a lot of paisley to work with..  It took another century for  both Queen Victoria and Napoleon to create a full-on paisley-at-home trend in Europe with their sharp eyes for local fabric industries.

Stahl says that the dismal home foreclosure figures of the past seven years prompted her to focus on the future of the American home and what the dramatic changes might mean to our culture.  The artist is also director of Ddora Foundation which is dedicated to preserving applied arts. JP

Friday, July 26, 2013


Above: Madame Riviere, 1805-6 by Inges Below: Madame de Stael by Gerard

The reading of Paula Byrne's The Real Jane Austen brought me to finally pick up Madame de Staël by Francine du Plessix Gray.  It appears that Austen passed up meeting Madame S at one of her publisher's Mayfair salons in 1812.  Possibly the Force of Nature that was Madame S might not have been Austen's cup of tea.  But since we are all fashion obsessed these days, who would have worn her shawl better?   Austen, with her fine shawl shown in a previous blog? Or Madame S, who despite the fact that her father, Jacques Necker, began his financial career as "a brilliant head of the East Indian Company," liked her shawls solid color with geometric patterned borders?

Why are there no portraits of the fashion rebel, Madame S in a paisley shawl?  Perhaps as French cultural historian, Dr. Joan Rosasco, points out, Madame was more interested in imitating the classic drapery of Greece and Rome.  It might also be that the non-paisley look was part of her anti-trend stance.  Her turbans rather than wigs fit into this pattern as well. 

But who wore it better?  My vote is neither.  In Madame Rivière portrait, 1805-6,  by Inges, Madame R,  the wife of a Napoleonic empire government official, wore her shawl most beautifully against the whites of her silk gown and muslin veil.  Art cognoscenti have called it a symphony of textures. JP

Friday, July 5, 2013




The viewer can feel the power of nature in this graphic from The Leonard A. Lauder's Collection as shown in 2011, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  It somehow seems appropriate to show this wonderful wave in this season of wacky weather.

Artists have long been inspired to use paisley-like shapes for droplets of water or giant waves, tree leaves or huge trees, sparks of fire or tongues of fire over the heads of Biblical apostles, a single puff of air or a wind storm.

Many postcards from the Boston exhibit are still online for your enjoyment.  Mr. Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estèe Lauder Companies Inc., has promised this collection of 450 cards to the museum.   By the way, the lower-left box was neatly designed for the card's address, leaving the entire back for the message.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Above:  Corner of  Ralph Lauren shawl. Below: Heraldic-like paisley at the center.

This Ralph Lauren shawl from c. 1986 is an excellent example of Paisley as a Royal Symbol.  The large center motif is shown as almost a heraldic coat of arms with the paisley forming several outer frames.

Of course, when the Mughal King Akbar set out to establish shawl production in mid 16th century Kashmir, the intended target customer was the royal male.  The shawl was worn in a variety of ways, diagonally across shoulder and chest, around the waist, as a turban. 

Part of the Lauren design dynamic has always been paisley and after Bill Atkinson Ltd. had closed its doors in 1982,  Jeanne Atkinson was recruited as Director of Ralph Lauren's Designer Division. It was an excellent match from both design and financial perspectives. Unpublished figures show a sizable turn-around profit for the division in 1986.  The shawl is from Atkinson's personal collection.  JP

Monday, May 27, 2013


The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne is a treasure of a book. Austen's life spins out through the writer's focus on a few well-chosen objects. One of the first objects is "The East Indian Shaw,l" with its bit of the shawl history.and the use of the correct term for paisley, boteh.

 Byrne mentions Austen's Aunt Phila,who was sent a shawl by her husband living in Calcutta in 1772. She also references a story that the young Jane created in 1792. Catherine, or the Bower was modeled after Phila who traveled to India in search of a rich husband. The book provides a color plate of what could be the young Austen sisters wearing shawls loosely around their shoulders with as much flirty charm as today's woman wears a multi-looped scarf around her neck. And there is second color plate of what might have been Jane Austen's fine red-yellow-and-tan striped shawl with tiny boteh within some of the stripes.

Henry James's Washington Square also has its wonderful reference to boteh when Catherine brings a statusy shawl back to Aunt Lavinia after an extensive European tour. In the most recent Broadway production, The Heiress based on the James novel, costume designer Albert Wolsky has his looks pitch-perfect. And actress Judith Ivey plays Lavinia and her shawl beautifully. Lavinia self-importantly drapes it on her shoulders, takes it off and folds it as if it were a Cloth of Gold. One can see that the shawl was not only an object of desire in this era but part of the mannerisms of the day. JP

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Paisley motif is formed of regal flowers in a vase. on an 18th century shawl.   

The book, "Mastery of Mughal Decoration:  The Art and Architecture of Islamic India" helps recall the beautiful exhibit perhaps four summers ago at the Detroit Institute of Arts, "The Private World of India's Mughal Emperors".  This Kashmiri design is especially refined with its little floral tips dipping to let us know that this really is the boteh (paisley to the English-speakers) motif.  In 18th century India, the long shawl would be worn by an important man in the society either on the diagonal over one shoulder or as a waist sash.

However, there is another flowering in Detroit that is just as beautiful to me.  It is the new Shinola craft-and-e business concept based on the establishment of local crafts shops.  In the majestic Argonaut building, inside the College for Creative Studies, there is watch factory built on the Swiss crafts model.  In Ste. Genevieve, Mo., there is a leather goods factory.  In Waterford, Wisc., there is the Waterford Precision Cycle Shop. In Chicago, there is the Horween Leather Company.  In Ann Arbor, Mich., there is the Malloy Paper Works.

Often as I read and write about the brilliant days of Kashmiri weaving and see what happened when Europe took over the "paisley" shawl craft, I think of Detroit.  Past mistakes are past mistakes and now Shinola is building small and carefully. Interestingly, the Shinola watch is already a male status symbol, just as the boteh sash once was. Hint:  JP

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Early Etro camel-and-maroon shawl was an accent for Bill Atkinson Ltd. fashions

Atkinson's beautiful Etro shawls have been housed in their drawers in recent years, at times taken out and worn, but mostly they have just nestled in with other wonderful memories of her days as the dynamic CEO of Bill Atkinson Ltd.,  1974 though 1982.  These were the years when Ms. Atkinson's late husband Bill was the Coty-award-winning creative director and heart and soul of the designer sportswear company that kept customers of the best specialty stores in America beautifully dressed.   Ms. Atkinson merchandised the line, got it manufactured, sold to the stores and then flew around the country twice a year, doing the personal appearances that went along with the trunk shows.  This plus caring for a husband, two children and a big house.

During the late 70s and early 80s, Mr. Atkinson really believed in the magic of the shawl.  His wife thinks this shawl magic was ignited when the designer disappeared into Italy for a month.  When he had emerged again, he told stories of  spending time with Gimmo Etro, about falling in love with the paisley patterns, the Italian workmanship. He also produced a deal allowing his company to distribute the shawls in the states.  During these early years, the shawls bore no logos.

It had become sort of expected of Bill Atkinson, that he would pair beautiful Etro shawls with his fall-winter fashion collections.  The camel-and-maroon shawl shown here marched down the New York Fashion Week runway with a reddish-brown suede jacket and a sweep of black suede skirt with vertical bands of brown. For added charm, the designer had a paisley pattern cut out on the shawl collar of the jacket.  To Mr. Atkinson's educated eye, shawl and separates colors were meant to blend but never, never match. The sienna brown of the jacket and true brown of the skirt details just lived happily with the earth colors in their shawl. 

The shawl we show has always been one of Ms. Atkinson's favorites.  Now as manager and member of Global Marketing Strategies LLC in New York, she enjoys wearing the shawls and separates occasionally.  When last I saw her, she looked very 2013 in one of the Bill Atkinson gentle black suede skirts with a black jersey top and graceful gold-chain necklace. When she went out for her day, she could easily have added the shawl. JP

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Luscious 19th century coat from the Bokhara province, located on the Silk Road

This, from Asian Costumes and Textiles from the Bosphorus to Fujiyama, (Skira editore, Milan, 2001), a book lent to me by the fashion legend, Gloria Sachs.  The brocaded Chinese silk robe was made for an Ottoman dignitary.  Its embroidered design is a red fruit-like paisley, framed by two white-and-airy paisleys. The lining is a Russian cotton print in a flower-filled paisley. Border trim, inside and out are perfect counterpoint prints for the paisley. All in all, the coat is a four-print smash-up that sings!
And the photo by Mauro Magliani is a dream. JP