This week we examine the history behind design’s most famous floral print – chintz. It is one of the most popular and long-lasting textiles. Chintz has been around for over 500 years and has remained fashionable for most of that time!
Chintz originally hails from India; its name comes from the Hindi word ‘chint,’ meaning spotted or variegated. It was first made from printed and glazed cotton and typically featured colorful floral patterns. Dutch and Portuguese traders first brought chintz to Europe in the 17th Century. It became popular immediately, and by the end of the century, millions of pieces of chintz were being imported each year. At this time the flowery fabric was mostly used for curtains and bedding. Famed diarist Samuel Pepys purchased a set for his wife. Chintz only started being used as clothing when these curtains and beddings were replaced – aristocrats gave the old fabric to their servants who then repurposed them as dresses and other garments.
Such was chintz’ popularity that the textile mills in France and England became worried. They lacked the know-how and materials to make chintz themselves. They tried, but they couldn’t reproduce the colors so vividly. The craftsmen in India had access to the necessary dyes that they could source locally, such as indigo, cochineal, and logwood. The European mills decided to lobby against chintz imports, and in 1686, the French government declared a ban on chintz. In 1720 England follow suit; Parliament passed a law forbidding “the Use and Warings in Apparel of imported chintz, and also its use or Wear in or about any Bed, Chair, Cushion or other Household furniture.”
Despite the ban, chintz continued to be made in Europe as samples of chintz and details of chintz making process were routinely smuggled in from India. Chintz garments became increasingly sought-after and young French courtiers were desperate to wear the now-exclusive patterns.
The fabric’s popularity continued to grow throughout the 1800s. The Industrial Revolution brought technological advancement; finally, the European factories were finally able to produce chintz by themselves. Colorfast dyes and copperplate printing meant the new European chintz looked and felt almost identical to the Indian exports. Chintz wasn’t just a pretty pattern; it was also one of the first “performance” fabrics. Crosby Stevens noted that “It’s a very practical, very tough fabric. You can wipe it clean – it was a very Victorian thing to be against dust.”
The 20th century saw chintz regularly swing in and out of fashion. After the Great War, it became less popular as people felt it represented the old world. It came back in vogue in the 1940s and again in the 60s when Jackie Kennedy renovated The White House with “orange blossom” chintz. It flourished again with the 1970s ‘flower power’ movement and once more in the 80s, thanks to Princess Diana and brand Laura Ashley. Lady Di married Charles in ’81 and showed off a wardrobe full of Laura Ashley’s chintz dresses.
Today, chintz has resurfaced as part of the wave of British maximalism. Designer Alex Eagle described chintz as such: “Florals are at the root of British interior design. They add warmth and color and bring the garden inside. They are the antithesis of the sleek paired back minimalism that has been so fashionable. Florals are fun, vibrant, and hugely decorative.” We offer a huge range of beautiful floral fabrics at Austin Home Interiors. Contact us today to explore our extensive fabric library, imported from Europe, Australia, and the United States.