The Globetrotting Paisley
The original Persian droplet-like motif, the 'boteh' or 'buta', is thought to have been a representation of a floral spray combined with a cypress tree, a Zoroastrian symbol of life and eternity. Ancient Babylonians likened it to an uncurling date palm shoot that provided them with all the basic necessities, hence it symbolized prosperity and life. Paisley evolved as an important design element of Kashmiri shawl khil’at, the robe of honor of the royalty, ceremonially exchanged in political and religious contexts. Shawls became a part of European elite sartorial paraphernalia in the late 18th century. The motif reached frenzied enthusiasm after Napoleon’s wife Joséphine stockpiled hundreds of cashmere paisley shawls. To meet the demands, the town of Paisley in Scotland eclipsed Norwich and Edinburgh in shawl production in the early 19th Century, thanks to pattern piracy, quick-evolving labor structures, and early adoption of the innovative Jacquard loom. Paisley, the town’s dominance in shawl production explains how the ‘boteh’ pattern got easily renamed ‘Paisley’ throughout the Western world. The spell of Paisley finally broke in the 1870s with the Franco-Prussian War. In the swinging 60’s, Paisleys returned its former glory in the fashion world. The lure of exotic musical and artistic influences catapulted Paisley back into the boutiques and magazines. The hippest pop icons of the day, most noticeably The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Kinks, The Who and The Small Faces were donning the iconic Paisley.Cultures this swirling motif is interpreted diversely; in India, Paisley signifies the time of harvest, commemorates the Indian summer as the fruity notes linger the backyards. As the motif trickled from royal regalia to the common people, it was ubiquitously absorbed by the local weaving traditions, be it the elegant Benarasis or the exquisite Ikats.
“It symbolises the tree of life, the seed palm, thus fertility.”
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