|collage created using polyvore.com|
I’m pretty prints obsessed and always looking for a new one to spice up my wardrobe. Over the years there’s been more than a passing fancy with tribal, leopard, floral, graphic, ikat, painterly, you name it. Bar camo, I think I’ve tried them all. But the print currently on my mind is rather closer to home.
Paisley, showcased so heavily in the intricate gold and silver thread work of subcontinental garments, is the print that won’t quit. The epitome of traditional elegance in South Asia, this pattern is now making the rounds among style setters across the globe, and into the wardrobe rotation of yours truly.
Origins and history
The teardrop-shaped paisley print originated in India and Iran over 1500 years ago and is still commonly featured in the rugs, textiles, jewelry and garden landscaping of that region. Thought to derive from such botanical influences as flower petals, cypress trees, and mangoes, paisley was originally associated with the Hindu and Zoroastrian traditions before it made its debut on the world stage in the 17th century.
Traders from the east introduced paisley print in Europe to much acclaim, and by the 1800s there was a huge demand for textiles featuring the pattern, especially after English soldiers returned from the colonies bearing gifts of finely-woven shawls from Kashmir (cashmere). In fact, the word paisley derives from the Scottish town of the same name, which became known for its production of the patterned shawls. In Farsi and Urdu the words used are boteh or buti; and in Punjabi, as I grew up hearing it, paisley is referred to as ambian, from amb, the Punjabi word for mango.
From woven shawls to cotton bandanas and men’s silk ties, paisley seamlessly entered the West’s modern style consciousness. It experienced a major moment in the 1960s and 70s when an interest in Indian spirituality surfaced, propelled by the Beatles visit to India in 1968. Thereafter, the print took on a life of its own with the hippie counterculture, and the rest is history.
In its modern iteration, paisley print is no longer about flowing caftans, braids, and incense. Rather, major retailers J. Crew, Zara, and Topshop are featuring it in stores, while design houses like Thakoon, Oscar de la Renta, and Chloe have explored it in their recent collections.
To wear the “ethnic” print in an unexpected, preppy fashion, try a paisley chiffon blouse with a classic schoolboy blazer, cropped skinny pants and menswear-inspired slippers. Or pair a printed pencil skirt with a bright turtleneck and pumps for a more professional look. And if all else fails, sneak into your mom’s closet for her embroidered ambian-wali cashmere shawl. You’ll look so 2011.