The Allure of the East

Cathay, China, the land of the dragon…has fascinated and inspired Europe for hundreds of years.  Chinoiserie is a style created by  fable, myth and exotic merchandise.  What do I love about it? that  it’s in an exercise in fantasy:  European craftsmen dreaming up fairy tale designs. 17th and 18th Century Europe could not produce the Chinese luxury goods they so admired, around which exotic tales swirled: porcelain, lacquer, silk  or ivory.

So-Join-the-dots-below…1700 to 2000… Fashion to Decor… inspired by the allure of the East.


In 1740 the fashionable French painter Boucher produced The Chinese Garden: fashionable Chinese ladies appear whimsically Parisian.

In 1997 John Galliano arranged Parisian models languidly in Shanghai-chic and opulent silks.

Gleaming flapper bob, jade ear rings, silk scarf-dress

Traditional style redolent with sensuality, a lingering scent of the orient.

Chinoiserie a la Haute Couture looks good?


The Chinese room has long been a fixture of interior-escapism.

The state bedroom at Nostell Priory decorated by Thomas Chippendale 1769.  Chippendale’s  innovation was creating furniture with Chinese shapes: from pagoda-shape book cases to fret work chairs.

Fast forward to the 20th Century, Cecil Beaton sketched  Chinoiserie-decor, alive and chic in 1930’s Palm Beach, for US Vogue.

In the 21st Century, Michael S. Smith, inspired by trips to English country houses, created a chinoiserie dining room. It includes a 7ft gilt pagoda(out of shot) and carved gilt console table (below), all against the eternal joy that is vintage chinoiserie wallpaper.

Chinoiserie: Dragons, cherry blossom, fretwork and bamboo, pagodas to cheongsam…. in all it’s fairy tale glory, continues. Plus ça change.

So let’s finish at the  beginning, Marco Polo began an account of his 13th Century adventures in China with:

Let me now … travel into Cathay, so that you may learn something of its grandeurs and lost treasures. 

Chinoiserie’s treasures inspire gracious living: sophisticated, educated and tongue in cheek,  sounds good to me.


Chinoiserie by Dawn Jacobson

Galliano by Colin MdDowell

Cecil Beaton Scrapbook by Assouline

Michael S. Smith ‘Elements of Style’ with Diane Dorran Saks

2 thoughts on “The Allure of the East

  1. Pingback: Bring On Baroque | adecorativeaffair

  2. Pingback: New Year: New Plans | adecorativeaffair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s