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