Toile, Or Not Toile
For a certain demographic I imagine that toile has never really gone out of style, but for another demo, mine, I can pretty confidently state that it’s never even come close to attracting any mainstream acceptance. It’s more likely to inspire revulsion than delight, and that revulsion is more than likely to be immediate.
I’m not exactly sure why it’s so powerfully disliked. It’s been around since the late 18th century, so one can’t deny that the pattern has staying power. It’s not really offensive in any way. It’s basically a one-color print on a white or natural fabric. There’s a couple of different repeating, bucolic scenes evenly spaced throughout the fabric, and that’s it. You know what it looks like; what’s to hate? Are those bucolic scenes of Victorians picnicking by a pond in the summer just too much?
Maybe it’s the execution. Many toile devotees feel that the fabric must be used on more or less every surface that can possibly be upholstered. That surely can be offensive, or, at the very least, way too much, but is the fabric itself to “blame?” Excess kills everything.
Is it the association with French Country – an ineluctable fate, considering that Toile de Jouy was created in the French countryside? Maybe that since so many people so despise French Country anything that reminds them of it, gets forsaken? (As an aside, the French Country hate is kind of funny. It’s hated with the passion that only an embarrassed ex-lover can project, no doubt the result of a long, love affair ended by the hip reemergence of minimalism, which is now fully waning.) But even the French Country theory has a flaw: when the French Country thing was happening in the late 80s and 90s, toile wasn’t a big part of it, (unless I’m remembering incorrectly.) But, even now, as thoughts of French Country turn from unthinking hatred to bemused dislike, the hint of its’ reemergence seems to be coinciding with the whisper of toile’s presence, lingering in the background of influential designers projects. Like a disgraced lady returning to court, toile is keeping its’ figurative head down, waiting to secure the proper allies before announcing its’ return.
It seriously could come back, even in a big way. Think about it, there really isn’t anything to dislike. Yeah, the actual motif prints are totally out of place and time, but those can be updated. I’m unaware of any rules prohibiting modern imagery. When you search for it online, you find a couple (literally like two or three) examples of young designers who have worked out modern toile fabrics. The modern toiles are, ironically, kind of subversive, and how many fabrics can you say that about? That’s a cool thing to employ in design, especially when it can come packaged as one of the classic patterns of the past 250 years. It probably can’t hide in a room, but if it’s used like once, say one sofa, or one wall of wallpaper, or one group of pillows, it could really stand out and get people to notice it differently. Make it a new modern toile and it will be totally fresh. If you think about it, aren’t the Louis Vuitton “LV” logos and the Murakami icons all over bags versions of toile?