Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Day I Died and Went to Fabric Heaven: The Textile Archives of Pierre Frey

One of the highlights of last month's trip to Paris was a behind-the-scenes presentation at Pierre Frey.  Pierre Frey is a family-owned luxury French design house that was founded in 1935 but now encompasses four brands: Pierre Frey, Braquenie, Fadini Borghi, and Boussac.  Just to whet your appetite, check out some of the current offerings from the house of Pierre Frey:
Pierre Frey


Fadini Borghi

Pierre Frey does not have a showroom in Charlotte, North Carolina; the nearest to me is in Atlanta, which is a five hour drive, so although I knew of Pierre Frey by reputation I wasn't as familiar with their offerings as I would like.  I love the rich, exuberant colors and fresh reincarnations of traditional patterns that Pierre Frey is famous for, and I was delighted that designers Deb Barrett and Susan Schurz arranged for a handful of us to squeeze into the tiny archives room at the company's Parisian headquarters for a private presentation from archivist Sophie Rouart. 
Sophie Rouart captivates her audience in the Pierre Frey archives

The room was lined with wide, shallow metal filing drawers containing more than 30,000 original documents (designs, fabrics and carpet samples) dating from the 16th century to the present, which are preserved and cataloged for use by Pierre Frey's internal designers and prestigous clients as inspiration for new designs.  Documents originating from Pierre Frey's four brands are stored and protected here, but many others are rare pieces acquired at auction.  Sophie explained that, when she attends auctions with the owner, he wants to bid on fabrics that he thinks will translate well and sell in today's market, whereas she implores him to buy fabrics based on their rarity and uniqueness to round out the collection, even if they are a little "bizarre" by today's standards.

It was fascinating to see how Pierre Frey uses historical textile documents in their current line.  Some fabrics are recreated as close to the originals as possible.  Others undergo changes in scale or colorway in order to give them new life.  In the next two photos, the antique block printed textiles on the left have been reinterpreted with embroidery for the current Braquenie fabrics on the right.

Broderie Villeneuve, Braquenie

Broderie Champeigne, Braquenie
Of course, in historical preservation work, the goal is to replicate the original fabric as faithfully as possible.  Sophie showed us how this cotton print fabric was recreated for the Mezzanine above Marie Antoinette's bedroom at the Petit Trianon palace at Versailles.  Although the reproduction fabric was created using modern printing techniques and is much wider than the original fabric, care was taken to incorporate some of the flaws which were commonplace in hand-printed 18th century fabrics for authenticity.
Sophie points out the intentional flaws in Marie Antoinette's reproduction fabric
Antique Wood Block used for printing fabrics, one color at a time

Sophie showed us how, unlike today's screen printed fabrics, antique hand blocked prints have dye showing on the wrong side of the fabric:
Fabrics like this one were produced by hand, one color at a time, in a labor-intensive process requiring a highly skilled printer.  Each printer took great pride in his work, and was required to sign his name to the selvage of each piece of fabric he completed.

I have so many gorgeous photographs from the archives; it's hard to decide which ones to share with you.  Look at how they have reinterpreted this classic copperplate Toile de Jouy pattern as a jacquard damask in cotton/silk for Braquenie:

Les Quatre Vents in three colorways, Braquenie, original document at top left
I love the Amethyst colorway, don't you?  Here's a similar fabric, recreated more faithfully to the original but with the scale of the pattern increased in the modern version on the right:

Then there was this gorgeous antique applique fabric.  I love the metallic thread couched along the edges of the flowers:

Now, doesn't this look like a creepy spellbook straight out of Harry Potter?  A treasure obtained at auction, Sophie isn't sure what purpose this book originally served.  It contains no writing, but it's filled with page after page of antique fabric samples.  Perhaps it belonged to an upholsterer, who in those days would have been responsible for not just upholstered furnishings but also bed hangings, wallcoverings and window treatments as well. 
What an amazing resource!  Most of the fabric pieces in the book are too small to show a full pattern repeat, so they can't be reproduced, but they give a wealth of information about fibers and techniques, and are a great source of inspiration. 

Okay, I've saved the best for last.  This little hand painted diorama is a scale rendering of the interior design concept for a train car designed for none other than Napoleon III:

Railway Car Interior Design, presented to Napoleon III
Isn't that amazing?  Can you even imagine giving a design presentation for an emperor of France?  The detail of this model is incredible, and it's entirely hand painted.  I'll take my design software any day of the week, thank you very much, but I felt so honored to be able to see this piece of history not through the thick glass of a museum case, but up close and personal, just as it was originally presented to Napoleon III.


Beadboard UpCountry said...

Well, mon Chere, it does look like You found your treasure,,,,(LOVE Pierre Frey) Beatutifully presented by you for us!I of course am partial to the block prints but the nuances of all of it blow me away......Anything he does is with the thought of keeping autheticity...That is why is why versios will be in rooms to come for years.......Lucky you, and thanks!!!!!Maryanne xo

Anonymous said...

OMG I DIE! This was AmAziNg!!! Especially the Railway car! What a dream come true!