A new collection of wallpapers and fabrics revives the delicacy of 18th-century textiles woven by the Huguenot silk weavers of Spitalfields
‘The original designs capture the subtle frivolity of the era’
THIS magazine is nothing if not consistent. COUNTRY LIFE still has the famous Frontispiece, which began in our first issue published on January 8, 1897 (although if the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire was wearing pearls, he was hiding them well), as well as features on architecture, gardens, wildlife, the Arts and country pursuits—plus wallpaper.
‘The manufacturers of this country have in great measure failed to realise the wealth of native talent available in the world of wallpaper,’ we complained almost exactly 100 years ago. It’s presumably the French who we thought were stealing the limelight. Following Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf’s invention of a machine that could print continuous rolls of wallpaper in 1785, France dominated the market. Companies such as Zuber et Cie (started in 1797 and still going strong) had gained plum commissions, notably the breathtaking Views of North America panoramic that still hangs in the White House.
However, it wasn’t long before we stole the crown back from across the channel. For the past century, British creativity in this area has been almost fathomless, yet, thankfully, not in a conceptual, push-the-boundaries-for-the-hell-of-it kind of way. Some of the most interesting are those designs that reinvent motifs and patterns from different sources such as archives or uncovered on walls, scraps of faded curtains or tribal textiles.
Of this year’s crop, one of the most exciting is Lewis & Wood’s new Spitalfields collection, which is the result of a collaboration with the V&A and is based on the work of Joseph Dandridge and James Leman, members of the Huguenot diaspora hounded out of France in the late 17th century by Louis XIV, who fled all over the world, many to London. Leman was a silkweaver and mill owner and Dandridge a keen naturalist (his collections spanned everything from fossils to fungi) and was a founder member of the Society of Aurelians that had been established to study moths and butterflies.
The original designs capture the subtle frivolity of the era and none of their delicacy has been lost in translation. Although they were intended for woven pattern, their transition into printed wallpaper and fabrics has lent them a freshness that will create a period feel that doesn’t look like a set from The Draughtsman’s Contract.
The new Spitalfields collection from Lewis & Wood (020–7751 4554; www. lewisandwood. co.uk)