‘Paisley from Paisley’ enjoys a resurgence with help from Hermès | UK news

There is a shawl of dove grey silk gauze from the early 1800s, another made up of bright harlequin squares, and a more modern, abstracted design using rich ochre dyes; these are a few of the centuries-long iterations of the world-famous Paisley pattern, each bearing the instantly recognisable teardrop-shaped motif with a curled upper end.

Laid out in the temperature-controlled museum store in a former Littlewoods basement off Paisley’s high street, in Renfrewshire, Scotland, these breathtaking pieces form part of the largest known collection of shawls woven with the eponymous pattern. And they are now joined by some contemporary cousins that are sparking international interest in the design, thanks to an imaginative fashion partnership aimed at reinventing both the pattern and the town of Paisley simultaneously.

Designers at the French luxury goods brand Hermès, best-known for its printed silk scarves, have used the original 1830s pattern books now archived in the basement store to create a “Paisley from Paisley” collection of cashmere and silk scarves as well as enamel bracelets. The accessories have proved an instant hit with customers since they went on sale two weeks ago.

This seemingly unique partnership between a Scottish local council and a Parisian fashion house has paved the way for an ambitious plan to launch a digital archive of thousands of archived patterns later this year, offering designers across the world access to the original Paisley from Paisley for the first time.

The Paisley museum.

The Paisley museum. Queen Victoria is reported to have bought 17 Paisley shawls to encourage other women to support the industry. Photograph: John Cooper/PA

The pattern, which is Indo-Persian in origin, became fashionable among aristocratic women of Europe in the early 19th century after local manufacturers decided to use their sophisticated loom technologies to reproduce for a mass market the highly coveted but expensive coloured shawls imported by the East India Company.

Queen Victoria, acting as an Instagram influencer of her day, is reported to have bought 17 Paisley shawls to encourage other women to support the industry. While its popularity waned as women began to eschew shawls for jackets and mantles towards the start of the 1900s, the pattern was later adopted as the symbol of 1960s counter-culture, and has remained a style stalwart ever since.

Surrounded by disarticulated looms, spinning wheels and bolts of fabric in the museum store, Renfrewshire council’s head of marketing, Louisa Mahon, puts it simply: “This is using our cultural past to transform the future. This pattern belongs to the town and we want to make sure we reinvest it back into the town.”

“What we’ve found remarkable was how many people didn’t know that Paisley pattern came from Paisley, and it was one of the first cultural cooperatives of weavers.”

Paisley boasts a proud radical tradition and, in the 19th century, while the expertise of its handloom weavers was unsurpassed their wages were paltry. The grinding poverty and reforming passion of the time was best articulated in the work of the “Weaver Poet” Robert Tannahill.

Designers at Hermès have used the 1830s pattern books to create a collection of cashmere and silk scarves as well as enamel bracelets

Designers at Hermès have used the 1830s pattern books to create a collection of cashmere and silk scarves as well as enamel bracelets. Photograph: Renfrewshire Council/PA

Paisley’s former greatness as a textile hub is still apparent, and the town boasts the highest concentration of listed buildings anywhere in Scotland apart from Edinburgh. But so too is evidence of post-industrial decline on the high street. What is not visible but palpable is a rediscovered optimism in a place too often defined in recent years by Ferguslie Park, a housing estate that was once the site of thriving mills and is now the most deprived area in Scotland, according the index of multiple deprivation.

In December 2017, Paisley came tantalisingly close to winning the title of UK City of Culture 2021, becoming the only town ever to make the shortlist. While the spotlight has moved on, the energy ignited by the bid has not dimmed.

Regeneration plans are still going ahead, with a total of £100m – provided mainly by the council – being spent on town centre infrastructure over the next few years, including turning the Victorian town hall into an entertainment venue and a new library.

While the museum store where the Paisley pattern material is kept is open to public tours, much of the physical collection will return to Paisley museum once the refurbishment of the stately blond sandstone building has been completed in 2022.

And, just as the town of Paisley sets its sights on stimulating creative business based around textiles and design, the pattern is enjoying a revival on the catwalks, featuring at last month’s Milan fashion week.

Paisley pattern is embedded in our collective creative imagination, says Penny Martin, a Scot and editor-in-chief of The Gentlewoman magazine. It was Martin who made the initial approach to Hermès on Paisley’s behalf after spotting its artistic director’s response to her Instagram posts from the pattern book archive.

“This is an example of true collaboration,” Martin explains. “Here is a museum trying to represent manufacturing heritage, and a brand that wants to supports authentic, historical craftsmanship.”

The pattern recurs every season, adds Martin, “whether it’s on a Jil Sander dress or Church’s shoes”.

“But there’s a very strong presence of artisanal craftsmanship being engaged in top brands right now, so with Paisley it’s about the connection with craftsmanship rather than just a floating motif.”

Reflecting on the enduring popularity of the design, Martin says: “If you go back to the 18tht-century examples, which themselves were cultural appropriations from India, it is an extremely malleable, non-culturally specific piece of iconography. But then you find it does come from somewhere. In Scotland, for example, you look at it and you can’t divorce it from the extremely difficult industrial past. It’s a political symbol too.”

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