“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art”, said the famous writer Oscar Wilde, who liked nothing better than to wear paisley scarves, waistcoats and ties. But if this pattern is known as “cachemir” in Spanish or “cachemire” in French, why do we call it “paisley” in the English-speaking world? This article tells us just that.
Since its ancient Indian and Persian origins with their hidden messages and mysterious symbolism, this iconic motif has been on a remarkable journey. The paisley pattern has travelled the silk road from east to west, and adorned the scarves of cowboys and bikers. It was adopted by 19th-century bohemians and popularised by the Beatles, and it ushered in the hippie era, becoming an emblem of the age of rock ‘n’ roll.
So, what is behind paisley’s incredible longevity? Throughout the creation of this collection, which has been designed completely by hand working from original patterns and digitally coloured, the creative team at Splash by Lo has clearly understood the importance of its symbolic power. For example, the original Persian motif in the shape of a teardrop looks rather like a spray of flowers combined with a cypress tree. Furthermore, the seed shape is said to represent fertility; it has connections with Hinduism, and also an intriguing resemblance to the famous yin-yang symbol. Today, it is still a hugely popular motif in Iran and in South and Central Asian countries, where it’s believed to originate from, and is woven into silks and fine wools using gold and silver thread for weddings and other celebrations.
Imports by the East India Company via the silk road brought the textile pattern to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, and after the arrival of luxurious shawls from Kashmir (some of which cost the price of a small house), the pattern took the continent by storm. The shawls were soon being imitated throughout Europe, especially in Paisley, Scotland. Hence the name it goes by in the English-speaking world.
The rich symbolism and rebellious aura that surrounds paisley have kept it alive. But perhaps the real secret of the pattern’s immortality lies in the way it combines conformity and disobedience, a rich sense of history with remarkable adaptability, and an openness to endless and unexpected revitalisation and reinterpretation.
And now we come to the coincidence. In the far west – that’s the far west of the Himalayas – lies a region where one of the most delicate and sought-after fabrics in the world is made, thanks to the softness of the wool of the goats that live high up in the mountains. This region is called Kashmir, and the goats are cashmere goats. And the fabric? Cashmere wool! So where does the coincidence in the name between the cashmere fabric and the Spanish and French words for the paisley print come from?