The Indian ‘chintz’ is more than just a resurgent trend
Not until now that I knew of a fabric which was an integral part of my gender acquaintance was called a ‘Chintz’. It used to be anything related to a floral print on a frock, a shirt, a piece of jewellery or a bedsheet.
‘Kalamkari’, the dye painted and printed exquisite textile is symbolically named after the technique of its making. Famously referred to as 'Chintz' by the English and 'Pintadoes' by the Portuguese, 'Kalamkari' also spread to the Middle East and South-east Asian regions.
Tracing back the journey of how ‘Kalamkari’ began to be known as ‘Chintz’ worldwide is a fascinating tale of how it also led to its own decline. It is also a journey of how the Indian ‘chintz’ is more than just a resurgent trend.
Indian ‘chintz’ as the first mass fashion
‘Chintz’ initially entered the European homes as an interior fabric in the form of bed covers, bed curtains, wall hangings etc around the 17th century. The arrival of glazed fabric that did not bleed colour was unlike anything superior produced in Europe. The floral prints were inspired by Islamic art - arabesques. It offered a ready alternative to the simple block prints & fast bleeding fabrics then prevalent in Europe.
Coloured backgrounds underlying the ‘Chintz’ pattern were made for local consumption in India. However, the ‘Chintz’ pattern on a white background became the most prevalent choice for the European market. It was purposefully made to reflect a new socio-cultural attitude that signified royalty.
The art of ‘Kalamkari’ soon disguised itself into ‘Chintz’ as the artisans printed keeping with the tastes of the Europeans. The relatively cheaper goods from India meant that ‘Chintz’ may well be worn by all classes and both women and men throughout Europe. Indian ‘chintz’ was truly the first mass fashion.
Eventually, the bulging amount of imports began to threaten the emerging textile industry in Great Britain that resulted in the passage of Calico Acts. It curtailed the exports of finished goods from India & by the time the ban became ineffective, the style of ‘Chintz’ in Europe faded away.
The post-modern resurgence of ‘Chintz’
By the 19th century, ‘Chintz’ was largely out of favour in Western fashion. The hippiedom of the 1960s brought ‘Chintz’ back into the limelight that continued throughout the 1980s. Notable contributions from home furnishing brands like Laura Ashley and interior decorators like the late Mario Buatta (‘The Prince of Chintz’) helped in reviving the trend. But this resurgence was soon put to an end by Ikea’s influential ‘Chuck Out Your Chintz’ drive in 1996. Since then the usage of solid, striped patterns became a new normal.
‘Chintz’- the neo-traditional print
As modern techniques evolved, the printed versions of ‘Kalamkari’ became more famous than its original organic painted form. However, efforts are made by state-run emporia, private individuals to orient the craftspeople to know the present market demands. Addition of new base material like raw silks, chiffon and georgettes, apart from cotton & usage of the latest colour schemes of pastels are giving ‘Kalamkari’ textiles a contemporary face-lift.
The recognition accorded to the Machilipatnam style of art, i.e., ‘Kalamkari’ in 2013 by the Government of India under the Geographical Identification of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 has enabled the art to thrive and its products to be available in India and abroad.
Another interesting initiative is from the Dutch Government. A team was recently sent to study about the lost heritage of ‘Kalamkari’ textile printing which was part of their clothing back in the 17th & 18th century. They hope to incorporate Dutch designs in ‘Kalamkari’ to revive the tradition.
It would be unfair to say that the lost textile pattern is being revived in its place of origin alone. For many years now, international designers like Richard Quinn, Betsey Johnson, Mulberry’s Johnny Coca, Cath Kidston, Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton are actively working with ‘Chintz’. The showcase of ‘Chintz’ inspired outfits at London Fashion Week - September 2019 has a lot to say in itself.
Most recently the fashion powerhouse Vogue called it “the print that’s back in a big way”. Take a quick check. Is your latest purchase inspired by ‘Chintz’?