Tuesday 5 June 2018

Bizarre Silks by Joan Lennon

I've got some French Huguenot blood in me* and so when I saw there was a programme about them, presented by the wide-eyed Amber Butchart and called The First Refugees,** I gave it a go.  Which is where I stumbled across Bizarre Silks.  These unlikely looking fabric designs were made between 1695 and 1720.  They were big, bold, and bright, featuring strong diagonals and asymmetry, Oriental-style architecture, and giant flamboyant foliage.  The silk - much of which was being woven in Spittalfields by Huguenot immigrants - was the height of fashion, and big names such as James Leman were swept up in it.  (Leman's carefully preserved designs from the period are in the process of being made available to the public by the V&A.)

a James Leman Bizarre Silk design from 1710 (Wikicommons)

Bizarre Silk Mantua circa 1708 (Wikicommons)

detail (Wikicommons)

Man's sleeved waistcoat circa 1715 (Wikicommons)

Here are some other patterns for Bizarre Silk fabrics:

a design by Charles Baudouin 1707 (Wikicommons)  

a design "after James Leman", described as "Geometric and Floral Meanders" 
(circa 1708-1709)

Sadly, the term Bizarre Silk wasn't coined until 1953 (first used in the title of Dr Vilhelm Sloman's book Bizarre Designs in Silks).  In its heyday, these exuberant fabrics were probably known simply as very, very desirable.

* along with 1 in 6 people in Britain, according to the programme
** available on BBC IPlayer - well worth a watch.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Granny Garbage.


Sue Purkiss said...


Ann Turnbull said...

And they look so modern, don't they? Lovely photos - thanks, Joan.

Abbeybufo said...

I had difficulty finding this programme on the i-Player A-Z index - it's listed under 'Civilisation stories' - available for another 15 days.

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks Abbeybufo, Ann and Sue - and yes, so very 20th century!