This article unveils the story of the origin of a widely recognized print that transcends time and cultures, originating from the Kashmir sultans and making its way to groups like the Bloods and Crips.
THE PAISLEY PATTERN AND THE KASHMIR HISTORY
THE FAMOUS PAISLEY PATTERN : ORIGIN
The renowned twisted drop design finds its roots in Persia (Iran), but it is commonly known as the paisley pattern due to its association with the town of Paisley in western Scotland.
Originating from the Sassanid Empire in 221 AD, the pattern represents the cypress tree, which holds significance as a symbol of life and eternity in Zoroastrianism.
Cashmere is still widely known as "Boteh Jeghe" in modern-day Persia, and remains a popular fabric choice. The paisley pattern can be found adorning an array of items in Persian art, including bandannas, carpets, curtains, jewelry, paintings, and clothing.
Over time, the paisley pattern gained popularity in other parts of Asia and India, particularly during the Mughal period from 1526 to 1764. The intricate design was utilized on a wide range of items, from stone carvings to insignia and accessories for princes and religious figures.
In the 1600s, the paisley pattern made its debut on shawls and gained popularity in the Kashmir region of India. It was during trade negotiations with the English and Scots that the print caught their attention and was introduced to Europe.
The Paisley motif became even more sought after during the early 17th century, thanks to imports from the East India Company. However, the importation of finished Kashmiri shawls could not keep up with the high demand in Europe, leading to a rush in the production of their own paisley-inspired designs.
To meet the growing demand for paisley-patterned fabrics, factories in England and Scotland began producing components with the distinctive print. However, it was a textile hub located in the Scottish city of Paisley that gained worldwide significance for its production of paisley fabrics.
During the 1800s, weavers in the town of Paisley, Renfrewshire emerged as the primary producers of paisley shawls, giving the design its current name.
THE FAMOUS PAISLEY PATTERN : EVOLUTION
Following the rise in popularity of paisley patterns, patent wars erupted to safeguard the new designs and the weaving techniques required to create them. The intricate designs of paisley were regarded as valuable intellectual property, much like modern-day computer programs.
However, it comes as no surprise that legal disputes only protected European designs, while those appropriated from Kashmir were deemed fair use.
As production technology progressed, shawls also underwent changes. Despite these advancements, cashmere remained fashionable in one form or another for a century. The first "imitation" shawls were woven on primitive looms and featured relatively modest designs, often plain or furry in the center with patterns only along the edges.
With the acceleration of textile technology, richer paisley patterns were incorporated into the center of the shawl, then moved to the corners and eventually consumed the entire shawl.
The trend for cashmere-patterned shawls eventually waned in the 1870s. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 dealt the initial blow; the French defeat left the country in poverty, depriving Kashmiri weavers of their most significant export market.
In 1877, a famine also devastated Indian weavers. However, cashmere's popularity resurfaced in fits and starts. Around 1904, Norwegian peasant women and Spanish ladies still favored cashmere as church clothing.
London's renowned Liberty department store, which opened in 1875, initially specialized in exotic fabrics from the Far East. Later on, the store diversified by producing its signature "Liberty prints," fabrics for clothing and home furnishings, many of which featured paisley motifs.
THE FAMOUS PAISLEY PATTERN AND THE BANDANA
During the early 20th century, various affordable printed fabrics were produced, including the bandanna, which was printed with cashmere or polka dots on a blue or red background. The name "bandana" derives from the Hindi word "bandhnu," meaning "tying" or "tie-dying."
Cheap bandanas printed with paisley patterns were worn by American cowboys, farmworkers with sweat-soaked foreheads, and wilderness firemen. Consequently, the paisley pattern gained more and more popularity as it was printed on bandannas and scarves.
The paisley pattern experienced a resurgence in the 1960s, when its psychedelic elements captured the attention of the hippie counterculture's fascination with Indian culture. The Beatles' visit to India and John Lennon's decision to have cashmere painted on his Rolls-Royce further popularized the pattern.
In later years, the paisley pattern appealed to other social groups as well. In the 1970s, for example, the homosexual community used bandanas featuring paisley motifs as a signal. They created the "handkerchief code", which involved placing bandanas with colored paisley patterns in their back pockets to communicate their sexual preferences.
Throughout the years, the paisley pattern has taken on various meanings and spread across different fabrics. In the 1960s, the psychedelic paisley fueled the hippie fascination with all things Indian, and even John Lennon had it painted on his Rolls-Royce after the Beatles' visit to India. Later, in the 1970s, the homosexual community used paisley bandannas as part of their "handkerchief code" to communicate their sexual inclinations.
However, the paisley pattern also took on different meanings for other social groups, such as in the gang wars of the 1980s where Crips with blue bandanas clashed with Bloods with red bandanas. On the other hand, the Boy Scouts wore blue and tan paisley bandanas to signal their troop membership.Despite its varied interpretations, the paisley pattern remains a legendary motif that has stood the test of time.