History of Toile de Jouy

March 2010 marks the 250th anniversary of the founding of Oberkampf factory at Jouy-en-Josas in 1760, – we’ll begin with a little look at a well-known pattern – Toile de Jouy.

[above: 18th century French cotton dress via the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Cotton Banned in France
Before we can get into the nitty, gritty of the pattern, we really need to start with the fabric. When cotton was first imported from India to France in the 16th and 17th century, the light, colorful, and easily washable fabric was a wild success. It was used for everything from clothing to wall coverings, curtains and bedclothes. It was so much in demand, that the French government became concerned about the financial impact that this competition would have on French manufactures of silk, wool and cloth. So in 1686, all cotton was banned in France – production, importation and use. Even with the threat of arrest, the fashion continued – clandestinely. Finally in 1759, when the ban proved impossible to enforce, it was lifted and French factories sprung up to satisfy the demand for printed cotton.

[above: Oberkampf family by Louis Léopold Boilly, 1803]

Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf
- founder of the printed cotton manufacture in Jouy-en-Josas
German-born Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf moved to Paris at the age of 20 in 1758. Both his father and grand-father had been in the cloth dyeing business and as a child, Christophe-Philippe accompanied his father on dyeing jobs. In Paris, Christophe-Philippe was rose quickly through the ranks. In 1759, after just a single year working in Paris, he formed a partnership with his former employer, who had advance warning that the cotton ban was about to be lifted and recognized the importance of Christophe-Philippe’s expertise – the two men decided to manufacture printed cotton.

[above: The factory at Jouy, 1807, by J.-B. Huet via the Le musée de la Toile de Jouy (the cloth is bleached by the sun in the meadow - the cloth was spread pattern-side down and sprinkled with water six to eight times a day for six days.)]

The factory in Jouy-en-Josas
Attracted by the clean water of the Bièvre river, the pair set up their factory in town of Jouy-en-Josas. In the early days of the business, Christophe-Philippe worked alone with his brother and the only item of furniture the pair possessed was the printing press – which he slept on at night. The demand for printed cotton was feverish and the company grew quickly. By 1805, the factory employed 1,322 workers. In 1770, after satisfying the 10 years residency requirements, Christophe-Philippe became a French citizen. In 1790, he became the first mayor of Jouy-en-Josas.

CLICK HERE for more about Toile de Jouy. Thanks Design*Sponge for the wonderful article and photos from the Met.

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