The Orient Expressed

"Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen" by James Whistler.

“Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen” by James Whistler.

I’ve been watching Asian-inspired design take an uptick in popularity during the past several months, and not just in the US. As I was walking around Chelsea during a trip to London in April, I spotted products celebrating the spirit of the Orient in the windows of Designers Guild and India Jane. My inbox seemed to present some hint of chinoiserie every day so I began gathering images for this post with the thought of doing a product roundup here on Productrazzi.

Joanna Hiffernan posed for Whistler for Caprice in Purple and Gold

Joanna Hiffernan, Whistler’s mistress and a frequent model, appears in the guise of a Japanese courtesan contemplating a print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

A Fascination with the Orient

The idea deepened significantly when I read about the first time the trend exploded onto the design scene during Victorian times, which I shared on the Improvateur blog last Thursday. The vogue had everything to do with the painters whom we now know to be the great artists of their time, chief among them James Whistler. Author Robert Crunden declares Whistler’s Caprice in Purple and Gold No. 2: The Golden Screen (1864) to be one of the most successful examples of an artist adopting the Orient as a subject matter that would go on to influence everything from poetry and furniture to wallpaper, china and book design.

You can see James Whistler's brushstrokes in this detail of Caprice in Purple and Gold

You can see James Whistler’s brushstrokes in this detail of Caprice in Purple and Gold.

I saw the painting at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art last week when I trekked there to see Whistler’s Peacock Room and it was stunning. What I love about the image of the detail I took above is how you can see his brushstrokes, his movement of his mixture of oils across the wood panel forever frozen in time.

Chinoiserie a Hot Design Trend

The Badminton pattern in de Gournay's Chinoiserie Collection.

De Gournay Badminton design on 12-Carat White Gold gilded paper; photography by Dan Marshall.

I’m launching the product review today with a heart-stoppingly beautiful wallpaper pattern by de Gournay. It’s called Badminton, a design on 12-Carat White Gold gilded paper, in the manufacturer’s Chinoiserie Collection. I could move right into this vignette and live happily ever after, couldn’t you?

The Merevale Chair from Currey and Company, upholstered in Reflection Pool Earl Grey.

The Merevale Chair from Currey and Company, upholstered in Reflection Pool Earl Grey.

The Merevale chair from Currey & Company takes on an even greater feel of the Orient covered in the Reflection Pool Earl Grey fabric it’s sporting (below). Custom finishes are available for the faux-bamboo frame and the armchair truly does change its personality depending upon fabric choices, which makes it such a savvy choice for a hint of chinoiserie.


Jim Thompson's Forbidden Colors Collection.

Jim Thompson’s Forbidden Colors Collection.

Jim Thompson has launched a vibrant new collection called “Forbidden Colours,” which includes the Ylang pattern, printed on fine cotton sateen, below and in the bedding above. He is casting tradition aside with these fabrics to create a daring look and feel from a rich mélange of colors inspired by nature, art, and vivid Asian textiles.

The forbidden in the title references the fact that by the time the American textiles visionary had founded his silk company in Thailand in the 1950s, strict palace laws governing Siamese court dress were obsolete; but in earlier times, this was not the case—then, the finest silks, velvets and imported prints were restricted to the nobility, with special colors and patterns limited to those of high rank or status.

The Ylang pattern in Jim Thompson's Forbidden Colours collection

Inspired by archives of antique 19th-century chinoiserie toiles, the Ylang garden scene has a background of ephemeral floating clouds.

I find it interesting that to add the hint of intrigue to the collection, he had his talented new creative director Ou Baholyodhin reexamine the extensive treasure trove of sumptuously colorful fabrics, once forbidden to most, to bring them into modern times and to a wider audience.

This is one of several designs featuring beautiful birds in the Chinoiserie Sea Glass Mosaic by New Ravenna.

This is one of several designs featuring beautiful birds in the Chinoiserie Sea Glass Mosaic by New Ravenna.

New Ravenna’s Chinoiserie patterns in the Sea Glass™ Collection are composed of hand-cut jewel glass mosaics, shown in this image in Marcasite, Pewter and Mica with Quartz Sea Glass™. The design is included in the Delft Collection by Sara Baldwin for New Ravenna Mosaics. The patterns festooned with felicitous feathered creatures were inspired by the classic chinoiserie wallpaper patterns Sara has always held in high esteem.

The Darwin Monkey and Bowl Figurine, an oriental-inspired accent from India Jane.

The Darwin Monkey and Bowl Figurine, an oriental-inspired accent from India Jane.

One of the items I spotted in India Jane’s Kings Road window is the Darwin Monkey & Bowl Figurine. The hand-painted resin accessory is bronzed, the monkey’s demeanor a symbol of the fact the animals were considered to be an innovative and charming character in the ancient Chinese Zodiac. Fill it with nuts and it’s a perfect cocktail accouterment.

Gracie Studio produces this "Scenic Wallpapers" book, perfect for designers' libraries or your coffee table!

Gracie Studio produces this “Scenic Wallpapers” book, perfect for designers’ libraries or your coffee table!

If you’re stocking a design library, Gracie Studio has released a number of wallpaper books, one of which is Scenic Wallpapers that contains some excellent examples of hand-painted chinoiserie. There’s a backstory with this company that extends back to the 1930s when a friend of Charles R. Gracie’s, the company’s founder, returned from a visit to China with a roll of exquisite hand-painted wallpapers that he had discovered in Beijing. Mr. Gracie was enthusiastic that he would have a market for the product, immediately establishing a relationship that produced the wallpaper and continued until the Chinese revolution in 1949, when the studio was relocated to Taiwan under new management. Decades later, Gracie returned its production to Mainland China, the outpost managed by the same Chinese family for fifty years now. The Scenic Wallpapers book features 38 designs and sketches, and sells for $750.

"Jar With Dragon" is included in the Met's China exhibition, the Orient expressed

This porcelain storage jar, covered with cobalt blue painting, is dated to the rule of the Xuande emperor. Images courtesy the Met.

One of the more obvious markers of a trend is a major museum staging an exhibition around it, and everyone I know who has been to seen it has raved about China: Through the Looking Glass at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibit has been extended through September 7, 2015, so I hope to make it by there to see the fashion/design pairings the curators have put together before it’s gone.

Detail shot of a Roberto Cavalli evening dress from his #FW05 collection.

Detail shot of a Roberto Cavalli evening dress from his #FW05 collection.

I’m presenting an excellent example of a duet on view at the Met—the Jar With Dragon (above) is strikingly paired with a Roberto Cavalli evening dress from his #FW05 collection (right). I’m only showing a tiny snippet of the stunning gown photographed by Platon so be sure to stop by the Met’s site to see a fuller view if you can’t make it to the museum in person.

If you have come across a product inspired by the Orient that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment or find me on social. I can’t seem to get enough of this trend!

Text of The Orient Expressed © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon Henry is an author, poet and journalist based in New York City. Books include Anywhere But Here and Stranded on the Road to Promise. Saxon is also the co-founder of Sharktooth Press. She also produces The Diary of an Improvateur and is a columnist on Architizer.