At the recent panel discussion about chinoiserie at Christie’s Education I met Lizzie Deshayes of Fromental, who held us spellbound with stories about how her company designs and makes bespoke Chinese wallpaper. I have since also met her husband and fellow director Tim Butcher, with whom she set up Fromental in 2005, and who is equally passionate about the subject.
Fromental employs Chinese painters and embroiderers, based in a studio in Jiangsu province, who are skilled in using traditional materials and techniques. Fromental’s craftsmen can produce traditional Chinese wallpapers, as seen in historic houses, but they are equally adept at realising the contemporary designs created by Lizzie and Tim and their team.
This uninhibited mixing of tradition and modernity gives Fromental’s wallpapers real design integrity: the papers are ‘now’ and yet at the same time you get the sense that they are part of a tradition.
This also gives you a flavour of what the production process of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Chinese wallpapers must have been like. Those earlier designers (about whom virtually nothing is known) were operating within a similar matrix of constraints and opportunities: a traditional pictorial language, the availability of craftsmanship, trends in taste and the economics of consumer demand.
What is fascinating too is that there is now a Chinese market for these wallpapers, which were originally made purely for export to the west. International interior designers have been introducing them to Chinese clients, who recognise the traditional motifs and techniques but also appreciate the sense of ‘western’ style that these wallpapers exude.
Here we have yet another twist in the long history of chinoiserie: what was once created in China for a western market is now being re-designed in the west and being adopted by the Chinese as an emblem of international taste.
As it happens, Fromental has also contributed to the joint National Trust – BBC project at Avebury Manor, which I hope to post about shortly.