“I think of toile de Jouy as the deepest storytelling piece of fabric there is,” says antique textile collector Jill Lasersohn. She was calling from her home in East Hampton, where she keeps her vast collection of over 500 centuries-old toiles in pristine condition. “Each toile is special and unique to its own moment, reflecting what was going on then, the vibe, almost like a newspaper or a diary of the times.”
Toile de Jouy (pronounced “twal duh zhwee”) is a cotton fabric featuring monochromatic scenes printed in a single color against a white background. The scenes depicted are traditionally “the quintessential bucolic women in the park and on swings, and animals, and husbandry, and children,” Lasersohn says. Toile prints can also include florals, geometrics, botanicals, mythological subjects, popular culture, current events, faraway places—whatever floats the textile maker’s fancy.
Making a Scene
Toiles were wildly popular in the late 18th century thanks to Christophe-Philipe Oberkampf, a German industrialist who set up a fabric factory in a small French town outside of Paris, Jouy-en-Josas. (“Toile de Jouy” is French for “cloth from Jouy.”) Though Oberkampf is often credited with inventing toile de Jouy, it was in fact first created by Francis Nixon in Ireland. But it was Oberkampf’s chic and sophisticated designs that caught the eye of style-setters Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette. He also employed artists like Jean-Baptiste Huet, Louis-jean Francois and Hippolyte Le Bas to create pastoral patterns.
The fabric was so trendy that it reached America long before it was mass-produced here. While in England, Benjamin Franklin sent the fabric home to his wife, and Thomas Jefferson purchased the pattern from Oberkampf’s Paris showroom. Later in the 20th century, first ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy used toile de Jouy. Eisenhower worked with Schumacher to create a dress out of a red-and-white toile with patriotic symbols, while Kennedy decorated the White House with the coveted French fabric.
Toile For All
Today, Schumacher produces dozens of printed toile fabrics, embroideries and wallcoverings, ranging from historic to mystical. Toile de la Prairie is a print from Lasersohn’s collection that dates back to 1820 and features songbirds and butterflies against bucolic branches. In contrast, Modern Toile, from our Johnson Hartig for Libertine collaboration, is a fantastical mythology-inspired pattern with a face in the sun. Our newest addition, Toussaint Toile, from our collaboration with knitwear designer Victor Glemaud, pays homage to the artist’s Caribbean heritage, featuring historic scenes that celebrate Haiti’s liberator, Toussaint Louverture. Fashion brands like Libertine and Victor Glemaud are no stranger to toile, and Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen also recently incorporated toile into their collections.
Toile de Jouy looks lovely paired with a classic Vichy check and is a timeless print that never goes out of style. As Lasersohn puts it, “Toiles are more fascinating than most people would know. You can dive deep into it. That’s the story that they tell. It’s like no other textile.”
Shop a few of our favorite toile fabrics and wallcoverings below.