This ’80s Staple is Back, and We Have Thoughts
If you pay attention to design for very long, you’ll soon notice that everything is cyclical. The pattern goes something like this: a certain look is very hot, then it’s everywhere, then it’s passé, then it’s downright uncool, and then, at some point… you’re at Urban Outfitters, or on your favorite design blog, and there’s this thing that thing that reminds you of 20 years ago, or of your grandparents’ house, but somehow, now, it seems hip, and original, and cool.
Case in point: chintz. Last year I wrote an exploration of my decidedly mixed feelings about the resurgence of chintz. It’s a cycle I’ve lived all the way through. I remember, a bit vaguely, the original heyday of chintz: Laura Ashley, Princess Diana, my cool older cousins in their cool printed dresses, with big starched white collars. I remember it being hot, I remember it being not so hot, and, last year, when I saw the signs of those telltale florals coming back again, I remember being confused. I remember wondering: what does it even mean for something to be cool, or fashionable? For an aesthetic to be in, or out?
Christiane Lemieux, the co-founder and CEO of home furnishings brand The Inside, points out that the comeback of chintz makes a certain kind of sense, coupled with the return of ’80s modernism. “This resurgence is a historically relevant trend that we also saw play out in the ‘80s—florals are once again a counter-reaction to the post-modern revival.”
It is true that, coupled with the minimal looks and modern, streamlined shapes that are so popular now, chintz feels less fussy and decidedly more fresh. It’s also true that, if you do some digging, the story of chintz’ ’80s heyday and its subsequent decline and return to popularity are just a small part of its evolution. Ready? Here’s the whole story. Ok, just a little bit of the story.
When we say chintz we usually mean a pattern, but the word originally referred to a kind of glazed cotton fabric. Chintz was once made exclusively in India (the word is Hindi in origin), and began to be imported by Europeans in the late 17th century. European mills eventually developed a process for making the fabric on their own, and the word ‘chintz’ came to refer to the kind of prints you could see displayed on chintz fabrics: repeating florals, usually on a light background. Although they may make you think of the 1980s, these patterns were inspired by the patterns of the original Indian textiles, which were themselves inspired by Mughal art.
So if you’re wearing chintz, or, more likely, using it in your home, you’re part of a very long tradition. Look, you don’t need a history lesson to tell you that hey, if you like florals, go for it. But if you do like florals, chintz in particular, it’s nice to know that this pattern is more than just a fad. I think the most important thing in decorating is to do what makes you happy, regardless of popularity. But can something that people have loved for hundreds of years ever truly be out?
This piece of Indian chintz from the early 18th century still looks gorgeous 300 years later, and is a reminder of the ways that design can connect us to history. A more recent example (seen in some of the photos above) is The Inside’s new English Garden collection, which is a modern take on ’80s chintz (which was itself a modern take on many older chintzes). You can get the chintz on everything from pillows to ottomans to whole beds. They might remind you a little bit of “Pretty in Pink,” and also that everything old is new again.