“This Textile Has Been All Over Vogue—Here’s Where It Came From”. This is how Lilah Ramzi starts her article in Vogue Magazine, highlighting the famous Braquenié textile by describing every detail of its motif and showing the best places it is set off.
Caroline Sieber’s library-like dining room features a window treatment with Braquenié’s Tree of Life. Photographed by Oberto Gili, Vogue, December 2015
Taking the words of Lilah Ramzi, let’s go back on an emblematic Braquenié fabric.
A historical motif
The Tree of Life has enjoyed popularity for centuries all over the world. This textile motif of twisting branches sporting multiple species of fruits and vegetables refers to several meanings. Biblically, as Lilah Ramzi writes, the tree recalls a version described in the Book of Revelations, which ripens with a different fruit each month of the year – another interpretation is the tree from which the forbidden fruit was plucked. The journalist also teaches us that in Chinese mythology, the motif is often depicted with a phoenix and a dragon ; potent symbols of reincarnation and immortality. It is underneath a tree that the Buddha attained Enlightenment. In any time and any places, this tree of life is a dazzling sight in all its incarnations.
A slipper chair and pillows in Carolina Irving’s living room feature the famous print. Photographed by François Halard, Vogue, October 2006
French 18th-century taste for “eastern” exotism
In the 18th century, France was the “Mecca” of the textile industry, explains Lilah Ramzi. Each region had its excellence in a specific exceptional know-how. Lyon was perfecting the silk farming techniques while Paris’s famous Gobelins Tapestry factory was producing magnificent commissions from the French court. The town of Jouy was renowned for its successful block printed cottons with genre scenes, known as “toiles de jouy”. At that time, a craze for exoticism in the decorative arts reached a fever pitch. Textiles were littered with pagodas and conical hats catering to growing tastes for Japonism. Even in fashion, chintzes lush with pomegranates and lotus flowers à la Indiennes were everywhere on the skirts and dresses of that time. Indeed, the “east” was mined for inspiration and the French went wild recreating foreign motifs locally. This is in that context that, as Lilah Ramzi introduces, Alexandre and Charles-Henri Braquenié of the famous textile company Braquenié led the pack, one of their most iconic patterns features the symbolically charged beloved tree of life.
The walls of a guest room in Gela Nash-Taylor’s sprawling 15th-century estate in Wiltshire, England are decorated with the print. Photographed by François Halard, Vogue, September 2009
The famous Braquenié “Le Grand Génois”
Le Grand Génois is set on a pale background, where a tree climbs upwards, its wispy branches decorated with sprays of jade-colored leaves and silhouettes of lotus flowers, petals fanning out like the feathers of a peacock. Very famous and synonymous with the identity of Braquenié House, this motif was actually a copy – sometime in the late 18th century, the Braquenié brothers saw it printed on an Indian palampore and reproduced it for the local market ! Nonetheless, they slightly modified the pattern construction to accomodate French design sensibilites. The tree motif is unchanged from the original inspiration textile, printed by wood block, painted and dyed, but as Braquenié textile archivist Sophie Rouart explains, “they isolated elements to create borders and field designs that could also be applied to walls, so one pattern can envelope a room”.
Daniel Romualdez pays homage to Le Jonchet in the master bedroom of his Connecticut home. Photographed by Oberto Gili, Vogue, October 2012
The Tree of life among places
For years, Vogue Magazine has been featuring places where the pattern appears. In the homes of Caroline Sieber, Daniel Romualdez, Carolina Irving, Gela Nash-Taylor, the tree of life fits into the interiors. According to Lilah Ramzi’s article, the textile’s most divine application in recent history and decoration is undoubtedly found at the late Mr. Hubert de Givenchy’s moated 17th-century estate, Le Jonchet, located just outside Paris in Beauvais. Givenchy filled his castle with furnishings by Diego Giacometti (brother of Alberto) and paintings by Joan Miro, and kept the garden grounds as manicured as the society swans he dressed throughout his fashionable life. Most famous (and most photographed) is a room that appears a visual ode to the tree of life. Every upholsterable inch – walls, chair backs, a bed and its canopy – was swathed in Le Grand Génois for the most marvelous print-on-print decor scheme that inspires the use of the double-handed praise emoji. A stunning place, as you can see below.
Hubert de Givenchy’s brilliant allover use of the textile at Le Jonchet, once the country estate of the designer. Photographed by Karen Radkai, Vogue, October 1982
A timeless and eternal motif
Years after years since the first Vogue’s publication in 1982 (about Le Jonchet), images of Le Grand Génois were published from other interiors featuring the Braquenié classic. Of the textile’s ability to transcend time and our wavering tastes for bold patterns, Sophie Rouart says, “First of all, it is spectacular. It is like a painting because you have a frame with the border that remains white”. Perhaps the tree itself, long held as a symbol of eternity, has something to do with Le Grand Génois‘s endless appeal. And Lilah Ramzi to conclude : “little dit the Braquenié brothers know how long this tree would live…”
Since la Maison Pierre Frey acquires Braquenié in 1991, a point of honor is made to preserve the richness of Braquenié printed archives, continuously produced, updated, and to perpetuate the traditional and ancestral techniques of a unique know-how from the 18th century with unequaled quality.
Le Grand Génois
Many thanks to Lilah Ramzi. All images are from ©Vogue Magazine. To read her full article: https://www.vogue.com/article/braquenie-tree-of-life-history