Kashmiri shawls have been at the heart of high fashion and sophistication for hundreds of years. Its influence is attributed to not just the timeless conceptualization of fashion but also the design and motifs that has come to adorn much of the fashion accessories that graced the wardrobes of fashion icons throughout the centuries.
From Empress Josephine to One such motif is the Paisley, and its emergence of a deeply set part of Kashmir shawls can be traced as far back as the 1500s. The evolution and contribution of this eternal motif will be explored so that a more complete understanding of the Paisley motif can be had.
Early Beginnings of the Paisley
By the end of the 17th century the timeless motif of the Paisley began to take shape. Its inclusion on the surface of Kashmir shawls started as a slender flowering plant with roots and the original name given to the motif in Kashmir was ‘buta‘ or ‘boteh‘ (a western adaptation of the word buta). There’s some dispute among historians over the origins of this early plant design but the general consensus is that it had Persian origins. This Persian origin was fused with the artistic themes of Mughal art and by the 18th the motif took on a richer decorative and ornate design. More flowers were added to the design and the Persian influence became even more pronounced with the replacement of the roots with the well-known Indo-Persian decorative motif, the vase-of-flowers.
The grand Paisley design we see today emerged as a part of design inspiration of shawl makers in the 17th century. During the period of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1606), shawl making underwent a massive growth spurt.
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – ca Early 17th Century.
Akbar conquered Kashmir in 1568 and took great interest both in the design and production of Kashmiri shawls as a symbol of love and royal status. He commissioned the construction of workshops dedicated to the manufacture of Kashmiri shawls and went as far as directing his aides to make specific inputs into the way shawls were woven and dyed.
The evolution continued well into the 19th century where the shape hardened into the now well-known Paisley pine cone but its popularity in Europe and the rest of the world was due in large part to the booming shawl trade. By the time Paisley became popular in Europe the motif had reached its design and artistic zenith.
The Booming Shawl Trade (Asia 1500 – 1800)
The boteh developed in Kashmir under the watchful eye of the Mughals and their design aides but its spread and eventual morphing into the iconic Paisley design was down entirely the trade in shawls and demand for these pieces of timeless Kashmiri fashion. From Delhi to Istanbul the Kashmir shawl became a symbol of love and high fashion and demand grew almost exponentially from the early 1500s to the late 1800s. Traders travelled to Kashmir to acquire these timeless pieces and took them as far as Iran where they were worn by the wealthy women; in Russia and places like Turkestan, the Kashmir shawl was seen as the must-have fashion accessory and this fuelled popularity which eventually swept across Europe and the rest of the world. Early traders had no interest in reproducing the beauty and elegance of Kashmir shawls in their own locals but the time European traders got into the heart of the shawl trade things changed.
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – ca 1700-1730.
Travellers like William Moorcroft despatched Kashmiri weavers to England with the hope that they’d be able to reproduce the stunning and artistic pieces that were so effortlessly made in the Kashmir valley. At its height the trade in Kashmir shawls saw no fewer than 120,000 weavers and artisans making a living from the industry.
The burgeoning shawl trade led naturally to an entrepreneurial interest and as shoulder-mantles became popular wealthy business interests started to find ways of imitating much of the art and design of Kashmiri shawl making. Shawl making centres were set up across Europe and places like Norwich in England, and Paris in France started to weave imitations of timeless Kashmiri art. The Paisley had pivotal growth during this time.
English shawl makers had already started to reproduce on a wide scale many of the motifs that came to define Kashmir shawls but the emergence of a shawl making workshop in Paisley, central Scotland became the centre of European shawl making. Paisley shawl making proved so popular it eclipsed the Jacquard loom perfected in France to become the de facto name associated with the boteh. Eventually the boteh gave way to the name ‘Paisley’ and this has remained to this day. It is important to point out though that Kashmiri shawl makers have never sought to move away from the original name and even today the well-known pine cone shape is still called buta in Kashmiri or ‘badaam’ like shape of a almond seed. Kashmiri artisans to this day approach the fine art of shawl making with the skill, dedication and passion of their counterparts centuries ago. From this perspective the boteh/Paisley has come full circle and demonstrates the timeless nature of Kashmiri design and creativity.
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – ca 1700-1730.
The shawl industry had a marginal decline near the end of the 19th century but that didn’t dampen the enduring appeal of Kashmir shawls. Today they are as popular as ever and though they are more accessible, they’ve lost none of the ostentatious appeal that made them the choice of European and Asian royalty. The Paisley has transcended the ages too and today its timeless appeal and symbol of love can be found any everything that has a connection to high-fashion, class and extravagance.
Kashmir has once again taken its rightful place as the purveyor of the Paisley design and shawl purists now rely on gatekeepers of shawl making authenticity to supply them with the very best Kashmir Paisley shawls. The Kashmir Company has continued to be a part of that rich history and the rich tapestry of the Paisley is an integral part of the beautiful and timeless shawls that form our exclusive paisley shawl collection.
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – c 1740-1770
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – c 1770-1800
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – c 1815 onwards.
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – c 1820-1830
Paisley Buta on Kashmiri Paisley Shawls – c 1850-1870