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Paisley. A Princely Pattern



A Princely Pattern


Opening Date: 27/5/22

Closing Date: 15/4/23

Curators: Naama Brosh, Idit Sharoni, Adi Yair


The exhibition displays the evolution of the centuries-old paisley motif that began in Persia as a symbol of nobility adorned by kings and princes, was later adopted by European royalty, and spread across the globe, becoming one of the most iconic and beloved patterns and a symbol of pop culture. Haute couture designers, as well as famous fashion brands, frequently make use of the design.

The exhibition is divided into two segments: historical and contemporary.

The historical section depicts the evolution of the paisley motif and its migration from East to West: from legends and myths that emerged to relate the origins of the paisley motif to the story of how it was embraced in the courts of Persian princes and Mughal emperors as a symbol of nobility and was even featured as a central image at the coronation of the final Shah of Iran in the 20th century, and how it made its way to Europe where Empress Josephine introduced it as an exquisite and prominent element among European royalty.

A considerable part of this section will deal with Kashmir shawls that incorporate the paisley design as a central element. Kashmir shawls were a luxury only afforded by India’s royalty and noble class. The shawl would be made of Himalayan goats’ fur and required 18 months of work and 12 experts to create only one shawl. However, as British and French colonialism spread across the globe and new trade routes opened, Kashmir shawls made their way to Europe and took the royal courts by storm. As demand for shawls grew and changes were made to the item’s production, the shawl lost its glamour and became a popular fashion accessory.

In this part, a collection of shawls, considered the most extensive one in Israel, will be displayed along with dozens of paisley samples gathered by the very founder of the museum, Vera Bryce Salomons. These samples are woven in different styles and with varying techniques and are designed with a full spectrum of vibrant colours. These shawls were kept in the museum’s vault over the past 40 years and are now being displayed for the first time.


An equally important part of the historical section will be dedicated to Judaica as it evolved in the Jewish communities of the Islamic world. Out of a desire to better assimilate into their surroundings while expressing their unique identity, the Jews of this region adopted the paisley motif as a symbol of prestige, eternity, and nobility.

The contemporary section examines the status of the paisley motif as an iconic and perpetual design that retains its significance over Western culture in various fields:

Paisley in fashion. Over the past century, the world of fashion has been in turmoil following the introduction of new production methods, the emergence of international trade laws, and the utilization of new production materials. Their frequent and radical change in design, colours and even shape has led to a change in the paisley motif’s design. Thus, the exhibition will feature an array of fashion items from 1930 till 2022 that contain the paisley motif and exhibit how it has maintained its basic shape but has received a new and modern meaning thanks to the evolution of technology and materials while integrating a whole world of colours and sizes.

Paisley in music - From the Beatles to Prince. The Swinging Sixties were the years wherein the paisley motif stormed the fashion world once more. Thanks to the psychedelic aesthetic of the era, the design was washed in vibrant colours that were vivid and even “loud” at times, with even the basic shape being stretched to new terrains. During these years, a cultural revolution sparked, with one of its driving forces being pop music and its stars who became role models for the public. From the Beatles, who were the leaders of the sixties, to Jimi Hendrix, Arik Einstein, and even Prince, who rose to stardom decades later and was deeply influenced by that revolutionary decade, each artist contributed, by virtue of each one’s fame and following, to the spread of the paisley motif as a symbol of pop culture.

The story of the bandana - the bandana, which first emerged as an exotic and extravagant Indian kerchief, became, through historical processes, a symbol of the industrial revolution and changes in world trade into a famous American icon. The bandana began to receive alternative symbolic and cultural meanings according to its practical use: from politicians who used it as a marketing tool to being a symbol of the worker (“red-collar workers”). Hippies identified the bandana as a symbol of rebellion against their parents’ traditional generation. The LGBTQ+ movement embraced it to designate and celebrate specific sexual orientations and identities. Street gangs adopted bandanas in various colours to designate associations with different gangs.

Expression of the paisley motif in modern art. The paisley motif has become a metaphorical symbol for wandering, travelling, and immigration and its consequences. Wherever it went, the motif received new meaning, and its design evolved according to the place’s ambience and was influenced by its age-old material culture and folk-art tradition. The works being displayed at the exhibition manifest the deep roots of the paisley motif in the art of textiles that it has become an integral part of over the centuries.

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