Although the origins of toile patterns are a tad confusing, one thing’s for certain: they’re decidedly European. Toile patterns were first produced in Ireland but quickly became popular across Britain and France.
While the simple term “toile” itself refers to a type of fabric, the term “toile de jouy,” a French phrase meaning “cloth from Jouy-of-Josas (a small town in France) refers to the painterly patterns often called “toile” for short. Got that? In a way, it’s actually sort of fitting that the pattern’s story is as complex as the pattern itself.
In any event, toile as we know it is the application of an intricate, single-color pattern (usually black, red or blue) to a white background, depicting a complex yet bucolic scene such as people picnicking or fishing.
Over time, the style was applied to simpler themes like the flowers in the Ralph Lauren arbor toile pattern seen in this post’s main image, and has been adapted into modern interpretations displayed with unexpected colors, like the modern cityscape toile watercolor job with which Lilly Pulitzer’s Madison Avenue store commissioned designer Paige Smith to adorn the dressing room walls.
Any way it’s presented, toile is a nod to propriety and etiquette; a pattern that, while comforting and sweet, still causes us to sit up a little straighter and pay attention to which fork we’re using.
Mixed and matched with opposing patterns in the same color scheme, it can be strikingly relevant in the here and now, and as far as we’re concerned, a little touch of class is always a welcome thing.