Here are five iconic patterns that despite their regional origins have seeped into the international fashion arena, in their own simple and complex ways – the traditional batik, charming paisley, simple wheat, knitted argyle and the classic houndstooth, says Anushya Mamtora
When you walk around the street-side shops to haggle for a bargain, you spot them masquerading in piles of clothes and accessories. When you tip toe into the luxe store of your favourite fashion label, you spot them there too, neatly displayed with a hefty price tag. It's strange isn't it, for a few simple lines or criss-crosses to be admired and loved across genders, class, price points and geographical boundaries.
There are more that have international appeal, but we have chosen these fantastic five that have etched their patterns into the imagination of artists, apparel and precious metals and the minds of the fashion conscious.
Breathtaking tie-n-dye: Batik
Batik work's presence in the textile market is unparalleled. With its complex resist tie-n-dye technique, it has always been an easy pick for those who seek traditional patterns, which also has a contemporary feel to it.
Flashback: With its roots in India, Batik has always been considered an art and craft form, earlier practised by aristocratic Indian women. It later spread to South-east Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, where artisans have further popularised and mastered the art.
Master technique: Simply put, Batik work involves: waxing, dyeing and de-waxing. Firstly, designs are traced on the cloth by stretching it on a frame and the portions that do not need dyeing are waxed. The cloth is then dipped in the dye (usually natural dyes, indigo being the most famous), then into boiling water to remove the wax. The art involves getting the fine lines of colour to seep into the wax, which involves making the right amount and size of cracks and mastering the perfect crumpling technique. Types include screen-printing, splash and Kalamkari hand painted Batik.
Now: Religious forms and mythological characters were popular motifs on Batik in its early days; today the picks are mostly for florals and abstract. Most fashion labels simply use the trademark print on silk for the batik effect.
Owning one: Indian fashion designers use the art often for their collections, and combine them international looks. They are also available as bags. Other brands like Givenchy too have displayed batik-style prints on silk jerseys and Etro had East-inspired collections with batik chiffon floor-length dresses in their SS ‘09 collection. However, if you want to go the authentic way, then it's best to buy it from a workshop in India or Indonesia.
Checks with a difference: Houndstooth
We have come across plenty of checks and plaids, but the houndstooth pattern has a charisma of its own. Its distinct broken-check pattern with four pointed ends has been used across apparel and accessories.
Flashback: Also called houndstooth check, the pattern saw its birth in the Scottish Lowlands where it was woven in woollen cloth.
Master technique: The pattern was originally made using alternating bands of four dark and four light threads in both warp and filling or weft woven, especially in trademark black and white colours.
Now: The original small checkered houndstooth has now given way to large bold ones and that too in colourful hues. It's not only woven, but like the others, has found its print version in apparel as well as bags, stoles and shoes.
Owning one: Alexander McQueen has some stunning accessories with the houndstooth black and white imprints splashed all over, the tote being the cynosure. While he mostly kept it traditional, bolder, quirky and colourful ones are experimented with by other labels like Marc Jacobs.
Classy geometry: Argyle
If you look closely at the pair of socks you own, it's impossible to miss the large diamonds that run through it. It may seem simple, but the fashion industry seems to be in complete awe of this classic pattern. Winter wear and knits even today, is dominated by the argyle, as it lords the ‘casual look' segment.
Flashback: The design is inspired from the tartan pattern as well as the patterned socks the Scotland Highlanders wore from the 17th century. Legend has it that the earliest design dates back to clansmen of Argyll, a county in West Scotland who cut their plaid tartans to make socks, which lead to the first argyle diamond pattern.
Master technique: The argyle is a knitting pattern made of diamonds in a diagonal checkerboard arrangement. It's made eye catching by overlapping the pattern, inter-crossing with the diagonal line, to give it a 3D effect.
Now: Argyle still continues to charm in its traditional way, with little changes in its pattern. Autumn Winter collections of both men's wear as well women's wear see argyle knits.
Owning one: Argyle is the signature pattern of luxury fashion brand Pringle of Scotland, which is said to have knitted the first argyle sweater in the 1920s. So taking a peek at its collection will give you some good options. Other brands like Brioni, GAP, Banana Republic too have some neat options in sweaters and stoles.
Sheaf of golden glory: Wheat
While the former patterns dominated fabrics, the two-pronged or single sheath of wheat is etched on delicate stemware, priceless crockery, handcrafted wood and upholstery, finger bands and, yes, at times, apparel too.
Flashback: While the origin of this unassuming pattern has not been chalked out, the number of vintage cutlery with this design traces it back to a couple of centuries. If the Laurel wreath was a sign of success, wheat as a symbol of prosperity had a special appeal to artists.
Master technique: The wheat pattern is etched either as a single stem with sprouting leaves, or as a sheath or two, and even as a whole bunch showing sheath, golden wheat et al. It was prominently used in Victorian porcelain.
Now: Thanks to Chanel, wheat today has a new lease of life in luxury fashion, inspiring many others to use the simple sheath as jewellery patterns, crystal decor and fabric prints.
Owning one: Chanel rules the roost when it comes to taking the wheat sheath to an ace design element. If you are in love with its simplicity and consider it a lucky charm, then Chanel sunglasses with wheat sheath frames or arm designs, bracelets and brooches, are best picks.
Persian pickles meet cheery mangoes: Paisley
Kairi or Mangaa in India, Boteh or Palme in France and Persian pickles by critics, the Paisley has found admirers all over the world.
Flashback: Despite borrowing its name from a little town in Scotland, which woke up to this design brilliance and became the foremost producer of paisley woven shawls, the mango-pattern in itself is said to have originated in Persia and later woven on to Kashmiri shawls. The Englishmen were so charmed by the pretty paisley that they took back artwork as well as the pattern back home.
Master technique: The traditional paisley was usually very intricate and was woven on to shawls. Then intricate hand-stamp versions were used on rich fabrics for elaborate pieces of cloth, used for royalty and the aristocratic.
Now: Today, paisley is a commonplace design that finds a place in aesthetic jewellery, fashion wear, upholstery, wall papers, and even laminates! It's usually printed and less intricate, and easy to find. However, the more expensive ones would still be the elaborately designed pieces of art used in shawls, carpets and silks. While paisley ties have been popular, luxury menswear too has been increasingly going the paisley way with silk shirts for formal and semi-formal looks grabbing the limelight.
Owning one: Yes, you can spot one from the bazaars of Kolkata to the prêt collection of international fashion labels. However, the most prized possession would be an intricately designed pattern, especially a gorgeous Pashmina or Persian shawl weave.