updated 16 Mar 2013, 14:18
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Know your prints
by Leslie Kay Lim


Tote (right)

$2,196, from Etro, 01-30 Paragon

Originating in ancient Persia, the twisted teardrop paisley pattern is believed to depict the convergence of a floral spray and a cypress tree.

The pattern, also known as Boteh in Farsi, travelled to India and the Middle East before becoming popular in Europe in the 1600s. The Scottish town of Paisley, which made paisley patterns its trade in the 1800s, gave the pattern its Western name. Paisley exploded in the 1960s and 1970s in America and Europe in association with the hippie movement and the interest in Eastern spirituality and culture.

Today, the Italian brand Etro is known particularly for its use of paisley. Labels such as Jonathan Saunders, Stella McCartney and Paul Smith have also used the print in recent years.


Shirt (right) $79.90, from Levi's, B1-30 Takashimaya Shopping Centre

Consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours, plaid can be traced back to fifth-century Scotland, where it was used to distinguish clans.

Tartan was the original monicker for the pattern, while plaid described large blankets or shawls. But because many plaids were tartan, the words became synonymous. In the United States, plaid has replaced the word tartan almost completely.

Scottish rebels sported tartan kilts in the 17th century. The English government's Dress Act of 1746 attempted to bring the clans under control by banning tartan and other aspects of Gaelic culture. After the law was repealed in 1782, it was adopted as the symbolic national dress of Scotland.

American factories began mass-producing the pattern, which was better known as plaid there, prior to the Civil War.

It became a blue-collar trademark, the unofficial uniform of lumberjacks and other similar trades. Its fashion quotient shot up in the 1990s as a trademark of the grunge rock movement, after designers such as Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood showed the print on their runways.

Madras is a subset of plaid, originally describing a lightweight cotton fabric with a patterned texture and plaid design. Madras takes its name from the Indian city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, because the pattern was widely used by inhabitants in the 1800s. Patchwork madras -which may be its most famous incarnation - involves cutting several madras plaid fabrics into strips and sewing them back together as squares that form a colourful mixed pattern of various criss-crossing plaids.

Labels including A.P.C. and Derek Lam have embraced the use of madras print in recent years.


Dress by M Missoni (below), £284.62 (S$536), from

Made up of a series of linked inverted Vs, the chevron print can be found in art and ancient Greek pottery dating as far back as around 1800 BC.

It is commonly used in military insignia and heraldry and is still used to denote rank in military forces around the world.

The pattern, which is also known as a zigzag, grew in popularity in fashion during the 1970s.

Italian fashion brand Missoni has built its label around various interpretations of chevron prints.

French luggage maker Goyard also uses a pattern of three juxtaposed chevrons on its signature painted canvas designs.


Shirt (below), $34.90, from Uniqlo, 03-27 313@somerset

Checks or checkerboard prints comprise crossed horizontal and vertical lines forming squares.

Unlike plaid, checks tend to cross at regular intervals to create even-sized squares.

One variation is the gingham print, a small-scale checked print which comes from a type of simple woven cotton or linen cloth.

The gingham fabric was originally manufactured in Malaysia, Indonesia and India in the 17th century before being exported to Europe and, later, the United States in the 18th century.

Its name is derived from the Malay word, genggang, meaning striped. Gingham fabric was originally striped before checked versions were developed in Europe.

Eventually, the checked versions became what the print is known for.

Often woven into blue and white or red and white checked patterns, gingham print was popular for summer wear and uniforms in the 20th century.

It enjoyed fashion prominence in the 1960s with the rise of mod fashion.

Brands such as Ben Sherman and Fred Perry started producing gingham shirts during the 1960s.

Designers such as Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and Phillip Lim have used the print in recent years.


Heels by Fiore (below), $99.90, from

A variation of the check pattern, houndstooth is a two-tone motif characterised by broken checks or abstract four-pointed shapes, often in black and white.

Originating in Scotland in the 1800s, houndstooth was seen on outer garments of woven wool worn by shepherds. It is also known as shepherd's check or dogstooth. Smaller versions of the print are known as puppy's tooth.

The pattern is usually used for coats and jackets, so wool and tweed incarnations are common.

The pattern was popularly used by brands Geoffrey Beene and Anne Klein in the 1960s, and again by Chanel in the 1980s.

Today small-scale houndstooth is also used in pants chefs wear as the pattern hides dirt smudges and food stains.


Ballet flats (below), $130, from Melissa, B2-03 Wheelock Place

Liberty prints are small garden party florals produced by British retailer Liberty Of London in the 1920s.

Set up by Arthur Liberty in 1875, Liberty Of London began importing silks and cottons from India, which were dyed, printed or woven in England, Scotland and France.

In the early 1900s, the emporium took over a print works specialising in wooden block prints, which led to their expansive textile archives.

While Liberty prints would be seen as old-fashioned florals in the following decades, designers such as Cacharel and Mary Quant began to revive them in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, Liberty Of London has worked with a number of streetwear and fashion brands, including Nike and J.Crew, to lend its floral prints to shoes and clothes.

Breton Stripes

Top (below), $70, from Gap, B1-20 Wisma Atria

Consisting of horizontal navy and white stripes, the Breton shirt was introduced in 1858 as the uniform for French navy seamen in Brittany.

Known as mariniere or matelot, the original design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon's victories.

Made in wool and cotton, the distinctive pattern made sailors easier to spot in the water. The Breton people, an ethnic group in the Brittany region, and others working in Northern France began wearing it, thanks to its practicality.

Designer Coco Chanel was inspired by sailors during a visit to the coast and showed striped pieces in a nautical-inspired Chanel collection in 1917.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the print was popularised by the Beatnik community. More recently, Breton stripes have been recreated in collections by Balmain, Gucci, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Polka Dots

T-shirt (below), $193, from Anrealage, Hello, Shibuya Tokyo pop-up stores, Level 1 Main Atrium Plaza Singapura

Polka dots are circles, generally equally sized and spaced relatively closely in relation to their diameters.

They are named after the Polish folk dance, despite having little in common with it, except that both were popular around the same time, from the mid- to late 1800s.

Polka dot fabric was the preferred choice of flamenco dancers. Flamenco dance, which had Gypsy, Moorish and Andalusian roots, became popular in the early 19th century in cafes in Spain.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Christian Dior began to release dresses in polka dot patterns. The polka dot dress became a staple in comedienne Lucille Ball's wardrobe in the TV show I Love Lucy during the 1950s.

In the late 20th century, fashion designers such as Carolina Herrera and Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo began to use the polka dot motif in their work.

Last year, Louis Vuitton collaborated with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama for a dot-covered collection of clothing and accessories.


Dress by Altuzarra (below), £1,101.60 (S$2,075), from

Ikat print refers to the soft-focus designs brought about by a dyeing technique in which the threads of the cloth are dyed before they are woven.

The name comes from the Malay or Indonesian word, mengikat, which means to tie or bind - a reference to the dyeing technique. It is a type of ethnic print.

Visible in traditional textiles from Asia, South America and the Middle East, ikat seems to have developed independently in Indonesia, Guatemala, Japan, India, Yemen and Uzbekistan from the 10th century.

The technique and textiles travelled to Europe during the 1800s via Dutch traders in South-east Asia, Spanish explorers in South America and travellers along the Silk Road.

In recent years, the print has been popular in home furnishings, with American homeware store Crate & Barrel producing ikat print items.

Recently, Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten and Gucci (below) have reinterpreted ikat designs in blurry graphic prints.

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