Floral textiles have definitely caught my interest lately. I am surrounded by them every day that I work on the Stieg Collection
. The beautiful fabrics and interesting patterns have made a strong impression on me. Aside from wearing (and buying) more floral prints, I’ve been thinking a lot about textiles. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on the Ecole Martine
(1879 – 1944) was a famous French couturier. He first started designing for Jacques Doucet, then later for Charles Frederick Worth before finally creating his own house in 1904. He was most noted his hobble skirts, lampshade tunics, and for liberating women from corsets. Yet one of the most interesting aspects of his career was the launching of Ecole Martine.
Poiret wisely anticipated the idea of a lifestyle brand, and wanted to offer home furnishings. He decided to do this under the name Maison Martine, which acted as the retail space. Maison Martine was supported by Ateilier Martine, the workshop, and the Ecole Martine, an experimental art school that trained young, working-class girls.
Floral printed textile by Atelier Martine, 1923. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The art instructors would take the girls out to gardens and zoos in Paris. They would sketch and draw outdoors, in natural light. The best designs were purchased by Poiret, and were used in various designs by the craftsmen at the Atelier Martine. At first, the Atelier Martine only produced textiles and wallpapers (similar business model to that of John Little). It eventually expanded production to include ceramics, rugs, lighting, and later decorating services.
Textile sample by Atelier Martine, c. 1911- 1923. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ecole Martine is described as experimental because it was so different than other art schools of the time. Academies for painting and the arts were usually for men, and had a rigorous structure. Traditional art students had to learn life and figure drawing with complete photographic accuracy before moving on to develop a personal style.
Textile design by Atelier Martine. Image courtesy of Shelley Davis.
Poiret’s approach to his school was much different. First, it was a school for girls and young women. He encouraged the development of personal style. The students were given total creative freedom. They would draw or paint anything on their field trips to gardens, parks, and zoos. Creative freedom and a natural environment are obvious sources of inspiration. But I think the fact that Poiret would buy the best sketches to use for his designs was an extra incentive for the students to create quality work.
Textile design by Atelier Martine. Image courtesy Shelley Davis.
The various textiles produced by Atelier Martine don’t fit neatly into the time period they were created. They all seem quite modern for 1911-1923. The patterns and designs seem to be from a much later time. Some look like they are from the 1940s, and others from the 1960s.
That’s one of the great things about schools, and particularly setup Ecole Martine. Novice designers and arts offer a lot to their peers, teachers, and employers. They offer simplicity of thought and a humbleness I affectionately call “beginner mind”. They are not hindered by thoughts of professional standards, rules, or any limiting beliefs. Instead, their curiosity takes over. They try to formulate their own answers, unburdened by history or experience. Beginner mind offers limitless possibilities.
Textile sample by Atelier Martine, 1923. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.