Sep 7, 2009

The 1686 French government ban on printed textiles

(This post is from the website, page 2 of Historical notes)
Imported floral cotton prints from India had become so popular in France by 1685 that the French silk-producing companies were suffering from a severe loss of business. Fearing permanent damage to the silk trade, the government, in 1686, instituted a ban on the production, importation and sale of all printed textiles. The ban was in force for almost 80 years until it was finally repealed in 1759.

Oddly-enough, this ban affected both imported cotton prints and the domestically-produced copies of the Indian prints. The thriving French domestic textile industry that had been producing cotton printed fabrics, indiennes, was shut down. This proved to be fateful because the hundreds of French workers that had been employed in the printed cotton trade began to emigrate and took their expertise with them. Within a couple of decades, the European textile-printing industry was dominated by companies in England, Holland and Switzerland instead of France.

In France, the ban on printed textiles only spurred the public desire for them. The ensuing craze for printed cottons resulted in secret printing factories hidden in basements or churches and dramatically increased the smuggling of the goods through ports and unguarded borders. Heavy fines were levied for infractions of the law to little avail. Women caught wearing a printed cotton outfit were disrobed and the dresses were burned on the spot! Any smuggled printed cottons that were confiscated by the government agents were either shredded or burned.

In 1740, the ban was loosened slightly and the government then allowed resist-dyed indigo fabrics to be produced and sold. Finally, in November 1759, the ban and all restrictions on the production and importation of printed cottons were lifted. Immediately, textile-printing factories opened across France. The public passion and demand for the printed cotton textiles did not diminish even after they were again legal. The French companies soon regained international prominence. From 1760 to the twentieth century, the French textile industry produced incomparably beautiful printed fabrics.