Behind the collection: Chinoiserie from Timorous Beasties

Intrigued by the unconventional imagery in the latest Timorous Beasties launch, I spoke to designer Paul Simmons to delve deeper into the story behind the collection

What was your starting point for the new Chinoiserie Collection? I started by drawing the vignettes for the collection before lockdown – the starting and ending point was the ‘hero’ design, Chinoiserie Toile.

Paul (left) with the other half of Timorous Beasties, Alistair McAuley

Can you tell me a bit about the history of Chinoiserie. And how have you translated this concept into your designs? The history of Chinoiserie is very interesting, even the interpretation of the word in French means, ‘Chinese-ish’.  

It was a fantasy of an unknown world, which in the 17th century was very hard to visualise. It came from a fascination with the Orient, which was starting to be discovered, but it was a strange crossing point of different cultures. 

It was a celebration of the unknown, a sort of fantasy – more than an interpretation.

Chinoiserie Toile features a selfie stick toting teenager and baton wielding soldier

Some of the images within the prints are provocative (I’m thinking about the baton wielding policeman in the Chinoiserie Toile) did you intend this collection to make a political point? Toiles have always depicted historical events, from the first Montgolfier hot air balloon launch to the Napoleonic wars, so I had always wanted to put some of the current world events into the collection.

In fact whilst I was designing the collection, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started, the takeover of Hong Kong by mainland China and the Covid pandemic all happened, and it seemed too overwhelming to take it all on.  

Temples in the Sky by Timorous Beasties
Temples in the Sky velvet

How do you envisage the collection being used? I see it being used as any other pattern or toile, the colours are very seductive and all the designs in the collection are very different in their own right. Some papers are matt, some are glossy. Some have graphic images, some have detailed drawing, some don’t have any figurative work – all bases are covered in this collection.  

See more from Timorous Beasties here

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