Vibrant Vlisco

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

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This is about the part of winter where I’m just over it, and yet I realize that we’re still hardly even halfway through. Piled under all my layers (the down coat, the thick sweater, the scarf so big it’s like another sweater), I’m craving a totally different kind of aesthetic, a vibrant shock of color and pattern. Enter Vlisco.

I knew about wax prints from doing some work on a project for kids in Ghana a few years back, but I’d never heard of Vlisco until last night. I came across the Dutch textile manufacturer in a book called Color Hunting, which I’d bought over the holidays to find some new inspiration around what you may know is an evergreen topic for this blog. I was transfixed by the intensity of the colors and the boldness of the patterns. It’s like these images just radiate solar energy. I could sunbathe here all day!

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It’s no accident that the colors of these fabrics are so bright: they are designed this way because of the intensity of the African sun. As they describe in Color Hunting:

To begin with, the ever-present African sun fades virtually all colors; it shines 12 hours a day on every surface, including clothing. Because our original color chart—based on Indonesian batik colors—was unsuitable, we had to develop new colors that could withstand the West African sun. The new colors required a high concentration of dyestuff; as a result, Vlisco colors are highly saturated. The bright, full, warm colors became popular for their appearance and for their quality. Consumers say that even when a Vlisco fabric is totally worn out, the color is still intact—alive.

The reference to Indonesia is interesting, and it speaks to the fact that the wax prints we think of as African actually originated in Southeast Asia. Vlisco (then called P. Fentener van Vlissingen & Co.) figured out a way to mass produce the native Indonesian batik process, which traditionally used wax to mask the patterns before dyeing. But the Indonesian market didn’t like the too-perfect quality of the imitation textiles, and banned them, forcing Vlisco to find a new market for their goods. The Dutch already had been selling European luxury items in West Africa, so the trade lines were already established. The “Dutch wax” style of textiles became wildly successful, and adapted to the styles of the region, so it’s natural that we think of these fabrics as African now.

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Images: courtesy of Vlisco

January 20th, 2015


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    Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Sherry Crowson on January 21, 2015

    Ohh . . . so bright you practically have to squint! I love all the wild colors with complementary accents! I crave that purple and white and black patterned dress with the gold long jacket over it! That purple matches my new shoes just perfectly! And that long skirt certainly looks comfortable as does that jacket! The bright blue or turquoise accents surely stand out from the warmer colors and make you think of the vivid blue sky this time of year, paired with the gold of late fall . . . and yes we get fall really late, almost in time for spring Today it’s foggy and gray out so your exploration of such truly astonishing colors certainly has brightened my morning! Thanks!

  2. Sherry Crowson on January 21, 2015

    P. S. I forgot to mention I have never seen such really bright shoes either, almost as remarkable as the clothes! Those fabulous turquoise heels in that first picture almost steal the show from that lovely dress!

    1. Ingrid on January 22, 2015

      I am totally with you on the shoes, Sherry! I wish I knew where to get them. I love the pink ones. Even for a split second imagined what it might look like to wear hot pink shoes under my wedding dress this summer 😉

  3. Sherry Crowson on January 29, 2015

    You might get a kick out of doing that! I can see it with your fascination for bright cheerful colors! It’s your wedding, and congratulations, do what pleases you, even if not strictly traditional! I think hot pink shoes would be something people would remember and you would look back on fondly in the years to come!


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