Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fabric Hall of Fame: Chinese Leopard Toile

Thank goodness for those great old prints that keep on keepin' on, and we have Brunschwig & Fils to thank for many of them. There is Le Lac, Les Touches, La Portugaise, and another print whose name does not begin with a le, la, or les: Chinese Leopard Toile. I've long admired this peculiar print, one in which in Chinese scenes are surrounded by intertwining red garlands, all set against a backdrop of leopard spots. I think that this eccentricity is what makes the print so charming.

I did a bit of digging, and thanks to a 1966 New York Times article, I found out that Chinese Leopard Toile was not only a favorite of Elsie de Wolfe but of Billy Baldwin too. (In the article, Mrs. Brunschwig said that Baldwin used "lots and lots" of this fabric.) I have consulted all of my books that contain de Wolfe and Baldwin interiors, and unfortunately I can't find a single photo which shows their use of the fabric. I did manage to find a McMillen Inc. designed interior in which the fabric was used on chairs and curtains, and I also uncovered a photo from an old House & Garden book.

According to the Times article, the original colorway for Chinese Leopard Toile was shades of red and blue, though a version with a yellow background was later added. Fortunately for us, both are still available. In both the McMillen and House & Garden photos below, it appears that the colorway used is different from what Brunschwig currently offers.

While I get that this print isn't for everybody, it has such an interesting history that it should be admitted to Fabric Hall of Fame- if there was such a thing. Oh, and cost of Chinese Leopard Toile in 1966? $5.80 a yard!

Chinese Leopard Toile as used by the designers at McMillen Inc.

Designer Rhoda Bright chose the print for window shades and a mattress cover.

You can see a close-up of the two colorways currently available. I pulled these two samples at the Brunschwig & Fils/Lee Jofa showroom at ADAC.


  1. Love, love this toile. The glazed chintz version of this pattern was closer to Twenty dollars in the early
    1970's. I'm happy to see the blue/red/brown colorway is available!
    This fabric made up beautiful libraries.

  2. Bob, So glad that you too look it. Using it in a library is a great idea!

  3. Great article, love the old photos!

  4. Hi Jennifer! It's such a terrific and unique print. Jena at the Lee Jofa/Brunschwig showroom was most helpful!

  5. Jennifer Dengel11:21 AM

    Such a charming ad! Wouldn't it be a great retrospective in design centers and schools to see the halls lined with these ads. Now that would really hold my interest and help to pass the time as I waited for an elevator!

  6. Anonymous12:49 PM

    It came in a gray/brown colorway also.

  7. Jennifer, Now that's a terrific idea!

  8. Anon- Thank you for letting me know. I like the idea of the gray/brown combo.

  9. Anonymous12:51 AM

    Oh Bravo! Always one of my favorites! So was Brunschwig! My very first "open account" 41 years ago! Delores in the Los Angeles Showroom (way before the PDC)!

    I belong to the most wonderful old-fashioned club in Pasadena (where I grew up and lived until 14 years ago) and this was the wallpaper in the "handicapped" powder room!

    So, of course I always used that powder room!
    Once, as I came out; a man was yelling at me "YOU are not allowed to use the handicapped powder room!!!" (he was handicapped only mentally). I looked at his face and knew I had no chance of explaining how much I loved the wallpaper; so I fled back to the dining room.....!!!

    So happy the fabric is still around!

  10. Penelope- What a funny story! I would have used that powder room as well!

  11. Thanks so much for writing this great blog. I love discovering all these new (to me) things.

  12. This is why I love blogs, it is a great way of finding new things that otherwise would be left un-discovered.

  13. Thank you, Architects in london!

  14. Great post, thanks! I just listed a 2 yard piece of this in the taupe/brown and yellow/orange colorway. It's a vintage piece, 35" wide image area. I was so thrilled to find it. I linked to this post in my listing so people can find your great site. Thanks, Jennifer.

  15. First- to Penelope Bianchi- loved your story. I am also a Penelope and spent my working years in the trade. When my children were small I worked 1 or 2 days a week in a wallpaper and fabric showroom. One day a woman came in and said while she waited for her designer, she wanted to look at our "toylees". I directed her to some wings with toile samples and she said "Why are all those funny looking people on the cloth". Oh,my, adventures in design.
    Love all toile- but Leopard Toile is my all time favorite; a total classic that is never dated.
    Penelope 2