Original, Colorful Prints and Fabrics Are Sold by Souleiado and Other French Specialty Stores

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i> .

French decorative fabrics have been made popular around the world largely through the marketing successes of Souleiado, a company that sells its cottons, woolens and silk challis in the United States in Pierre Deux shops.

Souleiado’s traditional provincial prints, with cheerfully colorful floral patterns and contrasting borders, originated hundreds of years ago in Provence, an area in southeastern France.

Souleiado has two Paris shops, but it’s fun to visit company headquarters in Tarascon, a small town on the Rhone just south of Avignon.


Offices and workshops are in an old three-story stone mansion at 39 Rue Proudhon. Souleiado belongs to the Demery family, who use their priceless collection of antique woodblocks to create distinctively modernized traditional patterns.

Guided Tours

Appointments for guided tours require 24-hour notice (phone 90-91-08-80 for arrangements) and are limited to about 12 people. Employees explain (mostly in French) the company’s manufacturing technique and history, and show you the salles d’impression, old printing halls where artisans still decorate fabrics by hand, and the grenier, a dusty, attic warehouse where more than 40,000 18th- and 19th-Century hand-carved fruit wood blocks are stored.

Most of Souleiado’s production, about 1 million meters of cotton a year, is factory-printed in Alsace, with some woolens and silks printed in Lyon. About 300 designs have been adopted from the original woodblocks for modern technology. Traditional colors, including strong reds and golds, are still produced, but muted blues, greens and corals have been added to appeal to modern tastes.

Special orders, costing five or six times Souleiado’s factory printed fabrics, are printed by hand at the Tarascon ateliers, with 18th-Century techniques. You can see artisans at work in the salles d’impression, carefully covering the woodblocks with dyes, setting them on the fabric and tapping the blocks with the handle end of a hammer. Fabrics hung to dry create an appealing barrage of color and patterns.

The factory’s courtyard boutique sells remnants, seconds and discontinued patterns for about $8 to $16 a meter for 50-inch wide cottons, about half the regular cost. Stocks vary from day to day, depending upon the factory’s production.

Quilted Bags Sold

The boutique also sells quilted carrying bags of various sizes (about $55 to $100), picture frames and notebooks ($10 and up), coin purses ($10) and toiletry bags ($20 and up) and a small selection of clothes made from lovely cottons. Square cotton scarfs are $5 and up, and Souleiado umbrellas are about $50.


However, it isn’t necessary to visit Tarascon for good buys on Souleiado products. The Paris shops (at 78 Rue de Seine, 6th Arrondissement and 85 Rue Paul Dourmer, 16th Arrondissement ) have more varied and constant stock of fabrics and wearables. Prices are about 30% less than in the United States.

For example, magnificent 63-inch square shawls of super soft and luxurious wool and silk blend, in multicolored floral or paisley-like prints, are about $200 and up. Stiff-sided, open-toppe1679846753pockets, cost about $60. Cotton sun dresses are about $120 and up.

Souleiado is not the only seller of fine French fabrics. Romanex de Boussac (27 Rue du Mail, 2nd Arrondissement ) produces exquisite clothes, with many designs based on the antique patterns in the company’s extensive archives. The textiles are woven in Alsace in a mill dating from 1783.

More than 200 designs are organized into themes ranging from paisleys to plants to butterflies. Solid color fabrics are produced to coordinate with patterned textiles. Fabrics sell for about $35 a meter and up. The company also sells reproductions of fabrics in Paris’ Museum of Decorative Arts.

An additional range of fabrics sold in bolts or made into sheets or other things is available under the label of Manuel Canovas (5 Place Furstemberg, 6th Arrondissement ). Canovas uses some traditional patterns and others of entirely modern conception. Beautiful bed sheets (about $150 and up for a queen-size set) are made of the world’s finest cotton, with either modern or traditional floral and geometric patterns in pastels and vivid colors.

There are matching quilts (about $260 and up), pillow cases and shams, and nightshirts (about $180 and up). Towels and quilted carryalls ($100 and up) are made in matching and complementary patterns. In addition, Canovas makes magnificent large square scarfs of silk and cashmere blend fabric (about $280 and up). These fabulously soft shawls come in subtle or vibrant shades. One touch and you’ll never want to wear anything else.


Pierre Frey (47 Rue des Petits Champs, 2nd Arrondissement ) exhibits a thoroughly astonishing display of about 5,000 fabric samples in the magnificent setting of a mansion that was originally the town house of Jean-Baptiste Lully, court composer to Louis XIV. The fabrics are beautifully mounted in strips on moving panels. You can spend hours looking for exactly the right pattern for your sofa or draperies.

If you want something special to match your decor, bring samples of fabrics you’ve already used. Pierre Frey gives no swatches, and the textiles, ranging in price from about $60 a meter and up) are too expensive to allow for any mistakes. But the firm’s helpful advice is free. A smaller shop is at 2 Rue de Furstemberg (6th Arrondissement ) near Manuel Canovas.

Country Fabrics

One very special shop selling traditional country fabrics and beautiful clothes and home decorating objects made from them is A la Bonne Renommee (26 Rue Vielle du Temple, 3rd Arrondissement ), owned and run by Catherine Legrand and Elisabeth Gratacap. This design team celebrated their 10th anniversary in 1986. Their distinctive style has won them much acclaim in fashion-conscious Paris, but their work is hardly known in the United States.

Legrand and Gratacap use floral and plaid French provincial fabrics in a patchwork mixture of colors and patterns, and continually invent shapes for clothes and accessories. The look is chic, dramatic, sometimes peasantry and refreshingly unusual. Two collections are offered annually, and sold exclusively in their shop.

Everything is handmade. Legrand and Gratacap spend hours fitting together bits of patterned fabrics, ribbons and trimmings to find perfectly pleasing and fascinating combinations. Some items are monochromatic, with mixtures of stripes, plaids, florals and polka dots that are all black and white, red and white, or another color and white. Other pieces use wildly contrasting colors.

In addition to coordinated outfits of dresses, shirts, skirts, coats and jackets (priced at about $200 and up per item), A la Bonne Renommee sells chic velvet and applique berets and other hats (about $40 and up), plus change purses (about $15), cosmetics bags (about $25), large carrying bags (about $130 and up).

Beautifully designed home accessories include quilts (about $400 and up) and pillow covers (about $100 and up). French provincial fabrics are sold by the meter (about $25 and up).


If you want to spend a little time living with the colorful French provincial fabrics before you buy them for decorating your home, rooms at Paris’ luxurious San Regis Hotel (12 Rue Jean-Goujon, 8th Arrondissement ) are individually decorated with wall coverings, bedspreads and draperies by Souleiado and other French fabric makers, along with beautiful antique furnishings. Rooms cost about $140 and up a night.

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing.