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The Times Shopper: Paris

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

October 04, 1987|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

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.

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