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Art nouveau fabrics have characteristics that relate to other design qualities of the era, such as the use of natural forms and the inclusion of sweeping curves. These fabrics typically were muted enough to be attractive in clothing or upholstery, although some were quite bold. In terms of construction, art nouveau fabrics were made of many different materials depending on the intended finished project. More recent fabrics in this style are often more colorful and may take advantage of current textile manufacturing techniques.
While there were many different fabrics used in the art nouveau period, these could be quite different depending on the area, the specific time period, and even the manufacturer. Fabric used for clothing was typically no different than textiles for earlier years, as most of the advances in design took place in clothing construction. Upholstery fabric, however, quite often bore the natural shapes and curving lines of art nouveau architecture.
General characteristics of art nouveau fabrics often included natural shapes like flowers. Vines and abstract curves were also very popular. In terms of color, the fabrics were often in muted or dark colors, like olive or deep blue. The complex designs in the fabric could be either printed or woven depending on the type of design. While these rules were certainly not absolute, they were common for fabric used for furniture and curtains.
Later art nouveau fabrics often reproduced wallpaper designs or motifs more commonly used in architecture. The Liberty Ianthe design was a popular wallpaper in the 1900s, but became a fabric in the 1960s. Colors in these later updates often remained muted, although variations on the original were common.
Fabrics made more recently that make use of art nouveau sensibilities often imitate patterns more commonly used for wallpaper in this period. Bolder and more colorful designs, sometimes bearing only the most popular art nouveau motifs, are highly popular. These fabrics often do not have any relation to the characteristics of historical fabrics.
One of the most important differences between art nouveau fabrics that were contemporary with this style of architecture and those that were not is that the earlier type did not have to represent the style in its entirety. Current art nouveau fabrics must bear the iconic design of this style in order to be recognized as a tribute, but earlier fabrics needed only to have been made to coexist with the much more dramatic architecture. This has the interesting effect that more modern art nouveau textiles often look more like art nouveau pieces than actual antique fabric.
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