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Persian rugs became so popular in the West in the 17th century that King Henry IV of France had to intervene with the buying frenzy of his noblemen before they made the country go bankrupt. Devising a scheme that would benefit France without curtailing his people’s love for fine Oriental carpets, he decided that they should make their own thus began the French rug industry.
Pierre Dupont, an expert craftsman, was tasked to start manufacturing carpets right on the Louvre Palace grounds. He was provided with everything he needed; from studios to workshops including manpower. Dupont and his partner Simon Lourdet initially made rugs ‘facon de Turquie’ or in the ‘manner of Turkey’, which essentially meant copying the design patterns of Turkish rugs everyone was raving about at the time.
In 1627, the duo was granted exclusive rights to make carpets for the French kingdom by King Louis XIII, which lasted for 18 years. Lourdet, after a feud with Dupont, went to establish his own carpet manufacturing inside an abandoned soap factory. His products eventually became known as ‘Savonnerie’ rugs which was taken from the French word for soap, ‘savon.’
Savonnerie rugs are among the finest and most ornately designed carpets to come out of Europe. They are characterized by floral patterns that ‘come alive’ as each rug is woven with varying shades of dye colors used to depict three-dimensionality. In addition to flowers, leaves, and other nature elements, early Savonnerie carpets were also inspired by paintings of French artists who were commissioned by Lourdet to design his rugs.
Initially, Lourdet and workers of the Savonnerie manufactory went on to make Persian-style carpets like his former partner Dupont who continued making rugs in the Louvre. Lourdet experimented with a different technique and took advantage of his team of artists’ skills and knowledge in painting. It resulted into a distinctly French designed creation that rivaled even the best Persian carpets. And up until 1768, it was known throughout the world to be the ‘grandest of French diplomatic gifts.’
This tradition is still kept alive today by modern Savonnerie weavers who continue to make the exquisite rugs in the Gobelins Factory in Paris, France. The historic royal tapestry production facility took over management of the original Savonnerie crew when they ran into financial troubles. The Gobelins Factory is one of the tourist attractions in France where visitors can see weavers in action.