I was recently reading a column by Bernard Salt, Australian demographer and pop culture column writer, about some surprising results from the most recent Australian Census last year. In in, he noted that the number of bedrooms in Australia now exceeds the number of people in the country, and that the show bedroom, as he thought of it, was on the rise, given there has been a corresponding rise in sales in the bedding industry of cushions, pillows, and bed linen. This is because in Australia, living areas are to the rear of houses, so most visitors to a house will enter through a front door, process down a hallway to the outdoor entertaining zone, and pass by a number of bedrooms that are now required to be arranged attractively with stacked cushions, bedlinen and other things that used to be seen only by the rooms inhabitant, and never by a visitor. This is to give off a 5 star hotel vibe, and to show wealth and taste. You can read the very entertaining column here


This all tied in neatly with a phenomenon that I've noticed over the past few years - the rise of the cult of D.Porthault, French linen company and the linen of choice to the discerning connoisseur of fine living.  We are told frequently by anyone writing about the company on the many, many social media posts written on instagram/ blogs/ magazines that the roll call of famous people that were obsessed  with it include Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the Duchess of Windsor, Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel and a bunch of other famous people from the 1950's up to today far too numerous to mention, aside from on the D.Porthault website. There's nothing like celebrity endorsement, especially when the clients are no longer alive to complain about being co-opted into it.


But we all know they're the style set, so the seal of approval means we can all rush out to buy our own very expensive set of linen and be stylish as well, especially given how distinctive the patterns are as they ensure that everyone knows where your sheets come from. The French company was purchased fairly recently by an American with a passion for linen, and under new ownership the marketing push has really gathered pace, particularly in the US where there are boutiques opening and constant magazine write ups, and now the glossy coffee table book released this month about the company's history.



What is distinctive and recognisable about D Porthault linen is that it is known for a variety of printed patterns on fine quality cotton sheets, and it's rather expensive, thus setting it firmly equivalent to the luxury logo'd handbag... or Hermes Avalon blanket. They do plain linen as well, but it's the distinctive floral patterns that they innovated in the 1920s and have become very well known for that have aficionados/ cult members pattern matching and clashing with gay abandon with their sheets and towels.


I suppose you can see where I'm going with this... I don't really like printed sheets of any sort, aside from in a child's bedroom, so for me it is slightly baffling that they're so popular. For grown up bedrooms I like plain sheets as they don't compete with the other decorative elements in the room. I also think my husband would revolt if I made up the bed in pretty floral sheets and then asked him to sleep in it.

I really do not like the sheets in this bedroom

And this is an interesting fact in the whole Porthault love in:  the women that originally embraced the D Porthault sheets such as Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor didn't actually sleep in the same bed as their husband. They had their own bedrooms, as was customary for women from the upper classes of that era. Their bedrooms could be decorated in the manner that they chose, and their sheets were theirs to select without consideration of what a male partner might think of having to sleep under a bower of love hearts or clovers or sprigs of roses and pansies.

Rita Konig's former bedroom in New York with heart print bedlinen

I have seen some criticism of the new book as being essentially a big glossy catalogue, with no photos of D Porthault in the famous clients bedrooms of the past to give weight to the celebrity endorsement. So I googled them for you as I suspected that there weren't any photos showing the flowery sheets for one major reason. My hunch proved correct.

Here's Jackie Kennedy's bedroom in the Whitehouse


Here's the Duchess of Windor's bedroom in Paris



Coco Chanel's bedroom at the Villa Pausa



The thing they all have in common is that you wouldn't know what sheets they slept on as they utilised an item very popular in that era: the fitted bedspread.

The bedspread was usually made out of a fabric that matched in with their curtains (in the White House it appears to be white with a fringe), and covered the entire bed and pillows with nothing to show of the underpinnings. Rather like a jacket could have any lining inside, so too the sheets could be anything. While they may have slept on floral D Porthault sheets, or plain ones, or anything else for that matter... the one thing we know is that they never intended them to be seen in a decorative sense. Sheet selection was a personal and private luxury.


So really, all this consideration about the topic is because I feel like I've reached peak saturation of the entire internet world banging on about how special and stunning these linens are, and I just don't get it. Somehow the cult of D Porthault has passed me by. The excessive femininity of the designs, the "it all goes together so mix in all the prints at once" thing, the competition the sheets have with fabrics and wallpapers and other things in a space... it's just not for me.

Estee Lauder's bedroom - I really love Toile de Nantes wallpaper, but would prefer plain linen with it


But it has made me wonder if throughout all the frothing at the mouth comments and coy photos of bedrooms and bathrooms with bits of the distinctive patterns on towels and sheets to get a bit of instagram love from those in the know, there are others who share my distinctive Meh feel about it all.

So over to you: Are you a card carrying member of the Cult, or is a slightly more subdued palette more your thing?

30 comments:

  1. So interesting, as usual. Do admit to having used some patterned sheets in the past, but never Porthault, way too expensive for me - and having seen these, way too over the top flowery too. Mine were Sheridan. But in the last ten years have mostly bought plain coloured sets, sometimes with patterned or linen with lace, or white embroidery on white, pillowcases (occasionally from French brocantes). Remember reading that Jackie O was most insistent on percale with a very high fine thread count. Another bedlinen designer that a lot of this set seemed to favour was Frette. The Frette linen I've seen was less flowery and had more patterns, if at all, with stripes. I love walking around department stores in Paris during the sales to see what the bedlinen and towels are like that year. Can't imagine many of the French women I know finding the OTT flowered sets very appealing. They do seem to like Missoni striped colourful towels though. I admit to buying some myself and mixing them with brightly coloured (umm, like red!) plain towels from Ralph Lauren (also in the sales). But I'm sure these wouldn't be your taste as they're a bit OTT too. Janet would shrink in horror I'm sure!
    If you're a guest for dinner in a French house or apartment, you will almost never, never be shown the bedrooms. Or even the kitchen either. These are very private. Pammie xx

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    1. Patterned sheets were definitely a "thing" when they first started to mass produce them. I think that the previously plain sheet was seen as very old fashioned and outre, and cotton also replaced linen sheets as the preferred sheet of choice (probably because it was softer to the hand, unless the linen was very fine quality). So I don't think you're alone there. I do enjoy looking at the patterned sheets in the shops, but I think really they only work if the rest of the room is very plain - as soon as you have other fabrics or wallpapers they have to be fairly specific to work successfully.
      It's funny our notion of privacy, and how that has evolved. There's so much psychology behind the design of houses, and I've been writing a post (in my head) about the way the emphasis has changed from a formal front room that most guests wouldn't go beyond to the entire house, and the emphasis on luxury at home. Most people didn't expect it in their own home - it was something for the rich only. Now that's definitely changed, and the rise of bedroom numbers, outdoor kitchens, butler's pantrys, dressing rooms, ensuite bathrooms are very much normal. x

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    2. It's so true, privacy notions have changed a lot but are also very different in different cultures. Our English friends, some of whom live in quite grand houses in the East Anglian countryside or in Surrey, always seem to entertain old friends in summer/good weather in the garden or at other times en famille style in the big country kitchen or in a room off it (which in Oz we'd probably call the family room) where the warmth from the giant Aga penetrates. There are grand dining and sitting rooms too that they'll happily lead you through - but these are used only for big dinners with near strangers or professional/business guests. The formal rooms are usually glacial in autumn/winter/spring unless they light a roaring fire in the hearth(s) - nowadays without live-in servants that's a lot of work cleaning up afterwards. Suspect it's mostly about warmth and frugality these days.

      When we lived in Colombo a small dinner was for about twelve, around the dining table. But we often had dinners for at least 20. Outdoors under cover of a roof but open on two sides to the tropical garden with tiny oil lamps dotted around under the trees and tall shrubs. It was lovely, peaceful and so pretty. No-one ever went in the kitchen, it was the servants' domain. Or in bedrooms either which were upstairs. There were guest powder rooms downstairs. Please Heidi, what is DoW? Pammie x

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    3. DoW is Duchess of Windsor! Sorry for the confusion.
      Yes, agree with you about any larger house with formal rooms - they just don't get used much any more. The heating is one, and generally they're a long way from a kitchen so you do a lot of running up and down with trays to your guests if you're servantless. Funnily enough I was reading Country Life magazine yesterday, and one of the agony Aunt style columns on manners was when someone was at a dinner party and their right hand side diner took their wine glass - what to do? Well the response from CL was that you should discreetly ask the footman to bring you another glass. Unfortunately I think that in many instances thesedays there aren't spare footman to ask this from! So a little redundant.

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    4. Should have guessed that one! Mores the pity - about the footmen. It is a predicament when someone uses your wine glass. Too late to say anything to your neighbour. Having had servants for a couple of years - it's quite an adjustment to go back to being without. Ours were wonderful. After we'd been there a week the only thing they didn't do was pick fresh garden flowers and arrange them in vases. So I was able to enjoy doing this a couple of times. But then I noticed that the servant who was the butler equivalent had done it - and arranged them better than I did. From then on there were fresh flowers or just fresh leaves from the garden every couple of days when I came down to breakfast. He could also fold napkins about 50 ways, from water lilies to crowns. Plus all the usual things a butler does. He also knew the neighbourhood and people so well. For our first party I showed him a list of guests I was advised to invite. He looked through it and made useful comments, like Madam, if you invite this lady and that man you will need an extra bottle of brandy and also of whisky. So I asked my advisor for the list a bit more about these people and then decided not to invite them after all. They weren't missed. Then there was the man who always fell into a garden bed after he'd been standing around at a cocktail party. Expats always thought he was drunk - but turned out he had some kind of vertigo and couldn't stand for long periods without keeling over. We still invited him sometimes as he knew some useful local people and stories - and he so enjoyed cocktail parties despite ending up in a flower bed most times.

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  2. Reporting here from the USA....

    Twice a year these very very expensive sheets place several of their printed and sold color bedding on sale...50% off. Well, this means that they are now *only*very expensive. :)




    I agree with you 100% that wildly patterned sheets in an adult bedroom are cartoonish at best. However. I do like the scalloped printed shams on all white bedding, all white bedcovers with all white bedskirt. The pop is pretty and not overdone....two of my repurposed adult children bedrooms now have this look so that when guests visit, the room is welcoming...of course the walls are all white and the floors are dark white oak stained so I feel I can indulge my love without being harassed by my family or assaulted by the crazy prints fighting!

    If you have not already looked at CeCe Barfield Thompsons Instagram or article about her beautiful Gramercy Park Apartment in AD, please do. Her beautiful girl's room has just enough D. Porthault to love.

    Me...I love Matouk bedding that is white and has the scallop edging with color. Even the D.Porthault all white bedding has crazy scallop edges, that are still juvenile at best...

    Thank you for a wonderful blog. As an Australian expat living in the USA, I will forever love an Australian Federation home....the best.

    (Can you suggest a lovely blue toile fabric to redo an adult bedroom? Of course everything will be all white...the toile will only be for the accent pillows and maybe a chair. Cannot overdo !)

    Joanne

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    1. Hi Joanne, I've looked at that scalloped Matouk bedlinen and have been thinking about it for my own bedroom- we clearly have similar taste :) I think the D.Porthault scallop is lovely too, and you're right - just enough colour without it dominating.
      As for toile, I do love Nicholas Herbert's Toile d' Albert https://nicholasherbert.squarespace.com/toile-dalbert but it may be too swags and bowers for you (I think it has quite an Edwardian sensibility), so otherwise I'd check Pierre Frey's "Coutances" which is very traditional, or their Toile de Nantes, which is the one shown above in Estee Lauder's bedroom (but doesn't have the figures on it), Brunschwig & Fils do a nice one with Le Hameau Bluebell, but their Bird and Thistle in blue has a bit of a Toileish feel to it as well. If you're after a more modern toile, then Manuel Canovas is the one to look at. Hope that helps!
      I will have a look at CeCe Barfield Thompsons Insta and AD article. I probably have seen it, but I have such a terrible short term memory for magazines and books at the moment it's not ringing any bells! Thanks for the comment x

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  3. It is very amusing bc the Duchess of Windsor wasn't exactly commercial in her day so for her to be tagged in so many things does make me smirk a bit.Mind you she would have loved it. I like D Porthault. But it has become its own beast. I think it has a mood and certain setting. But as you very rightly say - it has become the avalon of the bed and bathrooms. I think it is the decor safety clutch. If in doubt, then it is a easy out. Plus IG has fetishised the whole thing to another level entirely. Oddly because of that, I don't like it as much as I used to. Funny bc as it stands now that brand isn't very popular over here. There isn't a stand alone store. I do wonder why? Is it bc she is still considered the mortal enemy DofW in some influential circles in the UK? hehe xx

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    1. The DoW was only commercial in that she was very good at squeezing discounts out of her suppliers!
      I think you're right about the fetishisation on Insta, and you see it with so much stuff that everyone breathlessly decries as a must have, or lusting after object... and it does tend to put me off. As we have emailed, I've felt sadly a little over Chinoiserie, despite loving it for so many, many years, as it's really at peak saturation on Instagram and blogs.
      I'd say the lack of store is because they are expanding so much in the US, and concentrating the push over there. The store will come! But like anything "exclusive" you walk a fine line between desireability and accessibility, so it will be interesting to see what it's all like in 10 years time. I see a lot of D Porthault rip offs with the clover and hearts pattern around too... x

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  4. We do appreciate the anthropological study of Aussie floor planning and when I eagerly clicked the prescribed link to delve further into Bernard Salt's findings I hit a paywall which makes GSL wonder:

    Do guests at Casa AV dine prix fixe?

    When it comes to bedlinens "clashing with gay abandon" and "clovers of pansies" might well strike a discordant note in GSL's fave percussion instrument...the headboard.

    Didn't that Toiles de Nantes kill Oscar Wilde?

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    1. Oh no!!! I didn't realise it had a paywall. That is so annoying (and weird - they should have columns like that that are old up for free to entice people to subscribe).
      Well, in answer to your demographic questions: No, in the AV Casa, we do not charge the guests for their meal, as I'm quite certain it would be in breach of numerous council by laws. Otherwise it would be game on for sure.
      And as a fellow upholstered headboard lover, the patterns do clash if patterned bedlinen is used, and I'm not really on the clashing pattern bandwagon myself. The picture of that blue room with carefully coordinated headboard and wallpaper, and then the floral linen that has nothing to do with those colours makes my eyes hurt.
      I thought Syphillis killed Oscar Wilde. Although I think the only death by fabric has been from poor glazed Chintz workers who used to spread the toxic glaze over the floral patterns, or perhaps the wallpaper workers in the 19thC that used to fix the colour green with arsenic.

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    2. As I'm sure Pack Drill Pammie will clarify and I assumed someone of your taste and refinement was well aware, Oscar Wilde's famous last words uterred from his deathbed were: "Either that wallpaper goes or I do..."

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    3. Ah! No, that's one bit of OW witticism that I haven't managed to retain, so it's all clarified for me now.

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  5. I vote for thick white 'hotel quality' sheets only. Zero love of pattern.
    Great post as usual.
    Judith

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    1. There is something very luxurious about pure white sheets. Particularly if you don't have to launder them yourself, hotel style :) Thanks for the comment Judith! x

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  6. I love my 1000 Thread Count Egyptian cotton plain white sheets. So comfy and tasteful. I could imagine that if you had had plenty of Dom Perignon and cocaine, falling into bed into those expensive sheets would make you feel very ill.

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    1. Ha! You've made me laugh. Definitely not good sheets for a hangover methinks...

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  7. Oh, Heidi, it needed to be said, and you said it! Not drinking the Kool-Aid at all! I don't want to sleep in a psychadelic floral fantasy gone wild so will stick with plain linens thanks very much. Thank you for the big dose of sensible you serve up in your wonderful post. First class!

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    1. I think you've likely been getting the message on steroids over in the US! I've been seeing it promoted all over the magazines, and while you're not on Instagram I can assure you that the Porthault love is all consuming on it! x

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  8. Love this opinion piece. I'm so inclined to fall down the Insta-rabbit hole and I love looking at the images but would never buy it (if it were in the budget). I use white only and to be honest, I like percale and don't obsess on thread count. I have white damask linens that feel a bit old-fashioned but wear very well. I like a crisp and cool bed. I love how personal bed dressing is. I don't like a doona/duvet but use a top sheet, cotton or wool blanket and a bedspread. You are so right about the 'show bedroom' aspect. It is very common to see on IG people with these ridiculously amazing homes and glamorous lives that we attempt to emulate in small ways on limited means. I try to remind myself that these people often don't pay for it either. We're all buying into the luxury aspect but it becomes very mass market in the end.

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    1. I've read a little on thread count, and it seems it's a marketing ploy. It's actually about the quality of the cotton - better quality has longer fibres and poorer quality has short, so it can be 1000 threads, but if they're poor quality they're not necessarily comparable to 400 thread count on a better quality cotton.
      Agree with you re the personal aspect to bed dressing - I find it fascinating too! And totally agree with you about the social media aspect and all trying to get that at home. I feel travel is also fuelling into it, as relatively cheap " luxury" holidays lead to everyone trying to recreate the look at home now. Once upon a time you wouldn't have that experience to draw upon. x

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  9. The Washington DC couple who own D. Porthault were sued by their daughter's wedding planner, Mindy Weiss, for non-payment. The Carls said Mindy Weiss went over the budget, she said any budget was never discussed. But D. Porthault table napkins were custom made for the reception dinner. I think the guests were allowed to bring them home. Oh, I like printed sheets and even more with matching scallop edges but D. Porthault's prices are ruinous!
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4235412/Wedding-planner-Mindy-Weiss-sues-unpaid-bill.html

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    1. Wow - fascinating!! I can imagine they really felt the need to pull out all stops for the wedding. But that's sad that a happy event ended with litigation... does cast a pall...
      Yes, very pricey linen indeed, and I suspect the reason why a lot of people like the patterns as it's instantly recognisable. But I've seen a lot of imitations lately around the traps - even Tory Burch's table line range of the clover print is a very close homage.

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  10. Brilliant post, Heidi! Agree with every word.
    ....'Though I have to confess to be completely in the dark about this D.Porthault "Cult"! Where have I been? Clearly under a rock! Perhaps my eye just skimmed past it all. Lots of the images actually hurt my eyes a bit. I'm a bit shocked by the popularity of it as a status symbol.
    To my eye, the cover of the new DP Book (with that gorgeous Donghia wallpaper, Bobbin bed frame and stunning lamp) would look so much better with some simple bedlinen (either all white or with a contrast trim) to complement it - rather than compete with it!
    The trend certainly isn't for me. For me, it's high-quality (not necessarily costly), all cotton base-sheets/pillowcases and table cloths that take hot washing, drying, pressing and the odd soak of oxygenated bleach to keep them fresh and white (Mine are a generic brand from Spotlight - cheap, high thread count and incredible 'Hotel Quality' for the low price), interspersed with either old (probably best called "vintage"!) white damask (some of which is 50 years old and still looking great), or some top sheets/duvet covers/top pillowcases with a contrast trim. That's my only diversion from all white. The only print or accoutrements on my bed are a couple of rectangular cushions (with a practical purpose - to read in bed) and sometimes a throw or coverlet. I haven't got time to tend to a bed that looks like a window display from Bed, Bath and Table! Admire those that do - but not for me!
    Caroline x

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    1. Older things were definitely meant to last - I follow an instagram account Francis M, who make Irish Linen sheets (in Ireland), and they often talk about linen vs cotton, and the fact that linen sheets were always expensive, but would last a generation. Cotton however wears out after a few years - sounds like your Damask was a good family investment Caroline!

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  11. D. Porthault's patterns are pretty, personally I prefer white bed linen in pure cotton or linen. I find laundering white is easy, occassionally adding Napisan equivalent to the wash or soak and they always come out fresh and lovely. Percale cotton always pills over time. Love a crisp cool bed and a flat sheet for summer. French vintage linen sheets are my love.

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    1. Agree with you re the washing aspect Lillian - bleach is a good thing if I've failed to sun out any stains or yellowing!
      I love the old French sheets too - the monograms on them are so beautiful x

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  12. Are these sheets like a H blanket? Meanwhile I love scalloped edges on pillow cases and patterns but am too poor for porthault x

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    1. Yes, they're exactly like an H blanket I think! I love a scalloped edge too. I think the really expensive brands haven't really made it down here - there's a price ceiling here I think and probably now with the internet those that want it will get it that way.

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  13. Flowers and patterned sheets aghhhh! I don't care how expensive or desirable they are, I only ever use plain white. Pure linen are best... I don't even allow pastel coloured ones in our home, flowery sheets would give me nightmares... btw I cannot access the article you mentioned. Is there another way to get to it!

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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