Moire Is a Luxe Fabric Pattern with a Posh History (and It's Back in Style)

From dressing the royals to dressing your home's walls, this elegant material is making a return in fashion and interiors alike.

<p>Courtesy of The Met</p>

Courtesy of The Met

If you’re interested in a simple yet elegant material to elevate your interiors, consider moire. Favored by royalty and donned by Presidents, today the luxe-looking fabric brings shimmering accents and texture into your home’s interiors.

What Is Moire?

Broadly, moire refers more to the pattern than to a single fabric. Moire is a fabric that appears to have a wavy pattern, almost a watermark, within the fabric. It was initially created with silk through a process called calendaring, which uses compression and heat to create the effect. Although it’s historically made from silk, the effect is also achieved with fabrics like rayon, polyester, cotton, and wool (called moreen).

The shimmery pattern may appear rippled, like water, or take on a faux bois (wood grain) pattern. Regardless of the pattern or the color of the fabric, “the outcome is a mixed gloss and matte effect that is visually captivating, ” says designer Nadia Watts of Nadia Watts Interior Design.

<p>Chicago History Museum/Getty Images</p> Silk moire by Cristobal Balenciaga

Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Silk moire by Cristobal Balenciaga

A Brief History of Moire

Although it’s been in homes (and palaces) for centuries, moire has a long and well-documented history in fashion. “Moire was popularized in the 17th century, although some historians date it earlier,” says interior designer Suzan Wemlinger. The oldest examples of moire at the Victoria and Albert Museum are scraps of dress fabrics from the early 1600s, featuring floral patterns on a silk moire background.

Initially, it was a fabric for high society: Queen Victoria wore a gray antique moire dress, and President George Washington even donned a turquoise moire sash now held in Harvard’s Peabody Museum. According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Lady’s Cabinet magazine identified moire’s rise to favor in the 1830s, including it as an appropriate material for dresses meant for evening parties and events. This 1860s photograph from The Met’s collection confirms not only the use of moire for elegant dress but also the distinct visual effect of the material.

Once moire could be accomplished with synthetic fabrics, it became more approachable for fashions and furnishings. Moire slowly lost its cache in the 1900s. According to Wemlinger, the material was largely out of favor in home decor by the 1990s, but some highly traditional furniture suppliers kept it in their arsenal.

Today, the material is seeing a subtle return in both home decor and fashion. “I believe the design trend of revisiting the past is in part what's helping moire make a comeback,” says Wemlinger. In the midst of a swing away from sleek and minimalist styles toward more cozy and traditional spaces, we’ve also seen revivals of fashion and home decor trends from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

How to Decorate with Moire Fabric

“Moire has been around for a long time and is a great way to add a traditional and elegant touch to your home,” says Watts. Historically a formal fabric, it remains so today. Moire is most at home amidst traditional architecture. “It works well in a 1920s center hall colonial, a vintage New York apartment, or a classic 1890s Victorian,” says Wemlinger.

Spaces with classically styled millwork, such as molding, tall baseboards, and French doors, are also easily accented with moire, according to Wemlinger. Though it’s not a fabric you’ll use alongside laidback interiors like country aesthetics or stylized looks like Tuscan decor, don’t be afraid to try moire if you have a non-traditional space. “It can also add a touch of sophistication and history to modern interiors,” says Watts. The shimmery texture will pop against more fun and funky contemporary, eclectic, and maximalist spaces.

Opt for Upholstery

Moire is a sophisticated choice for upholstery. The fabric's scale and sometimes subtle pattern lets it complement an array of seating styles, from lounge chairs to accent and dining chairs. “I particularly like it as a solid color on a wood-framed accent chair, such as a Bergere chair,” says Wemlinger. “A chaise would also be a perfect place to use it: a solid moire with a contrasting patterned welt (cord) would be incredibly eye-catching." But you don't need to stick with traditional seating when looking at upholstery updates. “Consider moire as an option to reupholster a simple modern piece of furniture to bring elegance and a touch of history to a new piece,” suggests Watts.

Cover the Walls

According to Schumacher, the historic fabric and furnishings brand, moire fabric wallcoverings were used by King Louis XV of France in the 1700s. Indicative of its return to home decor, Italian fabric house Dedar highlights moire on its website through its products and projects. Offering a variety of fabrics and wallcoverings in the moire style, in both classic and contemporary colors, moire has been used to clad surfaces from walls to wardrobe doors and furniture. While fabric wallcoverings may be at home in similarly lush spaces today, moire has expanded to wallpaper and even tile (check out this beautiful bathroom by Australian designer Greg Natale) to bring the shimmering style into more homes and decorating styles.

Decorate with Drapes

“Moire is also a beautiful option for drapes, as it instantly creates visual interest and movement,” says Watts. More scaled-down than a full moire wall pattern, drapes still allow the material to add vertical drama to the room. This deluxe material can frame a beautiful setting outside or draw attention to a striking window style. Wemlinger recommends moire as stationary panels rather than draperies you intend to open and close because the pattern and movement may be overpowering for some spaces.

Consider Lighting

Lighting plays a significant role in the movement of moire, so it’s important to think about how both natural and artificial light in a room will impact those pattern characteristics. For example, you will want to consider if moire will still have the effect you’re hoping for in a darker room, or if accent lighting could interfere with the pattern.

Contrast with Contemporary Trends

To help the fabric feel contemporary, Wemlinger recommends using moire in spaces that also use modern colors, patterns, and textures. While traditional colors will style nicely in traditional spaces, “using moire in today's colors—soft sage greens, light aqua, or even a dramatic black—would prevent it from looking like a dated fabric,” says Wemlinger. You can also mix textures like velvet with the sleek shine of moire.

Try coupling moire with a bold print fabric, like using one on upholstery and another on drapes. Wemlinger suggests bringing both materials into a single item, such as mixing moire with a large-scale peony print on a chair’s seat and back upholstery, or mingling materials in one small area of a room. “Accent pillows for the sofa, or in a bedroom, with some pretty chintz florals would really make a statement,” says Wemlinger. 

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