Today we’re revealing you facts that will surely surprise you and that many have never heard of, the unique story of chintz of Alcobaça in the 20th century.
We believe it’s important to share it, not only because of the historic, cultural and artistic value of these fabrics, but also because the story of the two responsible persons for the preservation of the production of the chintz of Alcobaça patterns deserves to be known.
After our article Chintz of Alcobaça, a Cultural Heritage at Risk, we were contacted by one of our followers, who was happy that we wrote about this fantastic portuguese fabric.
She then told us that the family of a friend of hers used to be closely connected to this industry and that the head of the business, although having liked our article, thought it was incomplete. An important part of the story was missing and he was willing to share it with us.
We promptly decided to take this opportunity.
We had the immense luck and honour of meeting the engineer Elísio Sopas that very kindly welcomed us in the city of Porto to tell us the story of chintz of Alcobaça in the 20th century.
We’re thus going to reveal to you what he has told us.
The Story of Chintz of Alcobaça in the 20th Century and its Enablers
There were two enablers, father and son, that in distinct moments of the 20th century played important roles in the revitalisation of the patterns of chintz of Alcobaça.
Therefore, we’re going to divide this story in two parts.
1950s – Elísio Sopas (father)
We must go back to the early 1950s, the time when Elísio Sopas (father) was the owner of Armazém dos Linhos, an establishment that sells fabrics in the city of Porto since 1905.
It was a very different time compared to today. The businessman, in order to find out the market needs and to promote and sell his products in other parts of the country, had to directly go meet his clients.
In addition to bringing commercial novelties, he also brought news from the places he visited along the way. Consequently, he was invited in by his business partners to socialise. Over the years close friendships were formed and he even was the best man of some of his clients.
During one of his trips to the area of Alcobaça, he noticed an old chintz bedspread at a client’s place where he stayed the night. He was amazed by its beautiful pattern and couldn’t compliment it more. The customer courteously made sure to gift it to him.
This was one of the circumstances for the change in the reality of the patterns of Alcobaça.
Around the same time, the textile factory Empresa Fabril do Norte (later known as EFANOR), supplier of the Armazém dos Linhos, acquired printing presses and invited Elísio Sopas (father) to present pattern ideas. It was under this circumstance that the businessman ordered the reproduction of the pattern of the bedspread that was gifted to him.
This was during the post-war period, an economically harsh time. In order for the fabric to reach the general public, the woodblock printing was done on economic textiles with the most common width at the time, 0.7m.
This fabric, with the eye-catching and colourful pattern, was a hit.
Thanks to the sensibility and vision of Elísio Sopas (father), the first and decisive step towards the recovery of the patterns of Alcobaça was taken.
With this success, one other pattern was recovered, it was called design 2…
1980s – Elísio Sopas (son)
When Elísio Sopas passed away in 1983, the company faced a dilemma: it would either close down or be taken over by someone of the family that was dynamic and entrepreneurial.
Faced with this scenario, the son, a University Haute-Alsace in Mulhouse (France) graduate, decided to reconcile his textile engineering job and the family’s business. He was the second responsible person for the recovery of old patterns!
The engineer Elísio Sopas had the valuable collaboration of his uncle who had been working there for a long time and was aware of all the activity of the company. This partnership was really important in the beginning of the Armazém dos Linhos’ new era. It was verified that the the most successful printed fabric in the history of the company had been the one with the pattern copied from the old bedspread, called design 1.
The new business owner made the revolutionary decision of restarting to print it, but this time on better quality textiles, 100% cotton, with 1.5m of width. Making it therefore a more versatile product for a more demanding public.
When it was launched, it awakened in the customers the memory of the pattern that had been launched a long time ago; the reaction was enthusiastic.
The rapid flow of this item led to the engineer Elísio Sopas deciding the new course of the business, starting to invest in exclusive printed fabrics. He also gave a new image to the products, creating an exclusive brand of chintz of Alcobaça, naming it Elipas Collection and naming each one of the patterns that he recovered over time.
Visibility and Recognition
In 1987 a chintz exhibition was held in Alcobaça, for which fabric samples were requested to the Armazém dos Linhos. The fabrics were exhibited along with the producer’s information, which allowed the promotion of the products. The same exhibition was too held months later in the National Palace of Ajuda in Lisbon, which allowed even more visibility of the chintz of Alcobaça.
The following years were authentic successful years; demand was high, more patterns were produced and they were always big hits. The Armazém dos Linhos became the biggest establishment in the country to commercialise chintz of Alcobaça.
But as we know, trends come and go…
In March 1997, the British magazine ‘The World of Interiors’ released an article about chintz of Alcobaça, distinguishing them for the quality of the designs and the high decorative value.
With this worldwide divulgation the Armazém dos Linhos was contacted by many interested people, many of them from the Portuguese diaspora. This enthusiasm resulted mainly from the revival of the memories of the houses decorated with this fabric, in the 50s and 60s.
However, it didn’t produce great results when it comes to sales, having only resulted in small orders to Italy and Spain.
The deep passion for chintz of Alcobaça led the engineer Elísio Sopas to fully dedicate himself to the recovery and promotion of this characteristic Portuguese fabric.
Despite not being involved in its production and commercialisation since 2011, when he handed over the establishment, we could sense his great enthusiasm in every word when he was telling us the unique story of chintz of Alcobaça in the 20th century.
We are immensely grateful to the engineer Elísio Sopas for sharing and telling us about the decisive role his father played in the recovery of the patterns Alcobaça.
We also thank him for his own contribution in the continuity of the production and promotion of these precious fabrics that we believe was crucial!