Sunday, March 28, 2010

Borrowed Splendor - Eastern influence on Western dress

1. 1960s Metallic brocade turban 2. 1960s Paisley mens tie 3. Mid-century paisley makeup purse 4. 1970s India print wrap skirt 5. early 1960s Chinese silk brocade ensemble 6. 1986 Hermes scarf (all items from

If you look up the word exotic in the Merriam-Webster dictionary it reads…“not native to the place where found” and “strikingly, excitedly, mysteriously different or unusual” When we describe western fashion with “exotic” elements we use words like bohemian, hippie even ethnic. I find these words to be inadequate considering the rich histories behind the original textiles, especially those from the Eastern regions of the globe. The textile trade in the East is an ancient one. It would require volumes to do these histories justice and this is just a blog but consider this…those iconic block printed cottons from India that we westerners love so much, well their ancestral counterparts were found in Egyptian tombs dating back nearly two millennia.

For centuries the west has been importing textiles from the many near to far east countries and for centuries we have been borrowing style and design sensibilities from the same. Hundreds of regions and cultures each with their own ancient textile histories….India/Pakistan, China, both the Near and Far Middle East, Japan, Indonesia and Southeast Asia, that’s a lot of inspiration to choose from! Luxurious materials like silks, velvets and brocades, some woven with real silver or gold thread. Fabrics with complex hand prints and fine embroideries… sheer linens, fine cottons…. Intricate prints and patterns that mesmerize and those that calm the mind with their balance and simplicity….. The list is endless and I daresay that most of modern western fashion has some eastern influence.

Nearly every twentieth century western designer has looked to the east at some point. From Poiret to Valentino…on the street or amongst the black ties. “Exotic” fashion trends have and will continue to come and go with regularity. In 1940s Hattie Carnegie did a stunning line based on beautiful prints and draped sillhouettes from Malaysia. The mid 60s saw an explosion of eastern influence on fashion. A Donald Brooks velvet ensemble with Salwar trousers was featured in Nov. 1965 Vouge along with a Galanos floor length metalic chiffon kaftan coat and dress set. If you flip through vintage magazines you can find countless examples of East meets West fashion and the love affair continues to this day....
Kimono styles were all the rage in the 1920s


  1. a topic close to my heart! I really interesting selection of images, Melody, so interesting to see them assembled here. I think they show that the global influence is kind of fundamental to luxury fashion in particular, not just in the kind of stereotypical novelty prints that I'm obsessed with.

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