Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Orientalist Interior

I discovered this dapper interior designer about two years ago, and I can say no one does Orientalism like Alberto Pinto. His interiors are about light, warmth, style.. They possess romance and fantasy. Alberto Pinto is a true artist with an eye for color. His rooms are more than mere living spaces. They are canvases injected with a vision, and the result is striking detail in every direction.
(The above image is from the website of Alberto Pinto.)

Oh Suzani!

Vintage fabrics come in many forms and textures - pillow covers, doilies, designer dresses, ethnic costume, and antique carpets are all possibilities. The element of appeal is the quality of old.

The Suzani is an embroidered, decorative textile that originates from the tribes of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian countries. The term "suzani' means needlework. Characteristically, suzanis are canvases of threaded silk designs, bright flowers and scrolling vines.

Today suzanis are a sought after collector's item for those fascinated by vintage and ethnic fabrics. You can find a huge selection of them though at Yurdan, a wonderful site for the eclectic decorator.
(The above image is from the pages of Domino magazine featuring a Suzani from

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Couture and the Caftan

For 11 years running, the now world-famous Caftan runway show has been causing a commotion on catwalks throughout Morocco. This year the show took place in Agadir, where designers once again pulled out all the stops to make this one spectacular event. With al the elegance and sophistication of premier stylists, designers brought on a feast for the eyes and a lust for a renewed wardrobe a la mille et une nuits (thousand and one nights).

Colors were large and exciting: emerald greens, blue turquoise, canary yellow, and passion red. As is the custom, caftan collections respected the finer details of the traditional Moroccan dress all the while displaying finishes tres haute couture.

Accomplished with a focus on high-end fabrics, caftans were stitched in satin broques, taffetas, and rich velours. Luxury textiles were topped and finished with wide sashes, embroidery, pearl buttons, and woven-in swarovski crystals. There was quite a bit of an interest in glamour. While some designers took their inspiration from ancient Greek and romantic Baroque dress, others brought the flash of Bollywood, or the fantasy of the full color.

Fusing the traditional Moroccan gown with the smoking jacket, the bustier, corseted robe, designers did their very best to stretch the definition of Caftan. From familiar folk styles to calls from far, far away, a variety styles made appearances on stage. In most cases, though, lines remained clean and ancient, ‘oriental’ and elegant. All in all, the show was a very couture set of collections.
( The above image is from the collection of designer Achoucha. )

Ageless Italian Beauty

Italian women are beautiful. Though from afar they can appear unapproachable, in fact they are some of the warmest, most vibrant women in the world. They may possess the aura of a queen, but the sweet temperament of a child. In almost all instances, their cultivated style and feminine grace stay with them throughout their lives, and regardless of age.

Today, many Italian women pursue lucrative careers in Italy and beyond Italian borders, across Europe and internationally. Still, even as sharp witted, skilled competitor to her male counterpart, the Italian woman characteristically remains aware of her feminine sexuality, almost as implicit acknowledgement that it is her greatest power.
But if the Italian woman, despite all her skill and education, might still believe her femininity is her greatest strength, don’t feel sorry for her – because it keeps her ageless. More than that, it infuses her life with simple pleasures, with joy and love. And to be sure, the Italian man has a very similar view of his masculinity.

French Art, French Fashion

The French have an eye for all things artistic, and
fashion is very much a French art. Paris street fashion can appear as much an inspiration to the great fashion houses as inspired by them. Style can spell mess in the clutches of a meager imagination, so the French woman approaches it with all the soul of a studied painter.

In any great visual art, color mastery is essential and composition fundamental. Skilled at style contrasts, the French woman will mix the ultra feminine with the edgy, the finely tailored with the bohemian. With an impressionist’s eye, she will blend come-hither complements with the elements of surprise for a palette that requires a second look to fully appreciate.

Matisse in Morocco

Matisse was a chameleon painter. He changed styles many times during his career, and each time according to context. “He became an impressionist in Brittany, an adept of peinture Claire in Corsica, a proto-fauve in Toulouse, a divisionist in Saint-Tropez, a fauve in Collioure (Cowart, Jack et. al 30, Matisse in Morocco, Katy Anderson).”

It was likely for love of Zorah, the Moroccan prostitute, whom Matisse painted on several visits to Tangier that Matisse went from depicting women as primitive sexual objects to civilized beings worthy of respect. It is interesting to note that Matisse’s depictions of Zorah moved contrary to popular contemporary western attitudes about non-western cultures.

Matisse painted Zorah a number of times over his career. But he never once depicted her as a prostitute, but always as a cultured non-European woman, mannered and well-dressed in typical Moroccan wear. He showed her with hands folded delicately in her lap, fully clothed, standing or serving tea.

Unlike the western women to whom Matisse assigned a primitive sexuality in his paintings, Matisse did not exoticize Zorah with color and form. Instead the artist showed an interest in depicting Zorah as a respectable woman of an Islamic society.

The change of style has intrigued many a follower of Matisse’s work, including Jack Cowart who co-authored Matisse in Morocco: The Paintings and Drawings.
(The top image is titled Sur La Terrase, the right image Casbah Gate.)

Art Nouveau and Arabian Nights

With the limitless imagination and artistic skill of a dreamer, Edmund Dulac painted to perfection the Eastern paradise as surrounding Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights. Dulac’s visions of exotic maidens, turbaned men, domed minarets, and blooming courtyard gardens in the Arab style were all given marvelous life in his paintings. His musings charmed generations of children – and adults – who through Dulac’s imagery were set to dreaming and then carried away themselves.

Born in Toulouse, France in 1882, Dulac began his career studying to be a lawyer. The profession his parents believed more apt to pay off financially, as compared to a career as an illustrator. But the turn of the century 20th century saw Dulac pursue just that, and his work was met with delighted recognition in the West. In Europe, he became celebrated for his ability to charm and transport his admirers to a world of pointed slippers, flying carpets, magic lamps, minareted cities, and starry desert oases, and tiled Andalusian gardens.

As though Scheherazade herself had spoken the Thousand and One Nights directly to him, Dulac illustrated the fairytale with such detail long before he had ever set foot in lands to the East.
(The above images are from Edmund Dulac's The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam.)