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The Caftan

Inspired by the language of Orientalism, grand couturier Paul Poiret dressed in a fur-trimmed, gray, quilted satin caftan when he hosted his ?Thousand and Second Night? dress party in 1911 Paris. Quite radical considering the sartorial constraints of the time.Yet, the caftan with its long, flowing, robe-like shape and long sleeves, has been worn for more than five-thousand years by both kings and beggars, men and women, of countless cultures, combining simplicity with tradition.

Inspired by the language of Orientalism, grand couturier Paul Poiret dressed in a fur-trimmed, gray, quilted satin caftan when he hosted his ?Thousand and Second Night? dress party in 1911 Paris. Quite radical considering the sartorial constraints of the time.Yet, the caftan with its long, flowing, robe-like shape and long sleeves, has been worn for more than five-thousand years by both kings and beggars, men and women, of countless cultures, combining simplicity with tradition.

 

Paul Poiret

 

Originating in 3000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia, an area that encompasses parts of modern day Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, this timeless garment was adopted by other countries as  a mode of dress. In Russia, upper-class men and women wore the kaftan until the 1600s, when the garment was abandoned by Tsar Peter the Great, in the wake of his push to modernize the country. The Moroccan  caftan dates back to the Greco Roman era and although originally worn by men, it became the defining garment in Moroccan dress for women. In modern-day Southeast Asia, caftans made of batik cotton provide for hot weather attire, while in West Africa the caftan is referred to as ?boubou? and  is widely worn by women with a matching head wrap. Men also have a version of the ?boubou? although it is worn with pants, a shirt, and a ?kufi? cap.

 

The caftan has been the traditional dress in Turkey for may centuries. Turkish caftans generally sported buttons extending from the rounded neckline to the waist and were either full length or 3/4 length. The caftans worn by the Ottoman sultans have been symbols of their power, adding weight to their grandeur. Many of these caftans were made from silk, satin, velvet or brocade and were adorned with furs, diamonds and emeralds. Some of them so precious that they were given as prized rewards to important dignitaries and victorious generals. The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul constitutes one of the most splendid caftan collections, many of which have been kept there from the 15th Century on.

 

Vintage Vogue

After Poiret?s introduction, the caftan really  did not become fashionable until  it made its way to the West in the 1960s. Here, Yves Saint Laurent build his Rive Gauche collection around classic caftan shapes, Valentino presented elaborate beaded lame and feathered caftans and Twiggy and Elizabeth Tailor appeared in thigh high mini caftans, turning the caftan into ?streetwear?.  When princess Grace moved away from tailored Dior suits to Marc Bohan?s colorful caftans and opened her yearly ball in Monte Carlo wearing a gold lame version, Diana Vreeland declared the caftan the  fashionable garment for the ?The Beautiful People?. 

 


Yves Saint Laurent in Morocco

 Elizabeth Taylor's Collection

The Mignot SistersPhoto Courtesy Julia Chaplin

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