Monday, January 31, 2011

Food for Thought...

From the Vogue Archives: Fancy Footwear

Vogue April 1965

From Hammam to Catwalk: A Study in Footwear

19th century Western artists were fascinated by the Oriental Hammam and its rituals. One such artist was Jean-Leon Gerome, who painted this scene, The Grand Bath at Bursa in 1885 based on descriptions he had read. Of note in the painting are the women wearing stilts known as kabkabs or nalin which were worn to protect their feet from the wet tiled floors. In 2008 the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston exhibited a rare pair of stilts, inlayed in mother-of-pearl, ivory and rosewood. The shoes are believed to be Turkish or Syrian, and date from the late 18th century.

Moorish Bath, by Jean-Leon Gerome 1885

Turkish Woman with Slave, a late 18th century painting by Jean-Etienne Liotard. Kabkabs, Lebanon 14th-17th Century.

Jan Taminiau Spring 2011 haute couture

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Star of the Orient captures the imagination of a new generation in unexpected ways

A mall is probably not the most auspicious setting to showcase the life and work of one of the Arab worlds’ most accomplished vocal artists; even if it is home to the flagship stores of Dior, Lanvin and Marc Jacobs.

Yet on January 10th, 2009 an intriguing exhibit discreetly opened on the second floor of Bahrain’s Moda Mall, chronicling the life of Oum Kalthoum; hot on the heels of a block buster show held at Paris’ Institut du Monde Arabe the year before. Yet instead of a rehash of the Paris exhibit, where the IMA’s curators took a more academic approach to map out the legendary singer’s life and career, the Bahrain exhibit by contrast explored Oum Kalthoum as a pop-culture icon in the region.

Instead of presenting objects by theme or time period; Oum Kalthoum's personal possessions, (including her trademark sunglasses and scarves, photographs, recordings and other archival material) were mixed in amongst the work of international artists and designers, who were all inspired by the legendary artist, known to many as the “Star of the Orient.”

These include portraits of the Egyptian diva reinterpreted through the artistic lens of contemporary Arab artists such as Youssef Nabil and Adel El-Siwi. This unlikely combination of artifacts not only brings to life the story of the accomplished singer, but also has the effect of demystifying the legend, especially to a new generation in the region.

Although Oum Kalthoum still retains a near mythical status among Arabs today, her music hasn’t always been easy on young ears. This was partly due to the fact that much of her lyrics relied heavily on interpretations of 10th-century Syrian poems by Abu Firas al-Hamadani, the stanzas of Omar Khayyam and the work of Ahmad Shawqi.

Sponsored in part by Kuwait’s Villa Moda, the curators of this sleekly designed exhibit (which stretched over two floors), had employed some novel ways to bridge that generational gap. These included a series of unassuming listening pods scattered throughout the exhibit area, as well as archival concert footage projected onto walls that encouraged visitors to stop and listen.

The exhibition also departed from its Paris counterpart in its intimacy, as visitors could get up close to some of Oum Kalthoum’s most private possessions; giving insight into her carefully crafted image. These include a stunning bouclé couture ensemble covered entirely in snowy white sequins. Kalthoum ordered the piece from the couture house of Jean Patou in 1967, during a trip to Paris to give a performance at the Olympia music hall (her only concert outside of the Middle East). While another exhibit case holds a pair of shoes with their matching handbag, which had been commissioned from Gucci with gold plated hardware.

Sitting in front of a large projection of Oum Kalthoum singing during a live performance, one Bahraini visitor recalled her earliest childhood memory of the Egyptian Diva. “On the first Thursday of every month she would give a live concert from Cairo that would be aired throughout the Middle East. The streets would clear that day, and my father would rush home to listen to her voice waft out of the radio. It was a magical moment.”

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Jasmin Shokrian

She may have dressed Mrs. O, but this young designer is grabbing the fashion world’s attention for other reasons as well
Relations between Iran and the United States may be tepid at the moment, yet that didn’t stop First Lady, Michelle Obama, from donning a double-faced silk crepe skirt on May 12th during a speech she gave at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington, D.C. That day, the world was exposed to the work of an L.A. based Iranian designer who has been quietly gaining attention as an emerging talent on the American fashion scene. Mrs. Obama’s choice was not surprising, when one considers that she has been championing the work of young American designers since her husband’s inauguration; sporting the likes of Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, Thakoon and Narciso Rodriguez.

Born in LA to Iranian parents, Shokrian counts her mother (an impeccable tailor trained in Iran) amongst her major influences. Traveling and living in various countries as a child, she went on to earn a BFA in film, painting and sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Despite this her passion for fashion persisted, and she ultimately channeled her culturally rich upbringing and formal art training into her eponymous fashion label in 2003.

Her training as a sculptor frequently informs much of her work; draping and layering fabrics to create architectural effects on the back of wool capes and crepe dresses. There is often an element of surprise or an intriguing twist found in Shokrian’s designs. From the front, pieces can look deceptively simple until one turns around to reveal strategically placed cutouts or a piece of draped fabric at the small of the back. Such “tricks” point to Shokrian’s talent as an accomplished tailor, often employing hand crafted techniques on futuristic shapes and fabrics. No surprise from a designer whose line is produced entirely in-house by hand.

Recently the designer introduced a new (gently priced) range of clothes called Draft No. 17. Available for a year and comprising 30 “experiments” on the concept of the slip dress, Draft No. 17 is in part a homage to Shokrian’s fans. “Each dress was inspired by a real woman I know,” explains Shokrian. The Draft series, she goes on to note, is intended to give Shokrian herself the opportunity to play with ideas outside of the fashion industry’s seasonal constraints. Over the course of the year, weights of fabrics and colors may change, but the silhouettes (which include not only slip dresses, but tops, pants, a jumpsuit, and a few accessories, as well) will remain the same. “It’s a focused, limited-edition idea,” says the designer. “And we’re also using this as a platform to collaborate with artists we love.”

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Egyptian Minimalism

A new generation of Egyptian designers and stylists formed abroad, are infusing new life into Cairo’s fashion scene. Amongst this group is Bosaina El Kahal, who divides her time between London and the Egyptian capital.

Graduating from London’s Istituto Marangoni with a degree in fashion styling, Bosaina cut her teeth in the business styling shows for the likes of Manish Arora and Peter Jensen during London Fashion Week; as well as working on celebrity fashion shoots for The Advocate. Not long after, she was discovered by buyers at Harvey Nichols, which lead to a job at Burberry. Her first fashion line, titled Basbousa, caught the attention of American Vogue’s Lauren Santo Domingo, who became her first customer. Recently Bosaina launched a new clothing line called Greater Than, in collaboration with Timmy Mowafi. After noticing that the best Egyptian cotton was being exported, the pair embarked on a plan to create a collection of well-made essentials from the softest local cotton. “The concept behind the collection is interchangeable identities; to create clothes that are versatile,” explained Bosaina, whose capsule collection debuted exclusively at Cairo’s 69 boutique in Zamalek.

Describing herself as a fashion designer, stylist and musician, Bosaina also infuses her own sense of style into the collection. The result is a selection of black leather jackets, lace blazers and blouses with a rock’n roll edge.
Despite her latest design venture, she continues to practice her first love, styling. Recently she worked on ad campaigns for local boutiques Villa Baboushka and Helene. “When it comes to styling fashion shoots, I take inspiration from so many sources. It could be the poetry of the beat generation, German surrealist cinema, or the work of Juergen Teller,” explained the designer whose line is right in step with fashion’s current obsession with minimalism.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Friday, January 28, 2011

Style Icon: Couture Client Princess Firyal of Jordan

Princess Firyal of Jordan in Chanel haute couture, Spring 2007, with Giancarlo Giammetti , Valentino Garavani and Princess Rosario Nadal at the Italian designer’s 45th anniversary celebration in Rome, 2007.

Princess Firyal of Jordan in Dior haute couture, Fall 2008

Princess Firyal of Jordan attending Lauren Santo Domingo’s wedding in Chanel haute couture, Fall 2007.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Lebanese Couture Client Nazek Hariri

Nazek Hariri, the wife of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, with Yves Saint Laurent and Bernadette Chirac, after the designer’s Fall 1997 couture show.

Nazek Hariri dressed in Gaultier Paris, Fall 2000.

Nazek Hariri in Valentino haute couture, 1993.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Snagging a Coveted (Second Row) Seat at the Paris Haute Couture

Ever since the couture shows turned into a media frenzy, most Middle Eastern clients have avoided attending them all together in favor of private viewings at the couture houses. While more regular customers increasingly chose to view the collections online, before having the house fly over a seamstress for the pre-requisite fittings.

Despite this, a new generation of Arab clients are increasingly attending the runway presentations for much the same reason as everyone else: to experience the sheer spectacle of an haute couture show. Although most of these clients are typically offered a front row seat, they will gladly give up their place in exchange for a spot in the second (or even third row), insuring they maintain their privacy while taking in the show.

The PR personnel and Directrices of the couture houses have taken note of the trend. So much so, that the seating charts at the shows are now divided down the middle. On one side of the room is the “press section,” where celebrities and editors are lined up, to insure that the paparazzi’s attention is turned away from publicity shy clients.

Couture client Daniele Steel attending a Christian Lacroix Haute Couture show in 2003 with her daughters Victoria, Samantha, Vanessa and Beatrice. Seated behind them to the right (in a green suit) is the well known Iraqi London-based couture client Nada Kirdar.

Today, American clients form a tiny fraction of couture’s regular customers, which includes a large number of young clients from the Middle East and Russia. The American line up at the Chanel couture show included from left: Dede Wilsey, Daniele Steel, Marie-Josée Kravis and Susan Casden.

Couture shows of past: An intimate presentation at Christian Dior, 1950’s

Dior’s couture salon, located on the second floor of its Avenue Montaigne head quarters. Most of couture’s regular clients from the Middle East, who still make the trip to Paris, head straight for the couture house’s private salon, where they can examine each piece up close and make their orders.

Typically, the couture salon is located on the second floor of a couture house and is off limits to the general public. Despite this, it is an informal atmosphere where clients can interact with the directrice and sales person. The clothes are usually hung on racks, with an in-house mannequin available to model a dress upon request.

The Givenchy and Gaultier Paris couture salons.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spotted at the Paris Haute Couture

A number of haute couture’s Middle Eastern clients made the journey to the French capital this week for the Spring 2011 collections

Dania Ghandour, Christine Tawil and her daughter Karin Tawil

Michele Garzouzi and Josie El Hage

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tunisian Stunner Hana Ben Abdesslem: The Season’s Breakout Model

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Chanel Spring 2011 Haute Couture

Since it was founded in 1946 by Eileen and husband Jerry, the Ford Modeling Agency has been responsible for producing some of the most iconic faces of the last century; including Suzy Parker, Lauren Hutton, Cheryl Tiegs and Christy Turlington. What Ms. Ford championed early on was the kind of beauty that has remained relatively the same over the decades (with the odd variance or two); thanks in part to a succession of American, Brazilian and Eastern European girls.

Yet when Paul Rowland was recently installed as head of Ford’s women’s division, he had other ideas in mind. Although American himself, he had no interest in the ideal of beauty perpetuated by the agency’s founder. “My vision is very different from Eileen Ford’s,” he explained in an interview with the New York Times. “My ideal legacy at Ford would be to open up the idea of beauty, not only being classic but being global. I want to find girls in Egypt or Sri Lanka or India — all the places where people don’t look.” Among his first moves was to set up a scouting office in North Africa.

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Givenchy Spring 2011
Rowland’s decision was not an arbitrary one, as North Africa has emerged as the latest Eldorado for the modeling industry. In the last few years Paris’ Elite Model Management has been staging its “Look of the Year” contests throughout the region. Amongst insiders in the industry, Elite’s Paris office is considered the epicenter of one of the most powerful scouting systems on the planet. That means expectations are very high for this agency to unveil a new crop of runway stars. Amongst its roster of successful North African models is the Tunisian Kenza Fourati as well as Moroccan Hind Sahli, who has walked the runway for Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton amongst many others.

Yet unlike her North African peers, Hana Ben Abdesslem represents an entirely different proposition within the modeling world; one that is closely linked to fashion’s current obsession with androgyny.

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2011 Haute Couture

Every few years seems to produce a face that goes against the norm, and makes us reconsider our own notions of beauty. In the 1990’s Kristen McMenamy gained a following for her unorthodox features that included shaved brows and a kooky smile. More recently, Austrian model Iris Strubegger has attracted the attention of fashion’s noted taste makers, with her soaring cheekbones and gender-bending looks.

In Hana Ben Abdesslem’s case, success came relatively quickly to the 23 year old stunner from Nabeul, Tunisia. Shortly after winning a “Look” model search contest, she was picked by Ricardo Tisci to walk exclusively in Givenchy’s Spring 2011 show in Paris. Within the industry, Tisci is known for putting as much thought into selecting his models, as he does when designing clothes. He will often begin casting his shows as early as six months in advance, to create his desired fashion tribe for a particular season.

Hana Ben Abdesslem at Givenchy Spring 2011

Since cutting her hair into a short pixie bob, Hana’s career has skyrocketed. Last November, an entire exhibition displaying images of her shot by lens man Michael Dürr, was unveiled during Vienna Fashion Week. While at the recent round of Spring 2011 haute couture shows in Paris, the Tunisian model walked the runway for both Chanel and Gaultier.

Hailing from Tunisia, a nation formed by centuries of cross-cultural encounters, has eased Hana’s transition into the fashion world; an industry that is international by nature. “My country is rich in history and traditions. It’s a culture that’s been influenced and shaped by a succession of civilizations that includes the Berbers, Phoenicians, Romans, Fatimid Arabs and Ottomans. I grew up surrounded by all these influences and I am proud to be a part of that culture,” added the Tunisian runway star in an interview.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

A Polyglot Muse at the Paris Couture

Farida Khelfa: Gaultier’s long time muse, former directrice of his couture salon and Paris fashion icon, walks the designer’s Spring 2011 Haute Couture show

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Food for Thought...

Cordoba in Vogue

Vogue October 1968

When Hollywood Came to Town

In 1974, Elizabeth Taylor boarded the first direct flight from L.A. to Tehran on Iran Air. Seen here at a party in Tehran.
Back in 2009 Khane Cinema, Iran’s largest film organization, invited a number of Hollywood actors, directors and producers to Tehran. Amongst those in the group were actress Annette Bening, Field of Dreams director Phil Robinson, William Horberg, producer of The Kite Runner and Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In addition to visiting various cultural venues throughout the city, the American delegation took part in workshops with their Iranian counterparts, on acting, directing and documentary filmmaking; all aimed at bridging a gulf of cultural misunderstanding and creating new friendships.

Yet despite this recent exchange, Hollywood has had a long history of engagement with Iran. Before the revolution it was not uncommon to find American filmmakers setting their stories amongst Iran’s diverse landscapes, while Hollywood stars made the trip to sample Tehran’s culture and Joie de vivre.

Elizabeth Taylor visiting Isfahan's Chehel Setoon on her 1974 trip to Iran.

Goldie Hawn in Tehran during the 1970’s.

Actress Jennifer O'Neill sits with her German Shepherd, Betts, while on location filming Caravans in Iran, 1978.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Food for Thought...

From the Vogue Archives: Heavenly Mirrors

Vogue December 1971

“In celebration of Iran’s 125th anniversary,” Vogue took inspiration from the frescoes of the 17th century Ali Qapu (or the Gate of God) in Isfahan, by juxtaposing Persian ideals of beauty next to the reigning stars of the day: French actress Dominique Sanda, Cher, and Vanessa Redgrave.