Document 97242

fake / folk
fake / folk
It’s curious that given millennia of civilisation,
a refracted palette of colours spangling across
retinae, and the galloping pace of sartorial evolution from the back-strap to the jacquard to
the computer-assisted dobby loom, that today’s
sophisticated dresser’s fabric of choice is still
the basic black: the blank, black, black.
The darkness of the night sky might indeed
be an appropriate screen for the projection of
the imagination, but black textiles
are not colour-fast. That is, while
black may be a space for stories,
it tells few of its own. Perhaps its
appeal for modern women – who
grasp for constants in the entropy
of the post-Industrial West – is its
comfortable merging of individuality and conformity: with no logos, shapes, figures or messages
on the sleeve, no visible allegiances to brand, clan or ideology, a
woman in black can be said to be
“unique”. But wearing black is
also a guarantor that she won’t
stand out: she’ll never be accused
of trying to “pull off” or “get
away” with anything. She is tasteful, discreet, she fits. She may also
soon be forgotten.
Beyond its famed slimming
qualities, most would probably
argue that the appeal of all-black
clothes is that they are classic. The
vagaries of fashion cannot touch
them; black will forever be the new
But what of the print? With history flattened out to give contemporary existence a more flattering
silhouette, patterned fabrics are all
too often smuggled away in the
wardrobe as the ill-advised impulse
purchases of yesteryear – or run out of it altogether, pelted with the epithets of “hipster”,
“hippie” or “fad”. Among the roiling, irrational
fluctuations of contemporary fashion, crazes
for “ethnic” prints, often known by their more
unfortunate moniker, “tribal”, paradoxically
have a short shelf-life. It would seem that the
more rich and complex a motif or technique,
the quicker it is dated. How can it be that a
shape, for example, as old as the paisley (known
in Persian as the boteh or the flame of Zoroaster), ubiquitous in the Near East and South
Asia since at least the Sixth Century AD could
end up in the trash bin with “bad” 1970s ties?
Fabrics freighting colours, shapes and textures are in fact some of the first symbolic markers of humanity’s reach for the divine. They’ve
aided in organising human society through the
marking of status, the transmission of messages, and as currency, ever since Eve first
draped a leaf over her privates. Tartan, mola,
paisley, ikat, kente, houndstooth, among others:
the following pages – depicting various examples
of “traditional” textile prints and patterns – investigate the stories between the weft and warp
of fake and folk, tracing the lines, curves and
dots of the Forever of Fashion.
But on such threadbare and fragile ground
we should also take off our shoes and tread
carefully. Like a multi-coloured batik resistdyeing process, it’s complicated. To fetishise
various tribes adopted them and to this day trade
and use them in ceremonies and rituals, gives
the Pendleton legacy more complexity than the
straightforward white-boy-who-stole-the-blues
Designs of kente – a checquered pattern innovated by the Ashante and Ewe peoples of
Ghana and Togo – also have a zigzagged path.
Universally recognised as “African”, they’ve
gone global and been adopted as
a marker of pride and shared culture on the continent itself and
among the African Diaspora, especially in North America. But
what started out as a complex,
painstaking process of specialised
weavers creating designs invested
with equally specialised meaning,
has given way to cheap, rollerprinted copies produced in East
Asia, seemingly benefiting everyone but the cultures that originated them.
Textile patterns are difficult to
copyright, so while the wide distribution and subsequent popularity of a given “ethnic” print can
arguably bring with it awareness
and appreciation for Other cultures, it might also be at their
expense, financially, metaphysically, or both. Last year allusions
to Kente or “Africa” design began
to appear in skirts on the leggy,
white-hued mannequins of American Apparel, prompting cries of
cultural appropriation – at this
point already two or three times
removed from the original concerns of traditional artisans being
deprived of business or credit.
Uzbek ikat – a current trend in
dressing and in home design, popularised this
past decade by Gucci, Dries Van Noten, Balenciaga and others – has, in a mere century, also
gone from clothing the opulent NineteenthCentury Central Asian Khanates, to runway
models, to teens at the mall in the form of $15
maxi dresses.
Few can have missed this year’s patterned
leggings trend which borrowed iconography
in a potpourri of African, Scandinavian, Aztec,
Bauhaus and bonkers. The unidentifiable nature of these patterns’ heritage is testament
to how far the world of prints has come from
any sense of authorship, identity or purported
authenticity. Psychedelic legs dance in an
(admittedly fabulous) kaleidoscope of dazzling, doping colour, oblivious to yesterday
or tomorrow: the Twenty-First Century’s
Global Tribe.
But snap some pictures while they’re still
reflecting light – by next year they’re all quite
likely to fade to black.
Does fashion
always return
to the traditional, the
tribal and the
ethnic when
black gets too
boring? Mara
Goldwyn on
the secret
histories of
textiles and
these prints as traditional, or call them “authentic” up against what we imagine to be the “new”
or “phony” would not always be accurate.
Mechanised reproduction and long-distance
trade from the Silk Road caravan to internet
shopping have made for hybrid imaginings and
re-imaginings of what “traditional” can mean.
New does not always trump Old but rather – and
often – hits the sack and gets busy with it, and
the offspring is repackaged and marketed for
different times and climes.
To cite a current case of this, Pendleton “Native American inspired” prints – in recent years
transferred to sneakers, jackets and bags in collabs with Vans, Opening Ceremony and Urban
Outfitters – were never exactly “authentically
Native”. Over 100 years ago, non-Native loom
artisans employed by the Oregon-based textile
company did careful, respectful research in Nez
Pearce, Hopi, Navajo and other communities
to create blanket designs that would appeal to
them – and were enormously successful. That
fake / folk
fake / folk
fake / folk
fake / folk
Paisley (boteh)
A Scottish town known for industrialised weaving in the Nineteenth Century gave its name to
this ancient, Eastern motif. With iterations across
antiquity from India to Persia, the paisley reached
its greatest popularity when the East India Company brought luxuriously woven Kashmiri shawls
to wealthy European shoulders in the Eighteenth
Century – a craze that ironically faded with its
mass distribution as a roller-print in the Nineteenth. It had a peculiar resurgence as a hippie
mainstay in the 1960s and 70s.
Image courtesy of The Textiles Collection,
University for the Creative Arts at Farnham
Russian peasant
In late Nineteenth-Century Imperial Russia there
was something of a crafts revival, a generalised
paean to the country’s history of kustar (cottage
industries) on a par with the Arts And Crafts
movement in Great Britain. Educated artists hung
out in colonies around the country and immersed
themselves in Slavic pride, national identity and
the inexpensively printed, brightly decorated
textiles of the peasants. The florals held on
through the Soviet era as they were recognised
as the cultural heritage of “the people”.
Image courtesy of Krasava
the wearing of tartan. From then through the era
of the Sex Pistols and Vivienne Westwood, plaid
has been an enduring symbol of both pedigree
and f*&# off!
to architecture with its particular worldview. Over
a 1,000 years later, abstract weavers in the German
Bauhaus movement of the 1920s were inspired by
the patterns of the Wari, if not also by their ambition.
Image courtesy of ScotClans
copyright The Trustees of the British Museum
Uzbek ikat
Though Pendleton blankets were adopted by
Native Americans as part of their ceremonies,
the designs themselves were not native in origin.
Many came in creative exchanges between tribes
and the Oregon-based company’s artisans; hybrid
motifs were inspired by Mexican serapes and
perhaps Oriental designs absorbed by the Navajos in their own weaving. This pattern, the Gatekeeper Heritage, originated in 1935 and mimics
an eight-pointed star, a common symbol of the
morning star (and thence new beginnings) among
the Sioux Indians.
Though often referred to as a pattern, ikat is
actually a technique, and an arduous one at that.
Individual threads are resist-dyed with patterns
before they are woven, giving them the tell-tale
blurry look. Uzbekistan was a Nineteenth-Century centre of ikat production on the Silk Road.
The cities of Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva
were said to be oozing color, with the richer
citizens wearing multiple ikat-patterned silk robes
to demonstrate status. The multiple, repeating patterns were to show the infinite nature of Allah – no
beginning and no end.
Image courtesy of Pendleton Woolen Mills
Image courtesy of The Textile Museum, Washington
Ewe Kente
The very rich among the equine-obsessed, Uzbekspeaking Lakai nomads of present-day Tajikistan
and Afghanistan owned sumptuous da-our cloths,
used on the horse bringing the bride to the groom.
Embroidering everything in sight, any non-sedentary Lakai cover their latticed yurts, bedding,
tack, saddle blankets and wall hangings with
intricate and colourful scorpion shapes and boteh
(paisley). They are said to be descended from the
one surviving brother of Ghenghis Khan: the only
one of 16 not to be murdered by him.
In the West African countries of Ghana and
Togo, Ashante and Ewe men weave narrow
strips, cut them in pieces and then sew them
together in a perpendicular fashion to make
voluminous, toga-like robes. The Ashante only
use geometric, non-figurative motifs – each
with a proverb associated with it. The Ewe, on
the other hand, do use specific signs and symbols. A hand might refer to the saying “what
we have we hold”, or pictured keys might be
“to the castle”. Image courtesy of Joss Graham
Image courtesy of Joss Graham
Among the Cuna tribe of San Blas, Panama, at
a certain point customs of body painting were
transferred to cotton: the mola, now a mainstay
of Cuna traditional dress. Made out of commercially-woven cloth received in exchange for
coconuts from Colombian merchant traders – or
from tourist-art dealers who exchange bolts of
new cloth for old molas – the designs emerge
from a complex technique of reverse appliqué
incorporating geometric motifs. Flora and fauna,
as well as Cuna ghosts, myths, legends and creatures of fantasy populate the panels generally
affixed to women’s shirts.
Batik is a resist-dye technique most highlydeveloped in the Indonesian island of Java in
the Nineteenth Century, consisting of applying
wax with a special “canting” pen to high-threadcount fabric. Leather wayang shadow puppets
are also an art of the island; they have perforations on them to create the illusion of clothing.
Blowing charcoal through these holes on to the
fabric as a guide, lady batik print makers have
been known to use old puppets as a design tool.
Image courtesy of The Textiles Collection,
University for the Creative Arts at Farnham
Image courtesy of The Textiles Collection,
University for the Creative Arts at Farnham
Wari tunic
The ancient dress of the virile Scottish clansman
was not a kilt but a Féileadh Mor (great wrap), a
length of cloth about six feet wide and 18 feet
long draped over the shoulder. After the Jacobite
Uprising of 1745, laws were passed to disarm the
Highlanders and destroy their spirit, prohibiting
The Wari people were influential in the central Andes (modern-day Peru) during the “Middle Horizon”
or 500 – 1000 AD. Similar symbols are found on
countless examples of textile and stone, pointing
to the Wari’s far reach: the empire was so powerful
that it was able to stamp everything from clothing
Javanese Batik
The Duke of Windsor is credited with bringing
houndstooth (aka dog’s tooth) to notoriety, a pattern that has since come to signify brash but
sophisticated taste. Reportedly originating in
Scotland but un-registered to any clan, some 100
years ago the houndstooth played the role of the
non-Tartan. A “neutral” design among oft-warring
clans, any Scot wearing these abstract, fourpointed shapes could not be accused of wearing
someone else’s tartan without permission, thereby avoiding a punch-up (important).