Friday, March 14, 2014

Crimea (Ukraine/Russia) - Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatars have a very young fashion industry. Existing designers focus on reviving the Crimean traditional dress as it has been forgotten and lost over the years of tribulations. Perhaps it is the first step in the industry that will see further growth and development. This blog entry is more about honoring these people, their history and the traditional dress than about Crimean fashion industry.
Today, there are only about 250,000 residing in the peninsula of Crimea since the mid-1980s.  Crimean Tatars (different to Tatars in Tatarstan) are belonging to the ethnic group historically formed in Crimea. They speak the Crimean Tatar which belongs to the Altaic family of the Turkic group of languages. The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation in the Crimea in the 13th-17th centuries. The core of their ethnos lies within the Turkic tribes (Khazars, Kipchaks, Hans, Pechenegs) mixing with the local population who settled in Crimea centuries prior to Turkic tribes arrival (descendants of Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Bulgars, Goths, Cumans, Italians, Circassians, Anatolian Turks). Crimea has a rich history with many inhabitants migrating here over the centuries and contributing into formation of the Crimean Tatars ethnic group.

Islam came to the Crimea in the 13th century and was spreading slowly in parallel to the development of the Crimean Tatars as a nation. Originally brought in by the Turkic tribes of Central Asia, it gained intense popularity during the Golden Horde rule whose ruler Berke (grand-son of Genghis Khan) converted to Islam earlier. In the 14th century the Crimea has become a major Islamic civilization centre within the all-powerful Golden Horde. In the 15th century the Crimea had become the vassal state of the Ottoman Empire and religious life here experienced strong influence of Turkish Islam. By the 18th century when the Crimea was annexed to the Russian Empire it had 1400 mosques and madrasa (religious schools), but by the end of the 18th century Islam was replaced by Christianity (Orthodox) and Islamic influence has weakened. Russian colonization program included extermination of Islam and Tatar cultural heritage from the peninsula. Without going too much into the tragic events of mid-1940s that saw Tatar people being deported from their homeland, I am happy to report that they have returning since 1980s and re-building their lives from scratch.
Crimea on the map of Europe (the yellow peninsula on Black Sea)

Crimean Tatars traditional dress
Despite local differences women's wear had a lot in common. It consisted of the broad and long, below the knees, cotton or linen shirts, coloured harem pants reaching the foot and ankle and long dresses with wide sleeves. The waist was wrapped by a wide embroided sash of silver or gold decorated by silver metal plates or coins. Outdoor clothing consisted of a caftan, usually in a bright, mostly in pink or red, colour with gold or silver lace decorations at the neck and chest. The dress of a Crimean woman represented her femininity, beauty, style and family status (younger unmarried women chose bright colours whilst married women dresses wore modest colours). 

I recommend this excellent page of professionally made photos featuring the traditional Crimean dress:
There are a huge number of women's hats and headdresses and their diversity is astounding. Besides the fes (traditional hat) and marama (veil attached to fes) common were big wool scarves, lightweight slim shawles, and coloured patterned shawles.
Crimean Tatar embroidery saves a lot of traditional elements and is widely used on both male and female dresses. Insanely beautiful Crimea has had a huge impact on the folk art of the Crimean Tatar people and, in particular, on the embroidery, which reached its highest art form.
Jewelry was a mandatory part of any dress, Crimean women decorated their hair, hands and dresses with exquisite jewelry pieces.

Crimean Tatar dancers
Crimean Tatar girls distribute headdresses at a party
Model posing in the traditional dress
Crimean Tatar girls wearing traditional dresses, most of them feature fes and marama (hat and veil)

Traditional wedding dress
Crimean Tatar bride had her hands painted with heena

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Middle East (Western Asia): Iran

Islamic Republic of Iran is the second largest country in the Middle East with fascinating 5,000 years of history. It is home to one of the world's oldest major civilizations.

Until 1935 Iran was known as Persia, which means 'Land of the Aryans'. The inhabitants refer to themselves as Persians and their language is Farsi. The country has a complex history with various empires taking over it or trying to take over it from the ancient times all the way to the modern times. Having undergone centuries of migrations, invasions and assimilations, Iran is far from being a country with a homogeneous population. Although more than half of its population is made up of Persians, Iran also has hugely diverse peoples such as the Azari Turks, Afsharies, Bakhtiari, Baluchis, Gilaki (Gilani), Ghoochani, Korasan (Kohrassan), Kords, Lors, Mazandaranis, Qashqai, Shahsavan, and Turkmen among many other ethnic groups.

The population is 77 million; around 90% of the population is Muslim with vast majority belonging to Twelver Shia branch of Islam. Prior to Islam, Zoroastrianism was the primary religion of Iran with a small number of people adhering to the ancient religion today. Muslims invaded Iran in 656, marking a turning point for their history, as the new Islamic policy became gradually absorbed into the Persian civilization. Iran thereafter played a vital role in the subsequent Islamic Golden Age, producing numerous influential scientists, scholars, artists, and thinkers.

Traditional dress
As Iran has many different regions and ethnic groups all of them offer their own kind of a traditional dress. Moreover, over the course of 5,000 years the dress changed many times. There are really good online resources dedicated to the traditional Persian dresses. Here is the link to one of them:

And here are some real photos from the past of Persian women in traditional dresses:

A great article about how the Persian dress has evolved over the centuries: Persian dress through the ages

Few random pictures I found and really liked on the Internet:

Sa'dabad Palace-Tehran, photo by Kamyar Adl (flickr, Some Rights Reserved)
Ghoochani women - Source is forum at Skyscrapercity
Source is forum at Skyscrapercity

These pictures come from an online forum and relate to the traditional dress exhibition in Iran in 2007:

The infamous 'dress code' in Iran
In Iran, women are required to dress modestly by keeping their hair covered and by wearing long, loose-fitting clothing to disguise their figures. It was not always like that with the dress code being introduced only in 1978 after the Islamic Revolution. However, contrary to popular belief the 'chador' is not a mandatory requirement and the clothing does not have to be black. A headscarf, trousers and long-sleeved tunic or coat will do, especially if you are a tourist. Since recently, women in the country have been adjusting the 'dress code' parameters to develop their own take on street style. In cities like Tehran or Shiraz you will notice that there are many women making small albeit noticeable fashion statements, and dressing in quite a modern and fashionable way by the standards of the region (designer clothes, dyed hair, visible make-up, heels, etc.). Try this blog and be surprised: Trending In Tehran -- Iranian street fashion

If you head to smaller cities such as Yazd, Kerman, Kermanshah that are more conservative, then chose to lower the tone accordingly.

Fashion industry struggles, but there is hope
Even though current president Mr Hassan Rouhani is considered as 'moderate' the fashion industry still finds it difficult to strive and flourish. Current regulations make it almost impossible to sell clothes that do not meet the modesty criteria and many fashion entrepreneurs are forced into underground boutiques and fashion shows. Also, there are not enough fashion magazines, brands or fashion TV to develop the industry and teach people how to dress. There are practically no designers specialising in Islamic fashion today. However, with the backing of the government some designers are leaning towards a revival of Iran's centuries old dress styles.

Researcher and fashion designer, Ms Hasti Homayoun carried out a 6 month study on current trends for textiles and fashion. She says that many Iranian women would favour Islamic orientated clothing over Western dress if it was presented to them in the right way. Another designer Ms Shadi Parand believes that it is possible to present beautiful creations that go hand in hand with Islamic rules. Ms Parand also adds that she sees the Iranian government's restrictions on women's clothing as an opportunity to revive ancient Persian fashions. Currently, there are two types of fashion in Iran: inside fashion and outside fashion. Inside fashion is basically the Western dress and outside is the 'dress code' attire. The challenge is, according to Ms Parand, is to bring inside and outside fashion together. Let's hope that we will soon see beautiful stylish modest creations with Persian flair coming out of Iran. After all, with the versatility of traditional Persian dresses local designers have so much inspiration they can tap into.

First in decades public fashion shoot in Tehran
The US-based magazine FSHN commissioned photographer Afra Pourdad to shoot a fashion editorial featuring model Ms Shabnam Molavi, with clothes by Zarir, in Tehran's Tajrish Bazaar and the Manouchehri House in Kashan. Model's colorful and bold outfits were turning heads despite being compatible with the country's dress code. More on the story is here: Fashion Editorial in Tehran

A picture from the FSHN fashion editorial

Vogue in Iran (1969)
Who would have thought that in 1969 Vogue sent one of its photographers to Iran to take pictures for the magazine? The models were photographed in mosques and palaces in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis. The pictures were published in Vogue on December 1969. Full article and images are here: Vogue in Iran. Prepare to be shocked as I certainly was....and not by the fact that Vogue had a photo-shoot in Iran.

Vogue December edition 1969

Designer Mr Araz Fazaeli
Araz studied fashion abroad before returning to Iran. Initially Araz started a blog related to street fashion as he started to notice women embracing their inner fashion diva's on the streets of Tehran. He was basically taking pictures of his friends and women on the streets and uploading them to his blog. Today, Araz is a designer of Haute Couture Abayas and evening gowns based in Paris.

“The government has a rule that you should cover your hair and not show the shape of your body.”,
“But the way you chose to cover it is up to you.”
                                                                                                     Araz Fazaeli

Source: Street fashion tumblr blog by Araz Fazaeli 

Other designers
There are a number of other Iranian fashion designers making their mark on the fashion industry today. From what I have seen they specialise in Western fashion rather than Islamic fashion, but just for the inclusion sake I decided to list them here. Contemporary Iranian designers like Jasmin Shokrian, Maryam Mahdavi and Shirin Guild together with the likes of Micheal Soheil, Shadi Parand, Behnaz Sarafpour and Hushidar "Hushi" Mortezaie live in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles and work towards design excellence and creativity.

Related links

Fascinating Facebook page dedicated to Iranian culture containing images of traditional dresses:

Great article and fashion photographs here: How Iran’s Young Women Are Using Fashion To Influence Politics

Zarir fashion design group:

Short feature film about Ms Shadi Parand, Iran based fashion designer:

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

South Asia: Pakistan

The Indus Valley civilization (today’s Pakistan), is one of the oldest in the world and dating back at least 5,000 years. During the second millennium B.C., there was significant migration of Indo-Aryan people into the area. The region underwent successive invasions in subsequent centuries from the Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Arabs (who brought Islam), Afghans, and Turks. The Mughal Empire flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries; the British came to dominate the region in the 18th century. The separation in 1947 of British India into the Muslim state of Pakistan (with West and East sections). The population is 193,238,868 with 96.4% Muslims. There are various ethnic groups living on the territory of Pakistan with predominantly Punjabi background.

Traditional dress
As there is a number of ethnic groups and cultures co-exist in Pakistan the traditional dress varies naturally. Dress in each regional culture reflect weather conditions, way of living and distinctive style which gives it a unique identity among all cultures. Pakistani dressing has similarities with Indian dressing because of pre-partition culture which was shared by these nations for thousand years, but the religious factor was always there which makes a difference. Traditional Pakistani dressing also shares similarities between the ethnic groups of central Asia (i.e. Uzbeks, Turkmens) and of the Iranian plateau (i.e. Tajiks, Khorasani Persians and Pashtuns).

The Shalwar Kameez is the national dress of Pakistan and is worn by men and women in all four provinces Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA in the country and in Azad Kashmir. Each province has its own style of wearing the Shalwar Kameez. It ranges from colors and designs to the type of fabric (silk, chiffon, cotton, etc.). Shalwar are loose pajama-like trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the ankle. The kameez is a collarless long shirt or tunic. The side seams left open below the waist-line, give the wearer greater freedom of movement.

Evolution of fashion
With the passage of time Pakistanis had been adapting modern dress and cultural clothing. Pakistani fashion designers are very creative and they are able to fuse traditional elements with modern cuts and designs. They have deep insight of Pakistani and international fashion. Pakistani designers are well-known all over the world and won many international awards. The country offers soo many talented designers and it is really difficult to feature most of them here. I have only chosen to show the three that appealed to me the most. This Mag Media News lists most of the well-known Pakistani designers. 

Ms Zainab Chottani (formely Zainab Sajid)
Zainab started out her career as mainly a bridal designer however over the years she has rediscovered herself and broadened her horizons to include fusion pret and Haute Couture. She has showcased her bridal couture locally as well as globally in London, USA, and Dubai. This is the area where Zainab Chottani has received recognition. She started under the name of Zainab Sajid in 1999. She works with traditional colors and uses embroidery along with different cuts to form new designs. The designs contain influences from the Moghul Era where Royal women adorned heavily decorated dresses to look more attractive. Zainab Chottani has added to her portfolio by introducing the brands Aqua and Mera Pakistan. Aqua is a fashion label which features ready to wear clothes for women. Launched in 2012, the brand makes clothes to be worn in the summer season by featuring bright colors and baggy shirts. Later it launched the Mera Pakistan collection in March 2012 which aimed to convert Pakistan’s cultural symbols into fashion.

Aqua Casual Eid Wear Collection 2012
Aqua Casual Eid Wear Collection 2012
Aqua Casual Eid Wear Collection 2012

Mera Pakistan Collection
Bridal Collection 2012

Ms Maheen Khan
Ms Khan is a Pakistani fashion and costume designer. She owns fashion labels The Embroidery House, Maheen and Gulabo. Ms Khan has done many fashion events and shows nationally and internationally. She is well known for her embroidery work for the film Snow White and the Huntsman and television series The Jewel in the Crown. Despite being in fashion since 1972 he style has evolved and she continues to surprise with her innovative style. Ms Khan's clothing is fashionable and stylish. She offers comfortable trendy every day wear and unique Haute Couture. Ms Khan's creations have ethnic flavour that is appreciated at home and abroad.  I really like the fact that she is so versatile and was able to re-invent herself over the years in so many ways. 

Phulkari collection 2013
Phulkari collection 2013
Gulabo by Ms Maheen Khan

Gulabo by Ms Maheen Khan
Ms Khan in Milan in 2010

Maria B
Ms Maria Bilal is one of the best Pakistan's designers. She graduated from Pakistan School of Fashion Design and launched her label ‘Maria B’ in Lahore back in March 1999.  During her four years at the Fashion School, Maria learnt to make patterns, drape and stitching by hand. Maria B has a large clientele outside of Pakistan in the US and Europe. She has done fashion shows in New York, Paris and Milan. Ms Bilal established first design house in Pakistan to hire professionally trained fashion designers, textile workers and production managers. Her lines include Casuals, lawn, Evening-Wear, Westerns to Bridals. Maria's vision is to design for the modern and trendy woman - the brands focus on fusion of eastern and western elements.  .

Maria B Lawn 2013-2014 Summer collection, it is full of colour and silk

Maria B Linen 2013-2014 Winter collection

Maria B - Bridal (previous season collections)
Ms Bilal's bridal styles are quite versatile: they range from traditional, Western and combination of both.

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