The exhibition reveals another aspect of femininity, from the North of Syria to the Sinaï peninsula, introducing an exceptional collection of 150 traditional costumes and accessories from the Near East, selected by designer Christian Lacroix, in close co-operation with Hana Chidiac, Head of the North African and Near East collections at the musée du quai Branly
From this common work has emerged a poetic journey punctuated by sumptuous garments, the majority of which are exhibited in France for the first time: festive dresses, coats, veils and head-dresses which comprised the bride's trousseau illustrate, in a unique way, the continuity of the traditions and knowledge developed and transmitted from mother to daughter.
Homage to the millennary art of embroidery, the exhibition shows the work of these women who have sought, over the centuries, to create ways to enhance their beauty and to exist within societies which have so long marginalised them, displaying at the same time their own personalities, aesthetic sensibilities and emotions.
The creations presented reveal to the visitor a glimpse of the history of these women whose hands, gestures, tastes and talent have endowed the fabric and the silk or cotton threads with part of themselves, composing each garment like a work of art.
Beyond its historical and ethnological scope WOMEN IN ORIENT also aspires to be an invitation to explore the aesthetics of womens clothing as art.
Guided by coloured threads on black cotton, by silver lamé and striped silk linings, by the cut of winged dresses and the tie-dye fabrics, Christian Lacroix has been inspired to select a remarkable group of garments.
As the political, economic and cultural crossroads between Asia, Europe and Africa, the Near East has been the cradle of rich civilisations that have left their marks on many different artistic fields, including art of clothes, still largely unknown to a wider public.
The history of textile and embroidery extends over thousands of years, and can be seen not only asa way of dressing, but also as a language, and as social, geographical and religious markers.
Since the 1970s, the image and appearance of Near Eastern women have changed. Today, what we call "Islamic dress" imposes itself across the region. This dark costume completely covers the body of woman, leaving no part visible, and is in fact leading to the progressive abandonment of traditional eastern costumes, causing the disappearance of the final remnants of a secular art of clothes.
By exhibiting for the first time a selection of traditional dresses originating from a vast area at the heart of the "Fertile Crescent", from the north of Syria to the Sinaï Peninsula, the musée du quai Branly offers to its visitors the opportunity to discover the diverse ways of life and costumes of Near Eastern women.
It reveals a different face of the Eastern woman, taking a new, lively and aesthetic look at their traditional creations.
With the exception of a moving child's dress from the 13th century, discovered in a Lebanese cave and lent by the Beirut National Museum, the exhibited items mainly date from the late 19th century to the present day. They come from the musée du quai Branly collections and the Widad Kamel Kawar collection (Jordan), the most exceptional private collection of Near East costumes and
The exhibition aims to present the costumes of female villagers and Bedouins, whose richness and splendour evoked admiration of 20th century travellers, and disconcerted more than one of them, as noted by the geographer Jacques Weulersse: "They expected to see the clothes of poor peasant women, but they discovered the costumes of opera ballerinas". (Paysans de Syrie et du Proche Orient, Paris, Gallimard, 1946)
For this event, the musée du quai Branly has acquired about thirty accessories: dresses, coats, head-dresses and veils, which complement the outfits selected and enhance the permanent collections alongside belts, aprons, jackets and jewellery.
Christian Lacroix has conceived the route through the exhibition as a poetical perambulation. The garments form a motionless, hovering procession. They inhabit a colourful world where, bathed in warm and comforting light, the designer's imagination is projected into a dreamlike East.
From black to vivid colour, from night to day, the dresses seem suspended in a frozen instant of time, of which the visitor is the secret spectator.
The exhibition starts with the display of a 13th century girl's dress discovered during archaeological excavations in Lebanon. It ends with five white dresses embroidered with colours, forming the crowning piece; a nod to the traditional fashion show which usually ends with the presentation of a wedding dress.
Between these two temporal extremes, the journey follows a geographical route starting in Northern Syria to culminate in the Sinaï desert, revealing, step by step, the costumes of Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Bedouin women.
It is punctuated by stylised dummies in traditional costumes and by wedding chests containing the accessories of the traditional bride's trousseau. These chests, which the visitor comes across like hidden treasures, were designed by Christian Lacroix for the event.
A space decorated with gouache miniatures in Persian style, and dolls dressed with traditional costumes, allows the visitor to rest on benches also designed by Christian Lacroix. Here the visitor can read texts relating the history of silk in the Near East, or the story of indigo.
In the same space, a set of small embroidered dresses, specially created for the exhibition, offer to visual disabled visitors the opportunity to "finger read" the fabrics and discover the lines and embroideries of the items on display.