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Women in the Orient
Musée du Quai Branly
In our time of struggle to understand the lives of women of the East, an exhibition at the Musee du Quai Branly investigates this lifestyle with a clearer vision. Artistic Director, Christian Lacroix, makes it very clear that we need to take a closer look at this piece of history when he says: "What hides these women describes them so much better than any western fashion"…




 Women in Orient 6I arrive at the musée du quai Branly at around 6 p.m. and have no more than an hour to go through the exhibition made up of 150 items of traditional dress and accessories from the Near East.  The exhibition is accessed through a long gangway, leading slowly up to the « East Mezzanine ». I always savour the use of this spiral gangway in one of my favourite Paris museums: one walk upwards on a white floor where a meandering river of words flows downward. Once I arrive at the East Mezzanine, the light dims. I like the description in the press release, which says: « together, objects form a still and floating procession. They inhabit a colourful space where, in dim warm light, is projected the visions of Christian Lacroix towards a dreamed East. »

I planned to go through this exhibition methodically, but I should have known myself better. The first showcase draws me in, and I’m glued to it.  I read: « In 1991, the perfectly naturally mummified bodies of five women and three girls were found in a cave of the Kadisha Valley. The valley’s name literally means « holy » in Syriac and is located in Northern Lebanon… »

This is a 13th century girl’s dress! I look at the perfect seams. I admire the piped neckline, made perfectly by the book. I study the embroidery around the neckline because I have always loved embroideries. 

Women in Orient 2

The description says that this dress belonged to a girl two or three years old and that it goes down to the feet. I take out my Moleskine notebook and ink-pen and begin to draw. Absorbed, keen on getting down important details, I don’t notice the time passing until I hear someone say: « oh, they close in half an hour! » So I reluctantly leave the little girl’s dress and go over to the next showcase. Five dresses of Syrian women. I chose a red dress for the next sketch; a sumptuous one dated around 1930.

Women in Orient 1

This could be a bridal dress with a white silk hood over an indigo headband! The coat is made of soft cotton, dyed carmine red, structured with running points and seamed with gold-emerald ribbons. Under the coat is a white silk shirtdress with sleeves longer than the coat’s sleeves, covering the hands of the mannequin.  So we have a coat and the shirtdress, then under those, silk trousers appear to complete the outfit. Lots of layers are required for this special ensemble. I’d like to wear something similar. No part of the garment constrains the body, yet this is indeed a very important, celebratory costume. I sketch the dress, eager to remember the colours so that I can shade the drawing once I get home. I have the time to sketch two more dresses, then I hear the loudspeaker announcing that the museum closes in 10 minutes and all visitors are invited to leave….


Curated by Andrea Hupke de Palacio 

Reserved Reproduction