Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:
Search posts:

Prominent among the iconographic references to France’s non-Western colonies

Posted Mar 22 2013 3:00am


with the continent. Prominent among the iconographic references

to France’s non-Western colonies, which included Oceanic and

Southeast Asian possessions as well as those in West and Central

Africa, were elephants, palm trees, animal prints, and representations

of African sculpture.

Elsewhere, I have discussed how similar strategies may be

discerned in contemporary tourist art markets, where references to

local culture are crucial to the marketability of textiles and other

products.41I have labeled the former approach, adapting elements

of African dress to Western design,  sheath bridal gown,“reproductive” and the latter, in

which African imagery is depicted through clothing, “mimetic.”42

An article in a 1931 French fashion magazine, extolling the value of

the colonies as sources of inspiration for fashion and textile design,

made a similar distinction between these strategies: one “decorative”

and the other “geographical or human”: “It is not only the decorative

elements strictly speaking that interest us, but also the geographical

and human elements, the landscape where the great palm trees

balance, where the cacti proliferate with their grimacing silhouettes,

the familiar objects, the people themselves in their touching and

simple complexity.”43Two worlds of imagery thus were available to

fashion designers and promoters: the media and imagery of African

dress practices, and Africa itself.

Along with these two approaches, designers and fashion

promoters have long made links to Africa through media that

supplement garments as they enter the market, shaping their

reception. These include textual references, such as the names

assigned to specific garments or styles and the descriptions by which

garments were marketed, as well as the illustration of garments,

most notably through fashion photography. These various strategies

provide a framework for analyzing Africa’s diverse manifestations

in French fashion design.

The designer who is most closely associated with non-Western

sources of inspiration is Paul Poiret, the internationally renowned

early-twentieth-century French fashion designer and tastemaker

(whose work was caricatured by Sem). Poiret incorporated textiles,

garment styles, ornaments, and marketing strategies that contrasted

sharply with the prevailing practices of the day. He collected textiles

and garments from around the world, designing his “Oriental-style”

garments and theatre costumes “according to authentic documents.”44

While much of his work of the 1910s and 1920s makes reference to

Asian and Middle Eastern precedents,Japanese school uniforms.Africa appears as well. Poiret

employed both mimetic and reproductive approaches, drawing from

images of Africa and Africans as well as from African textiles and

garment styles.

In 1920, Poiret created a woman’s dress closely based on the

akhnif, a style of man’s cloak from Morocco’s High Atlas region.

(Figure 1) In addition to the direct transposition of an African style—


exemplifying the mimetic approach to cross-cultural influence.


Post a comment
Write a comment:

Related Searches