Postcards: Honolulu, Hawaii
Postcards: Paris, France
The active exchange of goods, ideas, and expertise has played a significant role in the evolution of sericulture, or silk production, along the Silk Roads. This is reflected in distinctive artistic styles and craftsmanship that has continued to spread throughout various regions. The textile was so valued, it is said that by the 4th century BC, Greeks and Romans began referring to parts of the Far East as the land of “Seres”, or silk. Moreover, sericulture techniques were heavily guarded and controlled by authorities. Silk was considered a precious textile that was reserved for the aristocracy, and its use was emblematic of authority and power. The textile was preferred by royal families, and its weavers enjoyed an elevated social status comparable to that of painters or sculptors. During the Han and Tang dynasties, the absolute value of silk increased, as well as its production. Due to its versatility and popularity, silk gradually became identified with general use. Clothing made of silk is characteristically lightweight and ethereal, providing warmth in cool temperatures, and relief in hotter temperatures. Not only was it used for clothing production and decoration in the Far East, but it also assumed cultural significance in the economy as a highly sought, valuable commodity.
During silk production, silk threads are woven into textile cloth or used for embroidery work. Literary sources such as The Book of History and The Book of Rites detail aspects of sericulture. Reeling silk and spinning were household duties attributed to women, while weaving and embroidery were often conducted in workshops. In silk-producing provinces, the intergenerational aspect was apparent. Women devoted a large portion of the year to care of the silkworms, as well as to the unraveling, spinning, weaving, dyeing, and embroidery of the silk. Initially, production of both silk twine and silk cloth could be attributed solely to those in the Far East.
However, around 300 CE, the production of silk twine appeared in regions as far west as the Roman province of Syria, created during the Roman Empire (27 BC – 393 CE). It was here that the Sasanian, Shapur II (310-379 CE), established the most influential silk-weaving industry. From 224-651 CE, the Sasanians exerted significant influence in the world, and their expansion caused considerable conflict in Rome. The Sasanian region was an expansive area, recognized for its expert weavers, especially in cities such as Susa, which is located in modern Iran. Sasanian silks were then exported to both the East and West, by way of maritime and terrestrial routes. Those textiles originating in the Far East and Indian sub-continent, where silk-producing centers also appeared, inspired their designs. These designs were then incorporated into local textile patterns according to aesthetic preferences. Conversely, weavers originating from the Far East borrowed Sasanian motifs, thus transforming and recontextualizing the designs into their own culture.
Weavers from Byzantium, who considered themselves inheritors of the ancient Roman Empire, exhibited a similar trend. These Byzantine weavers generally hailed from cities such as Constantinople and Antioch. Two main types of silk weaving patterns were produced. The first was based on hunting or battle scenes, while the latter was comprised of a series of circles enveloping birds and other small animals. A Byzantine silk fragment from the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne (742-814), incorporates both of these graphic designs. The burgeoning Byzantine textile industry subsequently led to the spread of silk weaving even further west. Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154) introduced silk weavers from Constantinople to Palermo in the 12th century.
As a result of this act, the Italian silk industry was borne, and still exists. Moreover, during Pax Mongolia, silk textiles emanating from the Far East were ubiquitous throughout the region now known as Italy. This was apparent with the juxtaposition and visible translation of Italian designs with Far Eastern influences onto luxurious textiles. The resultant patterns encapsulated a greater degree of fluidity and boldness. In addition, the appearance of heraldic animals typical of the Sasanian style decreased, while flourishing arabesque ornamentation and scrawling vegetation were adapted from Far Eastern designs.
Moreover, the UNESCO World Heritage site, La Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) in Valencia, Spain, built from 1482-1522, assumed a pronounced role in the evolution of sericulture. Emblematic of the power and wealth associated with the Mediterranean mercantile city in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was originally used for trading in silk, and renowned as a center of commerce. In contemporary society, the production of silk worldwide has steadily increased, especially in the Far East, despite the manufacture of synthetic textiles that are able to substitute its use. Regional variations of silk weaving exist, but the transmission of savoir-faire, knowledge, and expertise from one generation to the next allow these techniques to be disseminated throughout local and international communities along the Silk Roads, even today.
Image © bigjom.jom. Sources provided upon request.
Postcards: Paris, France
Less is More: The Evolution of my Aesthetic Preferences
Universally accepted socio-cultural codes are inherently cross-generational. They have always existed, whether firmly stated, gently whispered, or clearly implied. Interest in the complex interrelationship between fashion, art, and society began very early and continue to evolve. Although I am from southern California, I have spent a significant amount of time living abroad learning how to adapt – and not assimilate – my own preferences to those of the culture that embraces me.
I am always eager to find a way to merge my interests into a cohesive, external shell that most accurately reflects my authentic self. The iconic Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn have always provided inspiration for me with their natural grace and understated elegance. I tend to agree with the renowned architect, Mies van der Rohe: “Less is More”.
Over the years, I have become more flexible and tastes have been gently transformed without sacrificing my fundamental values. Having lived in a multitude of international cities including Paris, Florence, Berlin, Toronto, and London, I have been fully immersed in other societies, appreciating the subtle nuances of cultural norms, linguistic codes, and acceptable attire while still protecting my core sensibilities. Therefore, I am always eager to find a way to merge those interests into a cohesive, external shell that most accurately reflects my authentic self.
When I am at home in southern California, I am encapsulated in a sunny world of cool, ocean breezes and beautiful, sandy beaches. Therefore, I tend to adopt a minimalistic approach. It is only appropriate that I slip into an airy sundress and sandals. However, working at the Opéra national de Paris – Palais Garnier, and now at Rémy Cointreau on Haussmann Boulevard in Paris, requires a more conservative approach with elements of controlled creativity.
Although I was raised in a family with strong ties to the Armed Forces, I ultimately attended a Quaker boarding school. The complex interrelationship between the individual, socially acceptable dress codes, and attitude were rather dramatic, to say the very least. At home, we fervently adhered to the old adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” in all aspects of life. There was no higher compliment than to be referred to as someone who was “neat and tidy”. Even now, I feel most comfortable in clothes that are easy to wear with simple, clean lines and monochromatic colors.
My adopted Quaker environment was diametrically opposed to strict military standards, both in lifestyle and ideology. Fashion was relatively non-existent, but individual expression, creativity, and curiosity were highly laudable traits. At first, I was uncertain about the unabashed enthusiasm that erupted over the mixing of fabrics, textures, colors, and proportions. I found myself questioning the taste and sanity of classmates and professors who seemed to have reached a soothing state of nirvana in their wrinkled trousers, colorful scarves, and comfortable Birkenstocks.
Karl Lagerfeld’s Haute Couture Spring Collection held at the Grand Palais Paris is January 2017 is an accurate reflection of my aesthetic preferences with the feminine silhouettes and cinched-in waists. The luxurious fabrics and embellishments elevate the ensembles. Yet, there is something quite conservative and inherently minimalistic about the heritage collection.
Trends have never peaked my curiosity, but the timelessness and enduring traits of an exceptional product never cease to inspire me. It has been a natural progression that has attracted me to internationally renowned French heritage brands which reflect discreet, understated elegance. Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel are clear examples of brands which value quality, excellence, and craftsmanship while providing effortless style.
Paris, France: Rémy Cointreau
Rémy Martin XO Dégustation – Opulence Revealed
Paris, France: Rémy Cointreau