- Top: Anthropologie
- Belt: Gap Outlet
- Skirt: Banana Republic Factory
- Jacket: Banana Republic Factory
- Orange pumps: Dolce Vita
- Silver bangles: ?
I bought this really lovely top on sale at Anthropologie while visiting my sister-in-law in New York.
I am a sucker for an Asian inspired — especially Japanese — print. Florals are frequently conceived of as a nostalgic print, but for me it’s Japanese-inspired prints in particular that remind me of the textiles in my nisei grandfather’s home in Honolulu.
Of course, this top, with its loosely Japanese-ish motif, was made in India for a primarily U.S. consumer. On some level, I don’t think it pretends to be anything else. I don’t think that someone would ever mistake this top as being fashioned from vintage kimono fabric. Nor, in this age of globalized fashion, would someone presume that I am from Japan or have visited Japan based on my shirt. Asian-inspired prints have a comfortable niche presence in western fashion.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I want to limit my ruminations for the moment to a history of “exotic florals” with less than exotic origins. In early nineteenth century France, shawls were one of the fashion accessories that denoted a woman’s class and taste. Two kinds of shawls were very popular: embroidered “Canton shawls” and paisley “Kashmir shawls.” The social currency associated with these shawls came in part from their far-flung origins, not only because it cost more to bring them to Europe but because the “Orient” had a kind of mysterious allure in the western mind.
But here’s where it gets a little more complicated. Those Canton shawls? Sure, they were made in China but they were made specifically for European and American consumption. The embroidered designs are distinct from those on textiles made for Chinese consumers, and the motifs changed over time to accommodate shifting European tastes. And the paisley Kashmir shawls? As early as 1810 French manufacturers were developing a hearty industry of imitation Kashmir shawls. Somewhat ironically, the fashion periodical Journal des Dames et Modes actually chastised French manufacturers for their lack of inventive power in paisley shawl-making. This irked the leading shawl-makers, the Ternaux brothers, and they launched a government-backed initiative to produce original shawls inspired by Kashmiri designs but “more in conformity with French taste.” Wild, no?
And that, dear readers, is your history lesson for the day. Bring that up the next time conversation lags at a dinner party.