23 April 2010 – Faux Floral

April 23rd, 2010 § 16 comments

23 April 2010 – Faux Floral, originally uploaded by academichic.


  • Top: Anthropologie
  • Belt: Gap Outlet
  • Skirt: Banana Republic Factory
  • Jacket: Banana Republic Factory
  • Orange pumps: Dolce Vita
  • Silver bangles: ?

End Notes:

I bought this really lovely top on sale at Anthropologie while visiting my sister-in-law in New York.

Top Back, originally uploaded by academichic.

Top Detail, originally uploaded by academichic.

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.

23 April 2010 – Faux Floral, originally uploaded by academichic.

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§ 16 Responses to 23 April 2010 – Faux Floral"

  1. Nikki says:

    You are so stinkin cute! I love your outfits.

  2. ann says:

    Fascinating history! And not too surprising. It’s always been difficult for me to rationalize and explain Western appropriation of Asian-inspired designs and culture. Furthermore, as an Asian American, I’ve been trying to make sense of where I fit in the whole fashion discourse. What does it mean when I choose to wear Asian inspired designs (made specifically for Westerners) but not designs actually from Asia?

  3. Angeline says:

    Love it! And love the interesting history facts.

  4. Lauren says:

    Hm. Now to explain the dichotomy between florals that signal “I’m exotic, rich, fancy” and Laura Ashley-esque florals which whimper “I’m lame, my favorite show is Little House on the Prairie”…

  5. Rachel says:

    Statement necklaces are a great way to dress up a plain tee as well – the solid color serves as a perfect backdrop for the multiple colors, textures, and patterns in a statement necklace.

  6. GingerR says:

    My sister travels frequently in the third world and she says that one of the first things that groups hoping to promote the export of goods will do is help the native craftswomen re-jigger their crafts to appeal to western taste.

    It’s not a bad thing as then the women’s wares sell better — enhancing their lives as well as the lives of those who purchase them. But the savvy buyer should probably be aware their their “african” item isn’t likely to be totally authentic.

    I’m sympathetic to that cultural mutation if I think that it helped improve the life of a woman who worked on and sold the item.

  7. aj says:

    This post is exactly why I read academichic. I love both the style inspiration and the intellectual stimulation.

  8. I always love how you girls play with skirts, belts, and tops :)

  9. sabrina says:

    First of all, you look adorable as always.
    It’s interesting to hear your perspective on how you seek out fabrics that look Japanese or Asian. (The stuff about how “exotic” fabrics are manufactured with authenticity as artifice isn’t too surprising. It’s also important to note that there is probably few culturally “authentic” fabrics and designs, as many of the gorgeous prints that we associated as “indigenous” to various places were influence by elements of early fabric trade. see http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/). As an Asian American, I’ve had the opposite impulse. But I have mixed feelings about folks who wax on and on about the “beauty” of my parents’ homeland’s traditional dress. Yet at the same time, I am fascinated when I hear some of my friends say things like “One shouldn’t wear another culture’s clothes.” They came from a prespective of anti-orientalism. Yet I’ve worn traditional dress of other cultures in a number of settings, as well as contemporary clothes that inspired by traditional clothes. But of course, wearing a faux dirndl is very different than a sari, but isn’t the tunic and leggings combo similar to a modern interpretation of the salwar kameez?
    Culturalist claims are fascinating and always different to navigate, especially as they relate to claims of exoticism, authenticity and dress, and I certainly have no conclusions, except to add that I don’t mind dressing in an homage to Laura Ingalls Wilder (which as an American I think is part of my “culture).

  10. e. says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind words and thoughtful comments.

    I don’t have an eloquent justification for why I’m drawn to Asian-inspired prints and I did have at least one major intellectual meltdown where I wondered if, as a self-identified Asian American, I should be wearing or using such prints. I definitely think there’s a bit of romantic nostalgia involved, and a shrink might tell me that I’m manifesting my desire to be identified as Japanese American even though I am often assumed to be white.

    All that said, it’s nice to hear from others who think about the identity politics wrapped up in something as seemingly innocuous as an embroidered chrysanthemum.

  11. That’s a lovely top, and I love all your recent material culture history lessons! The more I learn about Orientalism, the more I realize it’s everywhere, including my own wardrobe. One of my classmates is really interested in paisley shawls too. In fact, he likes them so much, he’s currently altering an old skirt into a paisley vest for himself.

  12. V. says:

    Cute! I love it when you post about the history of clothing; I’m a historian myself, but this kind of thing is far beyond my realm.

    I also have a question for you, if you get a chance — the oral component of my comprehensives is just over a week away, and I have no idea what to wear! My campus is pretty casual, but I’d like to look a bit more polished than usual (where I feel completely comfortable teaching in jeans and a blazer). I realise this is a really vague question, but I’d love your input!

  13. Clare says:

    Wow. This is just stunning! The blouse is exquisite, and I love how you’ve paired it with that perfectly summery skirt. Just beautiful.

  14. rylee says:

    Love the orange flower-print; loved your commentaries on the histories of specifically-marketed textiles even more.

  15. Those Tricks says:

    The detail on that top is really wonderful.
    Looks great with the jacket on top, too.
    Lovely outfit!

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