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October 19, 2010

 

The Umayyad Mosque

Umayyad decoration, Umayyad decor, Umayyad Marble, Mamluk and Umayyad decor

What it took to decorate

 

 

 

I spent two hours at the mosque one afternoon and found myself a nice patch of mosaic marble tiles to sit on and watch all the people go by. Thirty five  students from Germany armed with sketch pads and charcoal had set up shop smack in the middle of the grand courtyard, oblivious to all the Damascene women and men  who were more interested in the drawings than their own grand Umayyad architecture. Damascus renaissance is in full swing, I couldn't be more happy for the city.

 

In the eighth century AD, Al Waleed made sure his mosque was just as elaborate as her Jerusalem Umayyad sister Al Aqsa mosque, Dome of the Rock, built by his father before him, Abid al Malik.

 

Al Waleed’s mosque became a Damascene prototype of royal religious architecture that would continue influencing all invading armies of Damascus, From Cordoba to Cairo and Isfahan, his esthetic and architecture transcended Judaism and Christianity merging them into his brand of a visual Islamic theme. Al Waleed was honest regarding his appetite for everything beautiful. From  choosing an existing site, to the decision of incorporating used doors, columns and windows, he was able to accomplish his vision of building a mosque that matched the splendor of the newest religion.

 

The Damascus Umayyad mosque served as a benchmark for all sultans to replicate for centuries to come. Al Waleed had a passion for building; monumental cathedral mosques of grand proportion immersed with visual Islamic architectural esthetic, the Al Waleed brand.

 

The Kubla was replaced after the mosques first big fire of 1069 under the orders of a visiting Seljuk vizier. The design would later be emulated back in Isfahan and beyond.

 

Three major fires afflicted the mosque, 1069, 1401, 1893, but until now she  stands stronger than even though some of her decorations have vanished.  Four hundred trunks of gold coins where pledged to Al Waleed by the residents of Damascus, each chest containing 28,000 Dinars, amounting to a two year income of the city.  Ten thousand slabs  of marble were used.

 

One eighth of the budget was  spent just on  a wide band of hand carved marble washed in pure gold that framed the interior of the Umayyad mosque. Known as the Karem motif, an interlocked vine motif with hanging grapes and pomegranates, it further enhanced the interior of the mosque when the warm Damascus sunlight streamed through the double hung stained glass windows. The Damascenes had perfected their recipes for making colored glass as early as recorded time so naturally all the art guilds rushed to offer their services and contribute their art. Centuries later Umayyad glass lamps traveled from the East to the West during the period known as the Luxury trade rout between  Damascus and Venice while Mamluk princes commissioned them by the dozen to affirm linage to that fabulous Umayyad era of Islamic visual art and splendor. .

 

Some Arab historians claim that the golden glow from the Karem decoration and the small glass mosaic tiles (Fusaifusaa)  depicting lush trees in every lavish shade of green set against tens of thousands of mysteriously glazed backdrop,  lighted up so wonderfully that they distracted the worshiper form praying to God.

 

The Arabs where adept at light manipulation and may have even introduced this concept to Christian architecture which supposedly spread by the Crusaders who copied this idea of manipulating light inside cathedral like mosques then churches after they held one of their first meetings of generals at Al Aqsa mosque, the Dome of the Rock in our enchanted Jerusalem.

 

As much as the Crusaders hated the Muslims they were in awe of the adorned religious architecture and having only considered architecture a European science, they were wowed by the abstract lines and geometric marble art with dreamy colored stones, pearls and gold that came at them from all angles. A novel idea which didn’t  focus only on magnificent tall ceilings or  the celebrated sculpted silhouettes of God, kings and queens. Paradise in the eyes of Islam is reflected in her rivers, trees and flowers.

 

Al Maqddasi wrote of the Damascus Umayyad…”The mosque has 72 stained glass windows and pillars, artisans were commissioned form India, Persia West Africa and Byzantium”. It was built with 18 shiploads of Cypriot gold and silver.

 

According to Ibn Fadlalah Al Omari who wrote in the early 1300, the Umayyads enlisted twelve thousand marble cutters and craftsmen to complete the job.

 

Ibn Jubayr in the 1100’s had described the cupola over the Mihrab-pulpit which to this day rises above old Damascus:  an eagle’s head with the Umayyads long halls like wings at each side.

 

Ibn Battuta who had traveled 175 thousand miles in the middle ages and devoted his life to his craft of travel and knowledge, wrote that he had never seen such a feat. His accounts added another thousand engineers to the list and further described the endless amount of marble and stone pillars. The Sumac- carnelian colored marble columns at the western wing of the mosque was carried from the Queen of Saabah-Sheba’s castle in today’s Yemen. He reported that the mosque had 70 Muezzins-callers to prayer.  They were fully employed by the mosques treasury, 600 permanent Koran readers who worked in shifts and never left the holy mosque. The Umayyad had thirteen Imams, who represented all sects and varieties of Muslims.

 

Later in the late 1300’s Ibn Hijjeh Al Hamwi, the 24 year old poet and historian  just twelve years before Tamerlane the Mongol king burned it down once again, put it this way:  In Damascene mythology and folklore the frightened Damascenes fed up with the power struggle and corruption of their spoiled Mamluk princes heard the Umayyad eagle clapping her wings when prince Al Zahhir Barkuk of the Burji Mamluks came to rescue the mosque form burning to a crisp during the long and painful struggle between the princes of the Bahri Mamluks, prince Muntash, regarding Damascus’s allegiance to her Cairo kings who relied on the city's wealth.

 

The mosque shared its site with the Aramaic temple of Hadad and later the Roman temple of Jupiter which became the Christian church of John the Baptist, so it was originally divided by the Muslims into two sections to honor and appease and the Damascus Christian majority.

 

Al Waleed first conquered Damascus from the eastern gate of the city and stopped in the center of the church grounds leaving the western end of the Church for it’s rightful inhabitants, the Christians. Later on, claiming that he needed more space, he tried to purchase it peacefully  with the idea of leaving Saint John’s tomb to them out of respect.  This offer was rejected by the Christians. The Muslims grew tired and in frustration or spite stormed the Christian portion tearing it down with their bare hands. Afterwards the Caliph saw to it that the Muslims paid the now evicted Christians compensation while the tomb of John was left untouched.

 

Fakhri Al Barudi, a Syrian gentleman and poet who lived during the great fire of 1893 points out in his memoirs how one night while at school in Maktab Anbar  he was awakened in the middle of the night by people shouting in Turkish --------- fire!  Yet another fire had spread to the mosque but the water wagons never reached it in time even though Al Waleed, back in the eighth century, equipped the mosque with her own water supply tanks and reservoirs.

 

Barudi recalls how as a small kid in school he and his buddies used to go hunting for the small gold glazed glass mosaic pieces “Fusaifusaa” buried in the Umayyad rubble. He went into detail of how the young unemployed good for nothing gangsters with trouble on their minds waited around for the fire bell to sound inside the old city and with the pretext of pushing the fire wagon they were led to the homes where they could loot to their hearts content. Damascus to this date has a poor idea of how to rescue the old city from fires and because of that no one will insure  Beit al Kamar or any renovated courtyard home in Kaimarieh against it.

 

As a young child my father always said to us “Now remember kids, your great grandfather, Sheik Ahmed Al Dalati pledged wood form his farms in the Ghouta to rebuild the roof of the Umayyad when it burned down, did you know that? We helped re build it”. This was repeated over and over to me and I always assumed that it was one of my father’s “big fish” stories but as it turns out Fakhri Al Barudi who is my relative and married to my paternal aunt actually confirmed it in his diaries, imagine that.

 

Umayyad minarets

Four defense towers were built at each corner of the original site, but only the two southern ones remained when Al Waleed began his grand project. These towers were used as foundations to build the eastern and western minarets. Later on a third square tower shaped minaret known as the Aruss Minaret (the Bride) was built near the northern gate facing Kasuin mountain. The  bottom section of this particular minaret is Roman and the middle Ayyubid.

 

The western minaret is the most documented with its stone carvings and inscriptions that record its restorations in1488 and after Tamerlane burned Damascus in 1400. Some legends say that Damascus was scorched so badly that only 50 thousand inhabitants survived the Mongol massacres while others talk of how Damascus staged her final weak comeback only 12 years later. Tamerlane on the other hand died of heart break, poor thing, after he found out that his favorite wife of three had a fling with one of his top generals. At least this is how Johann Schilteberger a captured German teen slave and a long way form Munich, was forced into the Mongol  army wrote about it in his memoirs

 

The eastern minaret, (Minaret of Jesus) is my favorite. It also represents a bouquet of different architectural styles that correspond to changing political environments. It has a Mamluk lower part and an Ottoman upper half as it was renovated after the earthquake of 1759. Today the Issa  (Arabic for Jesus) minaret is lit up at night with large spot lights and if you go to Leila’s restaurant just before the sunset prayer and stay through the evening prayer you are sure to love it. The choirs of hymn singers can be heard all over the city and is also televised to many countries in the Middle East every evening during Ramadan.

 

The first time I visited the Umayyad mosque was at the age of fourteen for Lailat al Kader, the holy night during Ramadan, I spent the entire night there traditionally covered from head to toe with a light white cotton prayer dress. Muna Imady my childhood friend had agreed to witness this night with me. Half way through the night a pigeon pooped on my head and although I was so disgusted everyone around me had insured me good luck in my future as this was a sign from God that everyone welcomed! Sure enough thirty years later I sit inside my own Damascus courtyard and thank the goddess that my dreams came true.

 

 

 

Copyright Aida Dalati 2010.

 

 

 

 

 June 7th 2010

Inside Zahiriyah library, Baybars’s Library 1260-2010 AD

Renovation of Mamluk Sultan Baybars Mausoleum-Library.

After completing the third draft of my book on the subject of restoration of Beit Al Kamar in my home town, Damascus, I spent the last eight months tracking down which buildings I wanted to visit when I finally got back this summer. I decided to read for myself in Arabic some of the accounts of Ibn Asakir who was appointed by one of the princes of Sheizar who then dispatched him to Damascus.

Ibn Asakir spent roughly eight years during the mid 1200s documenting for his uncle many of his observations on the daily occurrences in Damascus compiled into 70-100 binders. While the original manuscripts are said to have been moved out of Al Zahiriyah and into the newer Assad library across town, copies of the hand writings are still lent out today in the al Zahiriyah inside the Roman wall of Damascus.

New and improved Zahiriyah Gold leaf logo

To my surprise the library is under a massive renovation and in the final stages of completion where all the books have been carted out by hand to the Madrasa Al Malik al Addel (a cousin or brother?) of the Mamluk king, Baybars, only three meters distant across the alleyway.  I was disappointed and shocked to find the library empty but the doorman  was pleasant and permitted me to come into the courtyard. I just wanted to stand still inside a Mamluk building and feel how the Damascenes some eight hundred years ago felt and what the area looked like to all of us who came after. It’s a feeling that I can’t  describe. At first I was in awe then I felt teary and finally exhausted.

A Syrian native myself, I suddenly felt like one of those pilgrims who finally reached their shrine. With San Francisco so far away and I only having five weeks to revisit all these special places I became overwhelmed with sadness and happiness all at the same time.  Why didn’t anyone tell me about this old library before?

 

Gold leaf roll threaded through hand made machine in preparation for decorating and writing the title of each book spine.

Taking in the slim smooth columns which held up the tiled overhang protecting me from the bright sun, I turned to my right and spotted glittering gold colored mosaics through a pair of tall wooden doors. Promising the caretaker not to take any pictures of the renovation in progress “up close” that is, I climbed up into the most elaborate room I have yet to see in Damascus.

Two walls dripping with at least twelve decoration themes had just been completely restored by a team of young restoration experts. One of the boarders is a gold wash on the so famously debated and studied “karem” marble carving greeted me. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had come back to Damascus explicitly to see this marvel and there it was in front of me. I must be just too lucky because this was just my third day back.

The Umayyad Mosque, one of the wonders of the world and built in the year 715 AD, is said to be the official and original royal reference of Islamic architecture that was sought after, studied and replicated throughout the Islamic world.

Umayyad decoration of this exact Karem motif is based on the accounts of the first Caliph Khalid, said to have cost roughly one eighth of Damascus treasury collected over two full years. This Karem decoration once flanking the walls of the great mosque, is  a wide horizontal band of gold plated stone carved vine motif in a twisted circular design depicting fruits of paradise, pomegranates and grapes. Unfortunately this exact design had disappeared from the Umayyad mosque after a series of fires set by invading powers that started with the Abbasids and indeed with Tamerlane. Of course there were also the natural disasters such an earthquake here and there.

The Mamluk princes who preferred Damascus to their humid Cairo headquarters spent a lot of time in my Beit al Kamar neighborhoods under the pretexts of observing the last of the crusaders, the mounting threat form the Mongol warriors like Hulako and later Tamerlane and lastly the rise of Turkish Ottoman power and influence. Many of the princes had Turkish sounding names and therefore were sweet on their original motherland. The Cairo Mamluks trusted no one and recalled their princes back home to Egypt from time just to make sure everyone was on the same page!

For many ruling men, seeking royal Islamic dynasty status was one of the delightful aspects of the Mamluk era.  Two of these princes who had spent time and money restoring the Umayyad Mosque during their famous eighty year golden era renamed the Qalawun period. This is where this Mausoleum/library comes into my story. First they tackled the great mosque and then the Baybars Mausoleum etc etc. The act of mirroring the splendor of the Umayyad Islamic lineage enabled Mamluk legitimacy and insured them a royal legacy. It is reported that Mamluks crests or coats of arms decorated hundreds of buildings and stone arches here in Damascus, insuring the princes an everlasting place in history.

Al Adliieh Mamluk building across from Baybars Mausoleum with graves placed in the center.

So where are the books then? I wanted to know. Crossing the alley following the library caretaker’s instructions, I pass through another iron gate followed by a pink stone entry way and through  three meter tall doors heavily decorated with Mamluk carved naves and stone carved Arabic calligraphy. Inside is a large courtyard with a big, dry as a bone fountain in the very center. Placed under one of the trees in the far back sits a young woman with a narrow table the size of an ironing board piled with small pamphlets and books. She is surrounded by piles and piles more stacked in small towers.  She is armed with a ledger and clip board. 

Along one side on a terrace three steps up from the courtyard and sheltered from the sun is where the  library card drawers and hollow cabinets stood ignored or abandoned. What could they be doing with this red two and half foot long paper cutter I wondered. To me it looked like a guillotine but I was sure it was not. Turning to see what was behind me, I could see a truckload of books with identical cotton cloth like white covers sitting in the sun.

A young man came out and we smiled at one another; finally someone I could talk to. I am dying to know what they are up to and because I am a woman and alone, it was easier for me to gain information.  

The man explains that he is one of the team who are in the process of book binding and  takes me inside one of the branches of the old Madrasa to show me how they are  re-covering each of the 35000 books in a black vinyl cover after reinforcing the spines with a rectangular piece of heavy cardboard. The books that are bundled by theme are then rebound by size. Black cowhides are then rolled out and a leathered spine jacket is carefully cut to measure for each book. For that the bright red guillotine is needed.

Afterwards they are gold leafed by one technician who has named his manual machine “ my cockpit”, a contraption with six or seven manual levers/presses all set up in a row with an endless supply of gold leaf paper that is rolled out for each spin. Al Maktab al Zahiriyah has just completed an elaborate Arabic calligraphy logo which is pressed into the cover of each book to distinguish its collection from any other in town.

The team was more than nice and offered to make a book just for me, minus of course the logo. I said that was generous of them but for mine I would love to have the Zahiriyah logo added. They replied that was not possible. Alas, somewhere in Damascus tight rules were imposed. The young men said that it was for my protection as the gold embossed logo indicated to the library whether or not I had stolen the book.  They asked me to return late in the afternoon with a blank notebook, or better yet my manuscript, and only then they could see to it that the calligrapher could bind my papers and write out my name and title on the spine. Only in Damascus could such generosity be offered and promising my new friends that I will return I bid them good bye.

The leader of the group then introduced me to the head librarian who was smoking a cigarette and chatting it up with two fellow employees. A new shift of volunteers and university students had begun to arrive and a large ledger was there for everyone to sign in. The library books where in the process of being catalogued and recorded into a computer system for the first time.

Once the librarian understood that I was serious and knew one or two things about history he reached for a set of keys and asked me to follow him. Through rows and rows of shelves we reached another wing of the Al Adeliah compound. The temperature got cooler as the thick walls muffled all sounds coming from the courtyard. You couldn’t imagine how special this was to me; here I was walking the halls of Ibn Khaldun’s study, the very place the Tunisian historian negotiated his own safety from Tamerlane at the siege of Damascus in 1400AD. Who would have thought. Sasra had written extensively about Ibn Khaldun’s last day in his study and I had notes to prove it. Now all the pieces were coming together for me.

The librarian walks me even deeper into the hallway then stops to unlock a door. Lo and behold, he presents me with all the Ibn Asakir manuscripts in broad daylight. I ask permission to look at one or two. They are the original copies and it would be an honor to just be in the same room with them. He said yes and I began to look more closely to what seemed to be about eighty volumes. Ibn Touloun al Salihee’s manuscripts were lined up as well. He was one of the last Damascene documenters before the Ottomans weakened greater Syria. This was like disappearing inside of time. Up until now I had to be satisfied with snippets here and there or cold edited versions presented by unromantic Arab and foreign scholars.  Dr. Ibesch of course was the exception.

Ibn Asakir's writings locked up deep inside al Adeliah awaiting their return to Al Zahiriyyah three meters away.

Unfortunately for me I couldn’t make out the writing as not one I was dotted and not one T was crossed. Old and Classical Arabic is what we speak and write in Damascus but without the punctuation it was too difficult for me. I do have a Damascus Arabic literature Baccalaureate but they didn’t teach me how to read like this.

Where is a hip scholar when you need one?! UC Berkeley Help….

 

Copyright Aida Dalati 2010

 

 

Damascus Drama

By Aida Dalati

February 19th 2007

 

F

inishing the renovation of the old Damascus house is more work than having a baby. At least when you are pregnant, the project goes along wherever your body takes it and you have some peace of mind feeling the progress at every moment of the day.

Organizing teams of men isn’t at all like that. Inspiring them is very creative work. I have tried the sincere thank you route and then I moved on to the chocolate and juice at 2 pm to boost their energy approach. And last but not least contests; we as a team of twenty men and one woman have competed for meat pies and even chocolate cake and still….. the house is not finished. No one here is really in a hurry and unlike the folks I am used to dealing with, working for extra money or for less, has no effect in this case.

 

I

 am not saying that Capitalism is dead in Damascus, on the contrary it is very alive but with a twist.  There is a sweet and touching approach to doing business here. You must never waltz in and start talking about work, it is just not done! You can say hello and ask how the family is, talk about the season or politics in general and sometimes not get to the real subject for thirty minutes. If you try to cut to the chase you can do one of two things, proceed with the bad news and accept tea at the same time therefore you are no longer perceived as the aggressor but a guest, or explain that you are form a fast culture and that you do not wish to be rude but time is awaiting!! . What is a girl to do?!!!

 

I have even applied my pre school education background to overcome these transition issues, even Ericsson the great child psychologist would have approved! but still no finished house. I have now resorted to the black book with one hundred issues to be done or solved. Each team gets sub lists that are copied at Anna Maria’s house (my mother in-law) and then distributed out twice a week and she, by the way, thinks the approach could work. Anna Maria was a kindergarten teacher in Denmark. 

I keep saying to myself, I am a clever person and can overcome the culture. Our friend Maher said they are counting on me folding. He once said to me when I had a melt down, don’t let them see you like this Aida, they are trying to shake you down., Damascenes go much further with polite conversation, most of my crew now expect the lists and get it done double as fast like our Plaster prince Abu Ahmad and two brothers. Others use them as Tea saucers for the ever not ending sweet tea breaks they take. So I went out and bought three red canisters and a red dish drainer and asked them to include me in all the tea breaks so I do not feel left out, now we are all in agreement.

 

This is the first time in twenty five years I have the privilege of staying in the Middle East more than a month and I am enjoying most every minute of it.

 

 

 

WWW.AIDADALATI.COM       Aidadalati@yahoo.com

Aida Dalati Atelier is a studio devoted to hand made clothing and textiles.

 

 Copyright Aida Dalati 2007

 

Ready to Wear Chronicles

January 5th 2007

New Year Resolutions

Arabic Calligraphy and How I started

By Aida Dalati

 

I

 for one do not have any New Year resolutions and have never had one that worked. I think life is too interesting, I feel common sense drives life with the occasional interruptions of rotten dictators or lunatic elected officials but for the most part that is where your common sense really comes in, You know the world is not perfect so do the best you can do: Do good in your corner of your town and live as happily ever after as you legally can. If you are in dire need of a New Year’s resolutions consider www.gocarbonzero.com  this is my friend Nicole’s resolution to do better this year for the environment, you all know her she is the one who founded Paint the lily purses. Nicole wants to make the world better by making up for the carbon dioxide your family and hers puts out on an every day basis. Calculate it and replace it by planting more trees. Help the world cool down.

  I am busy painting Arabic calligraphy again but this time on magenta or olive stained wood. After being tortured in Syrian schools with the French methods of cruel schooling and far away from the grueling Arabic literature classes we had to memorize by heart, I have finally found my favorite Arabic poet; Abu Nuwas). He loved wine more than religion, men more than women and clever witty poems more than intellectual poems that showed his mighty command of the Arabic language. That was good enough  for me so I have started painting the poems. In general he lived a short life and died in his late 50s around 900 AD, Islam was about 200 years old. His father was a Damascene and unlike his contemporaries he loathed fake lamenting and embraced life and all the truth it held dear.

  I built my company of fashion by hand painting Calligraphy on my designs in 1990.  I showed in San Francisco back when we had a fashion building near the Design Center. My gross sales then were $5000 per season of wholesale and very manageable.  Eventually I took my clothing collections to Chicago and ended up showing only in New York with a showroom in Los Angeles. Calligraphy at first insured that I stood out and the great thing about it was that no one else was doing it. Eventually I was selling half a million dollars of clothing.  I could not keep up the calligraphy any more. I quit painting in my Berkeley studio after I completing about 200 pieces in one month. My wrists simply gave up and so did my back from standing. I had a table that was 27 feet long and 6 feet wide built for me by my cutters. Shauna my assistant would lay out the finished and pressed dresses and skirts and then I would go around the table and paint poetry on them. I would do stretches sip peppermint tea with my assistant. Check the paint to see if it dried and then the clothing would be flipped over and I would paint all the backs walking around the table.

   For the Menlo studio I have selected lines of poetry where Abu Nuwas praised wine and the great illusions it afforded his imagination.  For example he describes the effect of wine while mounting his horse, or is he just describing the evening as it unfolds after a long and thirsty wait.  Just what is he really describing ?

   Nights I ride on amber like dead           and return  back on a white brilliant

 

A

rabic poetry has seven seas or ( Seven Meters) seven poetic meters. That means for every half line in rhythm a second wave ( rhythm ) must answer it and complete the full wave. It is absolutely amazing.  Another line talks about Kisra the Persian kings who ruled the region before the Muslim invasions or what is called in Arabic Muslim Liberations. He pokes fun at one of the retreating king and remarks

Kisra’s lute (fertile lands of wine and honey) are for the children of Arab tribes -and the noble tribes of the fair. (The Romans)

Some lines of his poetry describe the horses as seen through eyes drowning in wine and he sees the horse blinders made of the essence of amber and Jasmine. Others he confesses his passion acknowledges his love to wine and says blending life with wine.

 And I shed the clothing of virtue      and battled seas of vice (wine)

I

 know you are waiting for a verdict on the store static ( Will I close in July 2007 or expand) and to be honest , I am too. I returned in October thinking it is time to move on to the new B&B project in Damascus  but between  you and me it will take some time to get the 17th century house renovated and up and running, we are so close but no cigar. I have been back in California for three months now and our carpenter/ builder has suddenly become the toast of Damascus and is no where to be found when it comes to our house.

O

ur builder has now taken on at least 4 more houses and talks of a grand project he is getting, he may be commissioned to re-do the old cobblestone streets in all the old neighborhood of Damascus. Think of it as after re-paving Jerusalem we get his attention. We’ve decided the best thing to do is for me to go to Damascus to gather the flock of workers back into the project and apply Gorilla management tactics. The problem with the builder is that he can not multi task and has never heard of such a phenomenon. Wood necklaces (one foot deep beveled wood frames and base boards) that have to be custom made to over look the courtyard must be installed onto two levels of verandas while the know it all young painter attends to the painting of the interior walls, he in turn can not imagine I know anything about color and is used to working with Syrians who are absolutely frightened at the mystery of house paint.

  Katie our wizard will run the Studio and see to your needs while I am over seas and do not forget our spring hours are back. We will be open Tuesday through Saturday 11 am to 5:30 Pm and by appointment;

January agenda:

  Start the year thinking that you are going to do and finish something hand made and fun.  Always have at least 2-3 art projects going on at the same time. It worked for the master painters, so why can’t it work for you. Our job is to simplify your project for you, so bring it in and ask me or Katie or any other studio member what you need help with and presto! Fashion and sewing are like oxygen for me, it is as simple as breathing.

 

 Remember also to take advantage of our 40% sale on the sewing paraphernalia and Italian buttons, who knows, they may all disappear and you never came to see if you need any of them, or just come in for the sale on the jackets in the back room. All my jackets and accessories need good homes.                                       

Inspiration classes will have to move along until I get back, Sorry Betty and Candice.

Thank you for a wonderful year. Everything went smooth accept for the meter maids who have gone completely  crazy giving out tickets for cars parked a little too much to the right or a little too much to the left. I did visit the chamber of commerce and I did complain and Ms Fran at the chamber promised and delivered on the extended hours of parking, she also followed up and talked to the police chief. I am doing my best to combat the parking ticket plague descending on Menlo Park. Some one out there could do a reality show just on the parking lots of Menlo.

   

WWW.AIDADALATI.COM       Aidadalati@yahoo.com

Aida Dalati Atelier is a studio devoted to hand made clothing and textiles.

640 Menlo Avenue #3 Menlo Park, California 94025. 

Studio Phone 650-838-0003

 

 

 Copyright Aida Dalati 2006

 

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

November Issue 2006

Back From Damascus

Taking Time Out for the First Time in 16 Years

Every time I go back to the Middle East, I promise myself that it will be the last time I have to shuttle back and forth . I like California, but I love Damascus. (I cannot tell you how much!) Having spent all of my childhood there, I realize that after 25 years it really is time to go home.

I really am a city girl at heart, not into the suburban lifestyle. I like the hustle and bustle of millions of women, men, and children going of to work or school every morning. I love walking through the streets when the store owners are opening up and placing their products out to catch the eye of the passers by. I love smelling eggplants and tomatoes and wondering what to make with them because they are in season. This is the Damascus I know and want to share. All six thousand years of her.

Maybe it is the location of the old Damascus house we are restoring. It is nestled between the Great Umayyad Mosque and three Churches, making it a perfect and flexible place to live. If you want a drink, you simply walk to your right when you come out of our little corridor alleyway— down a little road to Bab Tuma or Bab Sharki, (the Christian Quarter, or Eastern Gate of Damascus). .

If you want to go for a self-searching walk you turn to your left instead. This journey takes you down the cobblestone street decorated with flying kilims , carpets and folklore dresses set against the laughter of children sent to buy bread from the three tiny bakeries on our street.  Follow the cobblestone road through the Ancient Roman Jupiter columns and ruins into the high walls of the Umayyad Mosque. There are doors (five meters high) that spill into the public courtyards, the sun casting a pure gold shine on the marble floors from the beautiful mosaic archways.  Hungry?  you stop off at Leila’s, a cozy and tasty restaurant, if you climb the narrow stairs in this house-turned-restaurant and continue to the third floor, you can sit and listen to the calls of prayers from the Christ Minaret just eight feet away from you. Thirsty?  Gets a glass of tea at the Nofarah Tea House facing the southern door of the Umayyad Mosque.  Nofarah is a perfect resting place and for a dollar you can mingle with tourists from all over the world or eccentric Orientalists dressed like Laurence of Arabia.

I have been watching Rick Steve on public television and really feel encouraged and inspired to start a small Bed & Breakfast in Damascus. We may just live in the house at first (that way I will have time to decorate it!) and create the cozy B&B I would want to come home to. We have added two more bathrooms to the house, so I suppose we are moving in the right direction for my new project!

 I emailed the CIA in Napa Valley for hospitality classes that I will need, and they have not left me alone since. I can not imagine myself soliciting my clients at home and on the cell phone every other day and am therefore starting not to like this Culinary Institute of America! Syrians are very friendly and are hospitable by nature. Thank God because they are also totally disorganized and inconsistent. I hope that a Californian approach to customer service and my crazy newfound energy will aid me in this venture!

I have decided not to renew the lease on my Menlo Park Atelier. I will start a pre- Christmas shopping sale on November first and continue until everything is cleared out . The store is fully stocked for the Christmas season and I have brought back fun linens and wreathes to deck the halls with!  My embroidery person in Damascus wanted to know what he should call the circle things I was having him make. I explained that they should be called cakes with a hole inside and we carried on.  I went by car to Beirut and helped my daughter set up her apartment there.  We went linen shopping. I have decided that Beirut is short on fun things for setting up a flat. Beiruties need the unconventional fun or just plain crazy home décor tapestries and textiles that come so easy to me. Perhaps I will continue the atelier in Damascus or Beirut as it is bursting with life and the ideal atmosphere for artists. Look up/ google alternative fashion boutiques like Villa Moda (Kuwait, old Damascus).

Old Damascus, like Jerusalem, used to be divided loosely into religious neighborhoods. Damascus has (parts remain) a massive surrounding wall with seven gates. Some Damascenes write that the gates closed at sunset and did not open up until the next morning. Old Damascus has three quarters— the Christians, the Muslims, and the Jews. I can remember shopping in the Jewish quarter of Damascus,  Ameen street, all throughout my teenage years. It was where a lot of fine brass art and juicy antiques could be found such as wall clocks, pocket watches and Baroque candy dishes.  All you needed to do was dust everything off to see its markings to insure that it really was authentic.

On this last trip, I went back to one of our old time merchants, Sultan. He remembers everything about my American mother who used to take us to see him when we were children. I only started working with him around the age of 27 but he remembers all my family and inquired about each and every one. Around 1987 I went back and Um Khaleil (my father’s farm foreman, also a woman and mother of eight!)  took me to one of her Jewish friends so that I could buy a hand etched brass tray (the one on display in our store in Menlo Park). It was a Saturday and the day of rest and so I visited their family in an Arabic house with a simple courtyard.  I remember being served peeled and sliced cucumbers with white Syrian cheese. I wonder what has happened to that family today. Syria permitted the Jews to leave during an amnesty period years ago and a group of New Yorkers sponsored one way tickets for the families out of Syria.  Some regretted leaving as they had thriving antique businesses in Damascus but left any way.  Others, I am told, never returned because they married their daughters abroad and decided to stick to the plan. Today the majority of the 3000 Syrian Jews have left the country, and only about 50 Syrians decided to stay. Most of Syria’s fine brass work left with them but Damascus brass is still recovering.

Happy Holidays to all of my great talented clients and friends.               

Aida Dalati

 Recommended Readings:

Syria, A Historical Appreciation, Robin Fedden.

Adventures In Arabia, William B. Seabrook

Monuments of Syria, Ross Burns. 

We used this book when we got tired of the Damascus hustle and bustle and risked our necks on the Aleppo fwy. An experience in itself. We drove 3 hours to Latakia and then to Rass Al Baseet to see the Mediterranean coast and eat fresh fish. Will post this trip on the blog.

 

Aida Dalati Atelier

www.aidadalati.com            

 

 

 Copyright Aida Dalati 2006

 

 

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

October  2006 issue

By Aida Dalati

                                                                                                                               

November Pre-Christmas Sale and Clearance

 Damascus is a folklorist and hand-made junkie’s dream, and this is  were I truly belong!

Work dress code in Damascus, Maybe they should get one!

 I

 recently came back from Damascus with the flu. It did not help that on the flight from Damascus to Amsterdam I woke up and smelled cigarette smoke. I told my self  ‘now Aida stay calm and investigate first’. Everyone else in the plane was asleep. The smell got worse and worse and I decided I had to check it out. I pretended to be an innocent American and waited to see what would happen. The man in front of me next to the window was jerking around and was acting like he had ants in his pants. So I started watching him out of the side of my eyeglasses. Perfect for a spy. I wonder if Prada knew how handy her eyewear is at times like these. Gihad, my husband, woke up and agreed that he too smelled smoke. I whispered to him that we have a potential highjack person and I was going to be the first to know. Gihad thought I was a little off. Then the passenger, in a thick French/Spanish accent asked for his third beer. I kept watching him and I finally got up. He was exhaling his cigarette smoke into the can of beer. Where did he get that idea from, I wondered! I could see a red glow around the Heineken can and therefore had the proof to report him. The crew was oblivious to the whole thing so I went to the back of the plane to report him. The KLM crew walked over to him and of course he denied everything. I hid in the bathroom. When I cam back to my chair one woman attendant grabbed his beer can, smelled it and gave him a nasty warning. Lucky for him!

W

e had spent six weeks in Damascus, concentrating on rescuing the renovation process and interior design of our old Damascus house, once and for all. As usual, I rushed around too much. I did a crash visit to Beirut to set up my daughter Jasmine in her new apartment four days before we left. Now I think I can relax.

 Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy (of all people!)  have come to Syria to spread their philosophy. I don’t think they will do well because Mango, Zara and Morgan have already opened shop there and they are more fashion forward to the Middle Eastern fashion taste. Europe is more up to date in the casual fashion realm than America. However, there is never any harm in trying and perhaps this new market will do the drab Gap some good. It would be a lot of fun to start designing in Syria and flying to Dubai for the fashion markets there. I need a change and that is one of the new ideas on my list.

 The good thing about American fashion is that comfort and career wardrobes are taken into consideration in the design process here. In Syria, for example, the biggest complaint was that all the clothing imported from Turkey, Italy, France as well as locally designed, targeted the after work and party clothing wardrobe only. My cousins who work for Byblos Bank or in the field as electrical engineers monitoring cell phone towers etc… complained that clothing in Syria did not take the career woman into consideration at all.

When the local stores tried to make office apparel, it was too pastel for a city full of pollution, public transportation, and too constructed with seams and darts going in all directions. The suits where too masculine as the Syrian working woman skipped the power suit decade and dress codes that American woman just threw out ten years ago. Sometimes it is advantageous to be in the third economic world, because you watch your sisters abroad and learn from their mistakes and try to avoid the same puddle holes. Syrian women, for instance, are aware that they do not have to dress like a man to be taken seriously.

Another woman I met in the family said that she has to look everywhere to find smart and serious clothing. As a chemical engineer, she felt that the Syrian merchant is still working from the past and (he!) has not caught up with the economic realities of the times. Many women do or want to work, and the stores are still flustered over what a dress code for work looks like today.

 I went to pick up my Syrian ID card.  At this particular office the women wore either traditional Islamic head scarves with a serious overcoat with no pattern and all in shades of gray and blue. The other half ran around in tight jeans, slipper like shoes, and tight tops with ruffles and sequence. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Such a big contrast, I did not know who belonged behind the desk and who the customer was. This is the case for most governmental offices because no one has trained the state employees the corporate ways of the world. Syriatell, a private cell phone company, had it all together as did some private banks. In some way it was refreshing to see casual “fun clothing” in the middle of a rush work day, but somehow not professional.

Weddings are still going strong in Syria like everywhere else in the world, but an alternative goal is something all modern women want and like. After all we can do more than two things at a time, why is the world not listening.

T

he house looks like a Syrian / California house, with yellow hues running through it. We are thinking of turning it into a Bed and Breakfast Hotel, meaning many tiled bathrooms everywhere! The kitchen floors are yellow Travertine marble and there is stone arch shelving to hold the hand-painted Ishani plates and hand blown glasses from the local glass factory.

 Damascus is a hand made junkie and folklorist’s dream, and this is were I truly belong. The Ishani porcelain is made very thin (depending on what artist created it you get different thicknesses and hardness). I was promised that if I order dinner wear it will only break on the fourth drop??!!! I will take the chance. It is too beautiful to pass up.

 

 Happy Holidays,

Aida Dalati

 Copyright Aida Dalati 2006

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

By Aida Dalati

August 1 2006    Issue #11

 

Fashion trends for America,   War, more and more war.

Because that is how Bush wants to spread democracy.

 Washington’s Cowboy and Indians policies around the world.

 Color of the season, Red                   

Fragrance of the season, smoke and fire

Style must have, aggression

 I am 45 years old and still re living over and over memories of war, destruction and disbelief.  Some say Israel’s war machine feeds on aggression and if she became human and peaceful she would be ignored, congress would forget about her and stop the aid we the tax payers give to her every year. Too bad our teachers can not  get their hands on a few billion and educate our kids here in American, after all isn’t that the reason we pay taxes here. What has Israel done for the US lately?

 1967 war, Beirut

When I was about 5 years old, Syria and the new Israel were at war, Damascus was bombed, my mother, an American, fled to Lebanon for safety with her three small children. We did not see our father for about three months and my mother slept with a hammer and screw driver under her pillow to protect us from any Israeli midnight visits.  My mother told me later that the American embassy evacuated all of it’s staff early on and  mailed a letter to her informing her to bring money to pay for her family’s evacuation and to meet at a specific location in Damascus, the letter arrived two weeks after the brave embassy staff left. The Danish evacuated all its citizens at its own expense immediately. Needless to say we survived. We had to have black outs in Beirut to avoid Israel targeting our buildings. My mom covered the bathroom window with my brother’s baby blanket so that we could see our way around the house at night. Mom made us playing cards our of wrapping paper and I had the task of making a scrap book to keep me busy, we did not have glue and my mother had me use strawberry jam!? Hey mom jam dose not dry!!!. We spent our time watching (Lost is Space) and I wanted to live with that family in the television, not in Beirut with all the noise and jet plains flying over my head. My mother is a brave woman.

 1973 war, Damascus

At the age of 12 and on my mother’s 33rd birthday, October 6th, America and Israel sent her a gift of 60 American fighter jets and bombed a Damascus residential neighborhood just 5 blocks away from us; we ran up and down the apartment building seven times before the air raids finally took a rest. My mother’s Welsh friend, Maier, had gone to her home to get some clothing and was buried in the rubble of a seven floor cement building with her three children and husband.  Our sweet Syrian neighbor Aunt Sahar who lived on the roof top of our building insisted on making a birthday dinner- I cannot remember if we ever did celebrate it. My father never came home until midnight because some other friends went missing too. My dad spent the day driving from one hospital to another looking for them, later on I found out that he had the children of our friends with him in the car. He even checked the morgues. The next day rescue bulldozers stopped their engines and someone heard a cry they were still buried and you could hear their voices calling for help. Up until that time I did not mind the war because we did not have to go to school. After the bombings I was terrified. Every day during Ramadan we would watch from our balcony the Israeli planes come in to Damascus and drop bombs and then one or two would be hit by Syrian anti air craft and a parachute with the poor Israeli pilot would eject and glide down into Damascus. I did not feel bad for the pilots any more.

 1980 Beirut

Now I am 18 and I insist on going for an American education in Beirut. I am in love with a Danish Syria engineer student and he is studying there. I make it into the University and travel back and forth from Damascus to Lebanon through a bouquet of check points. Some are Lebanese but most Syrian. During my 3rd semester in Beirut December 22 at 4:30 to be exact and wearing a yellow cardigan Gihad  and I took a taxi to south Beirut and a jolly Sheik was waiting for us in a tall building with his family to marry us. The Sheik asked us to hold hands and placed a white cloth over them and read some Koran and then he smiled and declared us married. He even provided witnesses, his smiley wife rushed in with coffee to celebrate. We paid for the license by selling my gold bracelets I bought with money I made during a summer job in Damascus.  I had to produce my American passport with a paper from the American embassy in Beirut and declare I am single and we got it done. A few months later we re married again in Damascus but our Lebanese marriage license is still our official document. We leave Beirut and regrettably go to Southern California. What a cultural shock. With all the distraction and unsettledness in Lebanon I still would have stayed and will always go back. When you come from a world 6000 years old it is not easy to substitute the culture and the poise of its countrymen and woman. Looking back now, Italy today would have been a good compromise it has the best of the east and the west.

 1982 war Lebanon

I guess my husband and I left Beirut in the nick of time as Lebanon was attacked and bombed by American ships from the Mediterranean and Israelis parachuted down from the coast and occupied Beirut, the beautiful city by the sea.  Some people wonder why the US Marines were killed in Beirut, It is so simple, you can not bomb and kill a people and then come in and think you are welcome. Just look at poor Iraq.  Sunday morning talk shows in the US must start thinking past war world two romantic rescue stories, of American success rescue stories and deal with the reality of today. We Americans were so much more popular then because we were more honest.

 2006 war, Lebanon and Palestine

Jasmine my daughter lives and studies in Beirut, lucky for her and her family, she left the week before the war started. Unlucky were her aunts, uncle, cousins and the 1000 dead civilians. Our family, a party of six ranging from 49 to 3 years of age fled from Beirut to the Cedar Mountains in the North of Lebanon. Five days into the war they heard that this area too was going to be bombed by Israeli American planes, so they packed and fled again, after repeated phone calls from Beirut, California and Damascus to the Danish government, a secure path for an evacuation matured and they were called up, a few days later they received instructions and left by ship for Cypress and eventually to Copenhagen leaving behind everything and every one. My sisters in law are twins and this is the second time they are evacuated form Lebanon because of Israeli bombs, first time at the age of 6 months and the second time now at the age of 38. Death by war is an experience that can not be explained unless you have been directly in it. Each family in Lebanon could only bring one back pack for emergency supplies.  Today they are refugees with only the clothes they are wearing. In America we flip if our fender is bent in a parking lot, I see it every day in front of my store in Menlo Park but at the same time we can not understand why families across the world are so angry about their lives being interrupted by bombs and aggression, how would we like it if our children could not go to school next semester?? because the schools are full of refugees from cities and towns around us. I can not live with this double standard any more.

 Without getting in to the politics of the war I suggest the following art as a cry for some understanding.

 The Syrian Bride. A film by Eran Riklis

A story of a Druz Syrian girl from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is betrothed to a Syrian TV star in Damascus. Her journey and all the drama her family will go through to see that she gets married. Block buster and Netfilx

 Mazen Kerbaj blogs , Music and cartoons.        http://mazenkerblog.blogspot.com/

Hell, even NPR played this artists work on the radio. Check it out

Mazen is a Lebanese artist based in Paris but is stuck in a building in Beirut right now. He draws a cartoon every day or makes music using the sound of the bombs falling on his city with the aid of his saxophone. He then uploads them to his blog every night/day and or website.

 Kevin Sites. In the hot zone        http://hotzone.yahoo.com/

Hosted by yahoo this team of 3 journalists are in Beirut and Israel today. They feature 2 minute films and blogs that you may find interesting. This team has a mission to cover all conflicts in the world in one year and I think they are doing a great job.

  Rana’s wedding.

A movie about a Palestinian girl who is given by her father 3 days to diced to leave with him for Egypt. Or stay in occupied Palestine and find a husband. She must find her boyfriend, a theater actor across all the checkpoints in Israel and Palestine to ask him face to face if he really loves her. For me this was like the movie Run Lola Run but with a twist.

 Let us not forget Iraq. Netflix has a big selection of Kurdish made films but they tend to be very real.  The irony of the Iran Iraq war has a significant affect on most of those movies.

Al Jazeera news site:     www.aljazeera.net    English version. Articles from all over the world are posted on it even the Jerusalem Post. Decide for your self.

 

 Copyright Aida Dalati 2006

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

By Aida Dalati

March 2006    Issue #9

 

 Fashion in Color. Announce your individuality through color…

 Are Men Necessary?  Maureen Dowd’s wakeup call for women: Why is she so mad?

 

I

 left the Atelier in Menlo Park on Friday and headed straight to Trader Joes to buy my favorite food supplies so that I could hunker down on our boat and write.  Three weeks ago I was lucky enough to get into Manhattan before the great snowstorm to enjoy the fresh white snow all 27” of it before the snow trucks came out to restore the hustle and bustle to the streets. The Train, a trade show I attend to buy clothing for our store was across town and we bribed a taxi to skid us down there and then pick us up later. I dug through the snow to get into the show doorway and it was worth it. You can find adventure in everything you do as long as you have a good attitude.

Two days later I went to see the Fashion In Colors exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Organized by the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI)

 

S

mithsonian Institution by no means has taken up the plight of the fashion industry. Project Runway has a firm grip on that reality. Instead the concept was to examine color with the aid of clothing. Create a constructive dialogue over the effect of color on humans and their societies. Attitudes about black for example, when and why it was ok to wear that color, who was worthy of it and when did it become fashionable, based on clothing worn throughout the last 500 years.  How today, the phrase “appropriate color” becomes de mode and how social attitudes about color changed and became freer over time. Social and political stigma about color has been eroding since the early 1950’s thanks to the clever sales campaigns that targeted and glamorized housekeeping/housewives in America by offering women yellow toasters and turquoise mixers, women could be creative in the kitchen through color options, in appliances, white was no longer the appropriate route to take. At first try this campaign broke the rules of what is considered appropriate for your home, it evolved into everything else you buy or wear and maybe think!!

 

T

he sixties as it is reported to be, was bombarded by too much pattern and color which was a faux pas in Europe nineteenth century when simplicity reigned for women’s wear was depicted in cream shades of color. Anthropologists would argue that the Baroque and Rococo periods just over did it and it was time to swing the opposite way to a more simple presentation. To me this too went with the politics of the time, if your fashion clothing faded into the background like the fashions of pampered aristocrat women, Beige, in the era of no washing machines.  Soft white clothing meant pure or innocent. Who wanted women to vote! Better yet if we all looked alike (a herd) it made Patriarchy easier to practice on one half of a society.

 

 I

t almost worked for the Taliban. And Saudi Arabia is not far off.  Back in the days, Arabs reserved the color black to the elders of the family and only married women had the privilege of wearing it. Think about it. Black historically is a difficult color to make and therefore special just like red was hard to make and therefore the leaders of the church deserved it more. Today in the Arab Gulf black has turned into a silent visual sign of oppression, a separation. It is why I became a clothing designer in the first place. My Syrian friend Ragda called me up in Dallas and said she had just come from Saudi and wanted to meet me. This took place back in the eighties and I had never seen a Saudi Abayah ever before. Women in Syria and Lebanon do not wear those disgusting cloaks. Black cloaks have nothing to with Islam anything at all. Women are demanded to wear black cover-ups in public over their regular clothing in Saudi Arabia. I was so upset about this ugly cloak that my first collection was hot pink Abayahs like dusters with Bedouin embroidery.

 

 I was talking with my daughter Helen about this news letter and she remarked to me how odd it is that in one of the hottest countries in the world Saudi women are obliged to wear black while the spoiled men are sporting pure white. The funniest thing to my Syrian American family is that those caftans that Gulf men wear tend to be transparent, and when I was a child during the summer, my brother and I used to guess if they wore briefs or shorts.  It was a game we played while waiting in the car for our dad. Saudis vacation in Syria and we used to run into them when my parents went down the mountain for supplies and cheese.

 

W

ho says color has been liberated?? Societies are divided geographically, cites towns and villages and in some cases Nomads.  Women from all walks of life have a different take on freedom, money, and oppression. Fully clothed like Afghanistan or almost naked like Fort Lauderdale spring break college women, it makes no difference. Once we are made to look alike we end up alike. Surprised about my analogy? Don’t be. Young women in the US today go through all kind of tests about their body, what is considered beautiful to men and what is so called “fashionable”., It is a dangerous phenomenon in the hands of some religious fanatics in the east or some negative male attitudes  here in America.

 

B

elieve me if women continue to talk themselves down and using their brain less and less and just concentrate on  body type or age lines and look all alike under the knife or not, we are going to have a big problem once our daughters and nieces reach the age of 30 and have to come to terms with gravity, age or motherhood. Why are women giving up their powers so easily?  If we all look the same we are going to start acting the same, how boring. Besides is that what you want our children to learn?? Individual thinking should be reflected in what you are wearing too. They say if you lose your middle class you lose your democracy. I say to lose your individuality you lose your democracy too.

 

Marketing with the aid of color works on all aspects of our life, as research points out, the path Apple computer took when it countered back the giant but gray colored brainy IBM computer, fashionable raspberry orange and green computers merchandising good enough for artists/creative folk like us. Years later when the advertising industry over saturated us with color, Apple pared down with the I pod, a clean and fresh looking white for the too busy world.  Look how America has been divided into blue and red states. Instead of questioning the voting machines and their owners we fought red against blue.

 

Y

ou see color is so clever it has associations connected to it. In nineteenth century Turkish harems, Ice was a luxury before electricity; ice had to be cut out of the mountain and carried down on the back of horses. The drinks you could enjoy in the Palaces of wealthy men at that time were shaved ice with sweet fruit syrup called Sharbat (Sorbet); these fancy drinks of the time were pastel colored as mirrored in the fashionable pale hues back then. Rich men had harems whose women wore these colors in the bazaars to point out their social status and their master’s affluence, contrary to orientalist’s hype, women’s life within the harem’s confining walls was prison like and degrading.  Today, in America, TV, it’s sponsors and executives perpetuate this disregard for women. Maureen Dowd says “From Pornography to Desperate Housewives, Women Being degraded has an entertainment value far greater than men being degraded…”

 

Can we have too much color? Maureen Dowd is a woman I enjoy listening to. I am reading her book of essays, (Are Men Necessary, when sexes collide). Some of us do not need her book to enlighten us about how far we women have not gone but it restructures my priorities when fashion gets too silly and that is therapy for me. I do feel she name drops too much which diverts the readers focus from Dowd’s honest and disappointed report on the status of women in Visual America today.

This book could have been written under 338 pages. Most important for me, as a Muslim woman by birth, her research on Muslim societies fell short. Arabic, American, Chinese or Iranian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Christian women can gain more by communicating with each other directly. If Maureen really cared about the status of women in the world she should write a more informed report about them and do the research.  Dear Maureen: the veil is not the biggest problem in this part of the world, it is the lack of basic women’s rights; for starters, how about divorce, child custody or inheritance laws that protect women instead of the current 1400 year old antiquated Islamic laws that grant them a fraction of the male’s portion if they have brothers or sons, and practically nothing if there are no males in the direct family or if they are Christian or divorced.  Not to mention custody laws that currently grant the father’s family automatic full custody of the children.

 

Recommended books

Fashions In Colors. Assouline Publishing.

 Developed by two Dutch fashion designers Voktor & Wolf , curator Akiko Fukai. The exhibit examined color by categorizing five centuries of clothing from the west into color blocks displayed in an old New York mansion with a five foot wide mahogany stair case and bronze Tundra with glass walls as a back drop to this tasteful and elegant display.

Saudi Aramco World Magazine. A free publication for readers who like to read about the Middle East or Muslim societies in general. Music, art and culture. Published by Saudi Arabia and it is free. photo archive.saudiaramcoworld.com/Gallery

Who Cooked the Last Supper?

The Women's History of the World. by Rosalind Miles. Three Rivers Press

 Copyright Aida Dalati 2006

 

 

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

By Aida Dalati

Issue number 8    January 2006

 

It is all about dresses and accessories this year.

Damascus Craftsmen: stonework is king ! 

T

hose of us who are over 40 are in luck this spring season, because if you are like me, everything that was in fashion in the mid seventies is back, and everything I could never afford as a teenager but drooled upon in Harpers Bazar and Vogue are back in all shapes and prices. YSL is pushing glamour thank God, Gucci has a woman designer, Frida Giannini from Rome.  One of the few women designers in the men’s world of high fashion, she is 33 years old and on a mission. Since glamour is really back, it gives me the perfect excuse to go shopping for more elaborate ribbon and trims. The ribbon companies in France find no need to manufacture middle of the line plain ribbon any longer because the high demand by couturiers for better ribbon is on the up swing. These ribbons are a new fun form of art collecting because if your taste runs towards Persian silk carpets, then a meter of a nice ribbon is a good fix for the day. Ribbon is a realistically priced indulgence; it takes up so little space and no calories!!!

I just got back from Damascus and stopped again in Amsterdam for only 7 hours. It is amazing what a person can do in so little time. We hopped the train and arrived in the center of town. It was so cold that we took turns walking down one shady street and then a sunny one to thaw out. I found some nice window displays to ponder over for our store and studied the sale racks to see what did not sell there.

 

O

ur 300 year old house renovation in old town Damascus is going well and I have new ceilings and floors in one wing and a grand wood ceilings in my new kitchen 4 meters up over my head with a skylight window and a Roman era stone wall that is still intact. One forgets the protocol in the Middle East and for me it was such a surprise that every time we visited the house, the foreman’s helper Abid, a newlywed, prepared Turkish coffee or rose tea to keep us warm because the new cement and plaster in the open courtyard kept the house so cold.

  Every day there was something new to plan or discover, the new stone mason who was thinking of doing a job in Saudi Arabia came to look us over as it seamed to me. I think He decided to like us and bring his team to renovate the original striped stone walls, stone carvings and the courtyard fountain of pink marble. His job will make or break this renovation project as traditional and strict stone styles and mosaics must be restored and recreated to keep the house’s identity and period correct and beautiful. Gihad will supervise this from the States, and when the floors are ready to be laid out we will return to Damascus. We envy the stone mason’s job so much that it’s almost painful. If it was up to us we would remain in Damascus throughout that whole renovation. Abu Alaa is a true artist. This is not his real name, it’s a tile that translates as “Father of Alaa” his first born son.  Likewise his wife then would be Um Alaa; mother of Alaa. As long as all the titles are memorized all is well. I appear half foreign to the Damascene craftsmen and have only daughters, so I am plain Madam Aida.   It is not customary to mix business with family in traditional Damscus homes, but we are an exception and Abu Alaa invited us out to his city Tell. The best stone masons are from here and over 70 % of Tell men work in this profession.  Friday morning came and my husband Gihad and I were off.  It turns out there is a freeway connecting linking it with Damascus and the trip took only 15 minutes.

 

T

ell was quiet on this Friday morning, the day of rest in Syria, and Um Alaa was beautiful both inside and out, she is about 5’9” tall and regal. They have three children and one more on the way. Um Alaa had made date and pistachio treats for us. She said her husband wanted her to meet me and had told her I was into fashion, something she always wanted to do but has not yet started even though Damascus has a French institute for fashion design. She is also a good cook and he wanted me to taste her creations. All in all, this Muslim woman was beautiful and I liked her husband even more now that I visited their house. She spends her time getting the kids to school in the morning and then goes off to her neighborhood mosque for two and a half hours every day to teach and be instructed in religion and charity work and then spends the rest of the day mothering and tutoring her children. She regrets her husband is not religious like her but hopes God will enlighten him one day. Her eight year old daughter wanted to know why I do not cover my hair and instead of ignoring the question Um Alaa asked me to answer her daughter’s question. I gave my standard answer “As soon as men cover their hair I will follow” it was an honest answer and the little girl smiled. Modern Muslims have a live and let live attitude and I like that.

 

On breaks from the house building and planning I went off to the Gold suke/bazar to find my mother a ring.  I spend a lot of time in the woman’s silk suke it is called that but I do not see silk at all. It is full of Asian made party gown textiles and some French but all in all too elaborate for local use here in Menlo Park. Dress textiles are sold in 2-4 meter portions for gowns and are not cut otherwise. For every sheer evening fabric the merchant has over 30 fun color linings to change the mood or please a skin tone. Needless to say buying fabric in Damascus is a time consuming project. I found cotton embroidered fabrics in the street called straight up in one of the Khans (The old time caravanserai inn and wholesale mart popular in the mid 16th century and still in full swing today) and that was the best purchase of all. To walk into a stone and marble courtyard 5oo years old and then go from wholesale room to another is the experience of a lifetime and for me that is more important than the shopping itself. I dream of having an office in this kind of setting and one day it will come true.

 

A

t one trim and sequins store, a jolly but stressed looking owner sat behind the counter while his nephews, all 4 of them, served the over demanding customers. Iraqis with money were able to flee the country and have set up apartments in Damascus. One Iraqi woman wanted a certain pattern book and had to open each one separately only to decide that the one out of stock is the only one she wanted to take home and one of the nephews got hot under the collar and slammed down the last issue as the woman left in a huff. I calmly worked with one of the young men and asked for my discount as that is a tradition if not the way of life in Damascus, and he said OK. At the register I remarked that all the trims are going to the US and then everyone started talking at once. The owner had a Syrian dress designer going to Washington DC for his first runway show and do I think that all Americans like Bush?? Don’t the Americans care about how many people are getting killed on both sides in Iraq and what about business in America, how is it going? Very good I hope. I started to pay and said that the discount they gave me was so small that I could not even get a cup of tea for it and that is when he whispered to his nephew something and suddenly a tall glass of tea arrived with a sugar bowl and a smile. I stood there drinking my tea a little nervous as I am out of practice being the ever fused over customer and next came a sealed package of Ceylon tea, all 100 bags to be exact, as a gift for me. I tried to sneak out without it because I felt put on the spot but they would not hear of it.

 

For more detail on the house renovation please look up the site we will post on the web.

Comments and input to the news letter are welcome and appreciated.   

 

Aida Dalati 01/15/06

 Copyright Aida Dalati 2006

 

 

 

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

By Aida Dalati

Issue number 7    December 2005

 

How old does a house or a ribbon have to be

to be declared vintage ?

 

F

ashion trends these days are a shot in the dark and with Prada and LV parading the black is back routine it makes all our wardrobes confused and at loss. What is up with the merchandisers of the world? I tone down the vintage angle at my store to keep with the times and Anthropology scrapes together every vintage look alike freshly made in India or China. I can not help but feel bad for our customers as they buy fake vintage along with fake politics. Globalization is here to stay and even I can see it has its good side but I do draw the line with prefabricated “vintage” flowers and ribbon.

 

S

peaking of vintage, my husband Gihad and I have bought a 400 year old house in old Damascus and for the past year we have been struggling with architects and engineers on how to restore it so that we can move into it. For those of you who are not familiar with this type of architecture, the traditional Damascus house consists of three floors. The first floor is made from thick one meter granite stone surrounding an open courtyard with a strategically placed water fountain facing an archway/covered patio this floor is traditionally used during warm summer months. The second level sits on the first level but is made of 5-9 inch in diameter wood beams that are filled with baked mud bricks. This second level is usually used during the winter months as it soaks in the sun and is warmer than stone. The third floor roof top sometimes has “unofficial” rooms called the airplane level, the “Tayara”, a folksy name but a crucial room for views.  Sometimes this room is built illegally because some residents tend to build extra rooms without permits after they have negotiated a hush-hush deal with a reciprocating neighbor. 

 

W

e got the house in 2004 but it took some time to get all our ducks in a row.  The owner was one of eight inheritors and got cold feet because he did not want to move on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky away from the  old cobblestone streets of the old city. So we had to help him along via his brother in-law who had the power of attorney for all siblings. He had lived in Germany and acquired the German work ethic besides currently being a wholesale gold merchant in old Damascus with a reputation and his word of honor to uphold. Then there was the twisted office of antiquities of Damascus who had recently handed out about 65 restaurant permits to investors to renovate these falling apart 17th century homes but then  suddenly become sentimental and decided that perhaps now that ex patriots wanted to come home, they (we) should be put on the back burner and forgotten.

 

A

nyway we got a little hot and bothered and bought two ticket to Damascus by way of Amsterdam. The mission was to detox in Europe from our busy schedules here at home, eat some raw herring and then get things going in the house before I am 100 years old.

 

D

etoxing mission accomplished we got back on KLM and off to Damascus. Unlike myself Gihad has taught himself to remember names of people and streets he thinks will come in handy one day and so, twelve hours into our landing we were on the streets of old Damascus with a new builder and a new crew just like that. We had met a great carpenter two trips ago who was familiar with westerners’ need for urgent completions and deadlines and had had about 4 years experience working with an elegant Italian script writer who restored a home as a retreat for herself and her family.

 

B

ecause these old houses are built inside the old city walls of Damascus you can not fit a regular size truck on its streets or haul away when you renovate. As a result residents over the centuries tended to plaster over and over the stone or cover up flooring over and over again as a means of redecorating or updating with the times. During our short stay we were able to peel away and discover five new arches to the house and clay ducts for the pre 1700s owners and a second floor in the courtyard that was covered up by newer but ugly tile. Today it is required that all the debris be taken away in trash bags and carried out by a three wheeled scooter. I will set up some photos of the great renovation/discoveries as they happen. We go back this month to select floor patterns and a modern kitchen layout.

List of recommended readings:

Damascus. Hidden Treasures of the Old City:  by Brigid Keena.  A beautiful coffee table book for architecture lovers and story telling.  Thames &  Hudson.

The Martha Rules.: Martha Stewart. An entertaining book on how to run a people oriented business.

Fillo Pastry cook book: by Tess Mallos.  A great Christmas gift for someone who has collected everything about foods.

Copyright Aida Dalati 2005

 

 

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

By Aida Dalati

Issue number 6    September 2005

 

Why do we need clothes anyway!

How to become a thoughtful dresser in one day and

know what you are wearing…..

 

P

rior to designing my Ready to Wear clothing line and accessories I spent about 10 years lecturing and researching the issue of clothing in general and the messages women wanted to convey through this art form which was once exclusive to women. Mythology and symbolism in women’s clothing was all I was interested in for a long time, and as a result I collected historical costumes in order to quench my thirst for the subject. I wanted to break the myth that women dress only for men, as I believe this to be an untrue statement. It is widespread in the United States and perhaps is a direct result of the conservative influences coupled with the revolution of women within the work force. I can not rule out a pinch of male insecurity in this flawed picture….?!

  Unfortunately, many young women growing up today have little or no memory about the struggles of their mothers and grandmothers before them and have thus not been in tune to the politics of female breadwinners in the twenty first century. I know that primarily I dress to feel good, secondly to impress my girlfriends, and lastly to be attractive for men. I love men, but I am the type of woman that dresses for fun and to be happy. As I say to my daughters (which my husband rejects as a bad analogy!): “Your well being is the main course, girls, and men are desert!” You can choose to eat desert or not, you will not starve! It is important that we teach our daughters that they come first.

  So how to go about becoming a thoughtful dresser. Well, think about history and the fact that most ‘documenters’/historians have been men (painters, writers, etc.). Women played out the creative angles through domestic avenues: raising the future, writing and through clothing. Our sister’s stories and struggles are evident within the clothing and embellishment. I can explain from my perspective how it all adds up for me.

  A well-designed garment is made to make you look even better than your best mood makes you feel. To achieve this, the adornment should be placed where it matters and where it compliments the human figure. Historically (pre-Baroque), adornment was placed and used by women for good luck or worn as jewelry. In other cases it was to protect your spirit from the outside environment. These decorations/adornments were subtle and pretty, resembling festoons of flowers on vines with petals pointing upwards to the light, as to say ‘thank you’ to the heavens for rain and good fortune. A celebration of life. Clothing must be optimistic, isn’t that why we pay more than men for our clothing!?

  Here lies the most important element of all—if we have curvy shapes in our bodies than our clothing must contain curves as well.  After all fashion designers use two specifically curved rulers to draft a pattern, so do not be surprised if your clothing has curves built in. Putting a woman into a cylinder or tube of fabric is a ridiculous concept. Women must stand tall and celebrate their bodies. If women were so powerful in North America, we would not be violated by TV on a daily basis under the pretence of Hollywood entertainment and unrealistic ideals. And what is this issue with dress size?!  Most of Europe has standards for sizes so as to insure that a size 44 in one part of France has the same proportions as another. America does not have this rule and that is another contributing headache for us in the fitting rooms across the nation. Who is making up the rules anyway?

  Today on fashion runways this simple, tried, and true concept of design has been thrown out in most cases with the exception of Christian Lacroix and his contemporaries within Haute Couture, and replaced with impulse marketing concepts cooked up by the corporate accountants and strategists. A disconnect between reality and ‘fashion’.  I can not tell you how many young women I come into contact with who are new to the fashion world and still think Mr. Dior is alive and running the show! All completely oblivious of British designer John Galliano (now designing for Dior), the number one sensationalist and body oil consumer of the world!

 

A

 thoughtful dresser is elegant from head to toe and money has nothing to do with it. Intelligent dressing is the future and Ms. Prada is proof of the new doctrine of research, experience, and reflection — Elegance will always trump fashion trends. If women want to become “fashionistas”, then for heaven’s sake get educated! A thoughtful dresser does not just carry a Louis Vuitton bag or schlep around in Juicy Couture sweats. It is a poor start when young women fall victim to the money machine of fashion and do not enrich their thoughts with style ideas and concepts that they can grow from (history, your own perspective). Where is our American culture going with these sloppy new concepts? When I came to Los Angeles in 1981, no one knew Lacroix from licorice but now we have gone overboard in the opposite direction and everyone is not happy with just DKNY. For more thoughtful reflections Read Givenchy’s interview, Harper’s Bazar June 2005 issue, which criticizes the lack of fashion today and the emergence of the Hand Bag Phenomenon.

  Historically, In Middle Eastern culture (which I specialize in) as well as Asia in general, decoration was put on clothing for two main reasons: Health and fertility or spiritual well being. Through my readings and interviews I found that all women across the five continents practiced identical adornment concepts and used similar patterns and colors on their clothing to convey a message or use protection symbols, if you will. For instance, blue/turquoise is special to the Navajo Indians, Tibetans, Scandinavians, Persians and Arabs as it represents good luck (water, rain, agriculture, life).

  Art to Wear is a form of art created by women and for women from the beginning of time. Women sought to express their individuality and identity through the design and adornment of their own clothing. The woman’s choice of embellishment identified her place of origin, tribe, or social status. Economics and daylight played a big role in this process as wealthier women were able to spend their leisure time embroidering or creating lace for pleasure. The working class women worked double as hard with what little means they could afford. After tending to the family needs and their daily trading in the city marketplace, these women had no personal time available to them. Luckily for the latter, the Cottage Industry began through this group of women as money from their daily trade in the city centers (agriculture etc.) enabled them to pay a middle woman, or commission her, to make an embroidered panel or a piece of lace. Therefore, everyone was happy.

  Palestinian women were interested in protecting the soul and therefore most of the adornments on the national dresses and costumes are all around the heart area.  Their bodices had a secret pocket behind the embroidery panel to keep a hanky or coins. . . The motifs used consisted of upside down triangles also called amulets (symbolizing good things from heaven to the Earth), and colors were of course red for fertility and life and green for nature and water. The triangles were filled with vines of flowers with whimsical names like the Road to Damascus or the Road to Egypt. Palestinian women worked in the fields as well as in cottage industries in Bethlehem or Jerusalem and knew the importance of comfortable but pretty clothing.

 

Q

uality of textile matters. Look at the clothing and ornamentation adorning the top members of most religions. Textiles take time to make, and prestige was and is shown by the quality of the textiles. In Islam and Catholicism, important men within the government or in trade received the top cloth and the best embellishments. This ideology came to the US later on and also contributed to the evolving of Art to Wear.  Another tidbit: Palestinian women had flexible belts that were made from elite Damascus silk (damask), which double wrapped around the body. These belts were made of the best textiles and could accommodate women’s cycles of life and changing body weight. Education has a big role to play in fashion. Look up Prada’s collections last year and her belts on Style.com. These same belts can be found in many other cultures like the Turkoman etc.

  In the past, Nomadic women in Syria placed most of the adornment around the womb area. These motifs included carnations, pomegranates, and pine trees all celebrating abundance and fertility (both in crops and in babies!). Today in the US the overwhelming fashion of no hips and the pre-pubescent silhouette is celebrated as beautiful. This dangerous fashion trend leads to anorexia and bulimia and millions of mothers painfully know what their daughters endure to get healthy again. I think it is another way our society keeps women in check by holding them back. It is like someone is saying to us that we may have achieved our career status, but you still need to get thinner! Give a woman something that is so difficult to do that she is not capable of feeling completely happy. Worst of all is when women do this to other women and that I find inexcusable. On this subject read Calvin Klein’s unauthorized biography! Look around you and at our television commercials and compare us to Spanish, Italian, Arabic, or Mexican television. All their men peddling products are slim, attractive, and handsome. If men in America have such steep standards I think they need to step up to the plate!

  In the town of Sarakib (near Aleppo in Syria), certain holy women were religious confidants and thus earned the male privilege of embellishing the areas close to their shoulders as well as soul to protect the head and mind— insuring good judgment and longevity. By the way, many anthropologists point out the significant placement of adornment on the human figure and that it is not a coincidence that priests and army generals wear all the adornment/decoration near the head . It is like pointing out in broad daylight how indispensable and important these important men are. Hmm………. This phenomenon is also evident in the tripling of the size of shoulder pads during the Reagan era when so many women sought their place in corporate America. The myth was that if you had to take a man’s job away from him than you had to act and look tough. It was a twisted idea in my opinion, but being half Syrian and half American makes you think different!

  Thoughtful symbolism and meaning within clothing is a subject very dear to my heart, and all I can do is share some of it with you and recommend some great books to bring you into the whole picture. Costumes I have collected are also available for school lectures on the subject. Our future is in the hands of our youth.

List of recommended readings:

Embroidered Textiles. Sheila Paine, Thames and Hudson.

Traditional Patterns from five Continents. With a worldwide Guide to Identification.

Palestinian Costume, Weir, Shelagh, University of Texas Press, Musuem of Mankind, London.

Palestinian Costume ,by Jihan Rajab, Kuwait Museum

Syrian Folklore, Thames and Hudson.

Scheherazade Goes West, Mernissi, Fatima 

 Matisse, His Art and His Textiles: The Fabric of Dreams,  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Photographs by Hilma Granqvist, Palestine  circa 1920s

An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades

by Richard W. Bulliet (Foreword), Philip K. Hitti

 

Copyright Aida Dalati 2005

 

 

 

Ready To Wear Chronicles

By Aida Dalati

Issue number 5

June 2005

 

W

e visited the Chanel exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum and it was an expensive presentation with lights that danced around the black walls of the 10x10 foot cubicles that housed the clothing. For me, the issues were still there as there were not enough of Chanel's original creations and too much male butchering and interpretation of her vision (for what she felt women wanted to wear). Karl Lagerfeld is a good designer, but the God of women’s fashion or the House of Chanel, he will never be. My friend, designer Sally Bridge, and I took time out of sourcing in the garment district to see this collection and both agreed that it was too glitzy for what Chanel stood for and in my opinion too much ‘frustrated’ Lagerfeld influence all together. Coco Chanel would have never worn a pearl necklace with each pearl the size of a golf ball, or a bondage gold wrestling belt that must have weighed 2 kilo. So much for the Lagerfeld issues. I am all for growth but the House of Chanel concept and image was thrown out some where in the 1980s and have still not been recovered. On the positive side her pieces emphasized comfort and ease; just look at her ball room and cocktail gowns. She is the Queen of simple yet versatile couture. Not only did the gowns look elegant with waterfalls of chiffon trickling down off the base of the back and blooming pleats on  the side of the waist-- visually they made me feel elegant and softer just looking at her creations. As soon as I got back to California her hand stitched chocolate colored lace gown was all I could think about. That is what a successful designer to me is all about. Inspiring her audience to do or feel better. Beauty is contagious.

So much has happened to all of us this year, the Atelier is going strong and I constantly comb the Bay Area, New York City, Damascus, Los Angeles, Beirut and France or Italy for ideas and presentation styles to amuse you and myself too. I have talked to many retail stores who have carried my designs and the repeated piece of advice I got from them was to always keep it exciting and change the window displays every week. Well, that was fun advice and I hope you are paying attention! Thank God, Katie our store manager and Helen my daughter are as crazy as I am and like re-doing the store with me. I worry when some of you come through the door and look shocked and disoriented when the brooches have changed places and the clothing has been freshly re-merchandised, but think of the alternatives! Stanford mall is predictable therefore my job is not to be.

T

he Fashion and Anti-Fashion exhibit at the Palace of Legion of Honor was a grand presentation and in contrast to the Metropolitan exhibit very San Francisco with  retro soft Yellow lighting and ocher back drops, it is inviting and friendly. Our docent had a good sense of humor but conducted the tour wearing a made off- shore   casual outfit, oversimplified the concepts behind the works on display—for  docents must be in step with the caliber of the art presented. My husband loved her but as an Art to Wear designer, I feel that we can not afford a watered down presentation tour of our work. The Wearable Art is political and beautiful at the same time but stripping the presentation of one or the other weakens the work of both the artist and the curator. The gift shop, shame on them, was poorly stocked and the merchandise that was there is made in China!!!!!!!!(At an exhibit celebrating American Artists!) As if that was not enough the quality of the gift trinkets was at the bottom of the barrel of Chinese goods. I find this painful especially when the weekend preceding this exhibit I participated as an artist as well as a buyer at a benefit for the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Fort Mason, and the two halls were filled with local Art Wear artisans. The exhibit coordinators at the Legion of Honor could have used this opportunity of “fresh and locally grown current Art Wear for sale” to make the Legion of Honor exhibit  stronger and more news worthy.

The greatest concept that has come out of Art to Wear is that it freed women from the fashion establishment, celebrated your individualism and that you could do it yourself on a small budget—all you had to do was put in the effort. Effort and thought put into these one of a kind pieces was the striking element of this exhibit, and the amazing garments really shone through.

Hand made wearable art is an old concept handed down from generation to generation in all folk art communities around the world. However, during the Vietnam War I believe American women woke up and remembered that there is a whole world out there and started borrowing and reclaiming their role in the folk art movement. (The closing of Mr.Tupperwear’s Era!) Clothing design is as simple as home baked cake but once the corporate machine sinks its teeth in, design becomes a profit business plan first and art comes in second or third place. Folk art is functional and beautiful. This exhibit is the next step up. It is when all of the above are blended together

 The main feeling I came away from this exhibit is that the heart of the curator is in the right place but not in step with the times. American manufacturing and American art, if not the whole culture, is deliberately being watered down by corporations and lobbyists.   For me the pureness and honesty of the Folk Artwear movement (mythology, symbolism, and persona in women’s clothing) was overlooked by the docent in the exhibit. If I had it my way, I would nominate Rhonda Chaney to educate the docents on the history of fashion.

 There is no poster for the exhibit, only a book. In contrast the Lagerfeld sketches were everywhere at the Metropolitan Museum. Some of the guest artists at this Artwear exhibit are published already and have books of their own.  Fortune Magazine reported that the house of Louis Vuitton spent fifty million Euros fighting the counterfeit handbag industry and we here in San Francisco can not spend 500-5000 dollars to buy American hand made Art Wear and accessories to put in our own Museum gift store. Less expensive but high quality art can be achieved with a pinch of effort. I do it every day. Sometimes a retailer buys articles for their store for the sake of prestige I think that this museum must do so. This exhibit has a 6 month run and that is a long time to sell good quality local wearable art. You can not see all these beautiful textiles and come home with a good book about them that simply will not due.

C

hef Jacque Pepin’s book The Apprentice,  writes that he documented and listed his work and menus but could not get them aired on television because of red tape here or there until he put his money behind the first TV series himself on KQED. He wanted to bring his approach on French Cuisine to the American public. Only after that did the culinary industry take notice of his concepts and the new direction he wanted to go. I bet he smiles every day on the way to the bank. If you can not win them get your own financing. How true. I can talk about chef Pepin for days but food is my other interest and we are talking about fashion now. By the way Lagerfeld is mentioned twice in the magazine Anthem and guess what, now he has lost all this weight so that he can wear the Dior Homme new suites so now he is co authoring a cookbook too. I wonder if he is going to redo that art form too.

 In conclusion I am glad I drive a Ford car as the Ford foundation is sponsoring the Tuesday free admission for the exhibit. You must go it is a lot of fun.  I can not stress enough the lively color palette chosen for this show, it is very beautiful. It was great to go and see an art show dominated by women expressing women’s perspective. I am a feminist, I have no choice because I am a female and I like it. The greatest thing about the Legion of Honor exhibit is that the artists’ celebration of life and optimism shines through the textures and beautiful colors on display for everyone in the Bay Area to enjoy.

Aida Dalati 5/22/2005 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Other exhibits of Interest:

LACI’s Crochet Museum: Irish crochet and the potato famine. See their website for times and a preview... Everything but the kitchen sink. A sewer's heaven. Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

Zazou and Violets: Hand made hats, Milliner/Artist on the floor to great you. Very sweet store and soft hats. Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

The Phoenix Bakery and Café: Best pasta on the west coast. Chef/owner always cooking right in front of you. Take home fresh pasta light as a cloud. Marzipan cookies to die for. My favorite dish is butternut squash ravioli with caramelized onions in a brown butter sauce with fresh pears or peaches, glazed walnuts.  Shattuck in Berkeley. Closed Mondays.

Masse’s Bakery: Chef Paul and owner Marsh always there to greet you and improve your palette for well made cakes and tarts.

Life will never be the same once you try their mango mouse individual cake or a cassis treat. Shattuck, Berkeley closed Tuesdays.

 

Copyright Aida Dalati 2005

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