Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A New Vision of Egypt

The revolution in Egypt is all over the news these days, and in that coverage last week I was stunned to hear of the damage to ancient treasures in Cairo's Egyptian Museum.

Before: A gold statue of King Tut fishing

After: The King Tut figure has been snapped off


It seems like such mindless destruction, a real tragedy. But in light of this, I was led to the works of contemporary Egyptian artists at the Zamalek Art Gallery in the heart of the Cairo. This gallery promotes contemporary Egyptian artists, as well as upcoming young talent. What is particularly fascinating is that in recent years there has been something of a revival of pharaohic art, not particularly in style but in subject matter. For example, here's an ancient mural of Nefertiti and below it is a mixed media work by Farghali Abdel Hafiz done in 2007 portraying that same queen.

Nefertari. Note the crowns,  staff, hieroglyphics and lack of depth.
Mural of Nefertiti and Isis from a Theban tomb (14th century B.C.)

Nefertiti mixed media (2007)
by Farghali Abdel Hafiz

There are obvious similarities in the color palette, but beyond that, the interpretations are very different. In the contemporary work, the colors are less contained by borders, the queen is shown in a natural environment, there is greater use of the color blue perhaps representative of the close connection to the Nile, and the goddess Isis is shown in the palm of the queen's hand rather than of an equal size and shape.


Over the years, fashion has also sought to modernize ancient Egyptian themes, but often in overly literal ways.  There's the golden color palette with the ornate wide necklines, as well as the figure-hugging silhouettes and the floor-length draping. For example, take this 2008 Oscar de la Renta gown or this 2007 dress from Temperley London:

 

There are other Egyptian-inspired dresses from recent years which take the same ideas but turn them into something more modern and chic, like these by Donna Karan and Andrew Gn. However, the ideas are still generally the same, though the cut of the sleeves and the unusual hem of the Donna Karan dress does make it seem more modern.

 

At the end of the day, it seems modern fashion interpretations of ancient Egypt have changed little, basically toying with the same expectations but hardly re-envisioning the look, though I must say Gucci's spring 2011 ready-to-wear collection came close. However, Frida Giannini noted Marakkech as an inspiration rather than Egypt, but just look at the palette, the mummy-like wrap effects of the ivory look, the ornate top which takes the Egyptian collar to new lengths, and the gown which completely reshapes the neckline and floor-length draping. 

Gucci Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Gucci Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear
Gucci Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Gucci Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear
[Photos from Style.com]

But to really see how Egyptian-inspired fashion has developed, it's probably best to look to Egyptian designers, such as Marie Bishara. Her autumn/winter 2010 collection clearly references her heritage, but it goes beyond the stereotypes. The looks are softer and flow more, using earthy palettes but also unexpected infusions of pale blues.  

Marie Bishara Marie Bishara
Marie Bishara Marie Bishara
[Photos from Elle UK]

All in all, this collection seems remarkably similar to the contemporary painting of Nefertiti: less rigidly defined and more connected to the natural world rather than the overly bedecked almost militaristic interpretations of ancient Egyptian fashion. Perhaps this is the perspective to which modern Egyptian citizens will look as the political upheaval continues and they begin the process of reforming their nation.




GET THE LOOK: EGYPTIAN-INSPIRED VINTAGE

Usually I try to emulate an individual or group's look, but while putting this post together I came across some great Egyptian-inspired vintage pieces, so here they are. Egyptian-inspired fashion (and reading!) from the last 50 years!

vintage 1980s HIEROGLYPH printed tee sz. m Vintage 70s Paganne Mod Egyptian Tribal Maxi Dress MVintage Egyptian Revival Snake Arm Braceletvintage silk scarf - Egyptian pharaohs Folktales of Egypt Egyptian Revival Hoops - Your Choice
Vintage 1980s Hieroglyph Printed Tee from Fair Season $33
Vintage 1970s Paganne Mod Egyptian Maxi Dress from N Style Vintage $189
Vintage Egyptian Revival Snake Arm Bracelet from Everton Terrace $85
Vintage Egyptian Pharaohs Silk Scarf from Fever & Few $10
Folktales of Egypt first edition signed by author from Prospero's Bookshelf $25
Egyptian Revival Hoop Earrings from Bellezza Jewelry $14

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