Journey of Kaftans : How did it Become Global?
As the conventional binaries of fashion intermingled with contemporary ideologies and coming-of-age concepts, it wasn’t really a surprise when ‘Kaftans‘ appeared in the urbane fashion dictionary a few years ago.
“When I lived in Egypt, we always wore kaftans. I had cashmere kaftans from Halston. You put on a kaftan in your backyard, and it’s like you’re in Ibiza.”
Unlike most clothing items that reappeared due to the cyclical nature of the industry, Kaftans never really disappeared from fashion. Instead, Kaftan had it’s own journey that transcended both time and space, from local to global.
The word ‘Kaftan’ is a Persian word but the robe can be traced back to the exotic land of ancient Mesopotamia. It was very common to spot important dignitaries like the Ottoman Sultans in the 14th century sporting elaborately designed Kaftans. Due to its loose silhouette, Kaftans are ideal for people living in the equatorial zone – the miracle clothing makes room for proper ventilation during the hot, stuffy months of the year.
It was not until the 20th century that Paul Poiret and Mario Fortuny began creating Kaftans for women, inspired by history and culture around this exotic symbol of an avant-garde liberal lifestyle. The free-flowing nature of the garment soon became equivalent to a Bohemian lifestyle.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kaftans finally made it to the pages of high fashion once French couturiers like Christian Dior and Balenciaga adapted the Kaftan and launched it a new form of loose-fitting evening gown. In a 1966 issue of Vogue, the Kaftan was finally recognized as an essential style in high fashion.
“Here are the most becoming fashions ever invented: the languor of the seraglio clings to them; leisure and repose emanate from them. The classic robes of the Near East, they’re now, suddenly all over the contemporary map—inspiration of great dressmakers and every woman’s discovery in beauty…”
The next few decades proved that the Kaftan was not going anywhere – you could use heavy ornamentation, creative patterns or even keep it sleek and minimal. The Kaftan’s versatility is infectious. While women would wear the ‘Kaftan dress‘ at home, more traditional versions of the garment appeared in United States and Europe with people who had traveled to the Orient.
By the 1970s, the Kaftan completely disappeared from high fashion runways and could be often spotted in the mass market, associated with resort wear or lounge wear. It was only in the last decade that this exotic garment rose to fame again when people started associating fashion with comfort and body positivity.
The simple silhouette of the Kaftan enables designers to experiment with it in their own unique way. For instance, Elie Saab have shown heavily ornamented versions of the Kaftan on the Red Carpet while Tom Ford reduced the Kaftan to a micro mini-length for Gucci spring in 1996.
Beat the heat with an Ikat Kaftan and pair it up with a matching head scarf or even a straw hat. You could always spice things up by cinching your Kaftan with a wide leather belt and beaded accessories.
Shop our Kaftans here.