this exhibition

is placed under the patronage of Mrs. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

with patronage

With the support of the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller

Women in Orient

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Affiche réalisée par Monsieur Christian Lacroix.

This exhibition is a hymm to oriental women and reveals another aspect of femininity. From the North of Syria to the Sinaï peninsula, it introduces an exceptional collection of 150 traditional costumes and accessories from the Near East, selected by designer Christian Lacroix, in close co-operation with Hana Chidiac, Head of the North African and Near East collections at the musée du quai Branly.

  • East Mezzanine 
  • Collections ticket 8.50 € full price and 6 € reduced price

Tuesday, 8th February to 15th May 2011

Artistic director : Christian Lacroix

Curator : Hana Chidiac

the exhibition

Manteaux de femmes syriennes
© musée du quai Branly, photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

From this collaboration, a poetic journey emerges, punctuated by sumptuous garments, the majority of which are exhibited in France for the first time. Festive dresses, coats, veils and head-dresses which comprised the bride's trousseau illustrate, in a unique way, the continuity of the traditions and knowledge developed and transmitted from mother to daughter.

The exhibition pays homage to the millennary art of embroidery by presenting the work of these women who, over the centuries, have created ways to enhance their beauty and to exist within societies which have so long marginalised them. Simultaneously, they display their own personalities, aesthetic sensibilities and emotions.

The creations presented in the exhibition are a glimpse into the history of these women whose hands, gestures, tastes and talent have instilled a part of themselves into the fabric and the silk or cotton threads used to compose each garment, as if it were a work of art.

Beyond its historical and ethnological scope WOMEN IN ORIENT also aspires to explore the aesthetics of women’s clothing as works of art.

Christian Lacroix has selected a remarkable ensemble of garments made up of colored threads on black cotton, silver lamé, striped silk linings, winged dresses and tie-dyed fabrics.

women in orient revealed

Jeune Bédouine de la tribu des Tiyaha

Situated at the political, economic and cultural crossroads between Asia, Europe and Africa, the Near East has been the cradle of rich civilisations that have left their marks on many different artistic fields, including fashion, still largely unknown to the general public.
The history of textiles and embroidery spans thousands of years and traces not only the evolution of different fashion styles, but also the development of a language and social, geographical and religious markers.


Since the 1970s, the image and appearance of Near Eastern women have changed. Today, what we call "Islamic dress" imposes itself across the region. This dark costume completely covers the woman's body, leaving no part visible and has in fact caused traditional eastern costumes to be progressively abandoned, provoking the disappearance of the final remnants of secular fashion.

In this first exhibition of a selection of traditional dresses, originating from a vast area at the heart of the "Fertile Crescent", from the North of Syria to the Sinaï Peninsula, the musée du quai Branly offers its visitors the opportunity to discover the diverse ways of life and costumes of Near Eastern women.

It reveals a different facet of the Eastern woman and casts a new, lively and aesthetic glance at their traditional creations.

With the exception of a moving 13th century child's dress discovered in a Lebanese cave and lent by the Beirut National Museum, the exhibited items mainly date from the late 19th century to the present day. They come from the musée du quai Branly collections and the Widad Kamel Kawar collection (Jordan), the most exceptional private collection of Near East costumes and accessories.

The exhibition aims to present the costumes of female villagers and Bedouins, whose richness and splendour aroused the admiration of 20th century travellers and disconcerted more than one, as noted by the geographer Jacques Weulersse: "They expected to see the clothes of poor peasant women, but they discovered the costumes of opera ballerinas". (Paysans de Syrie et du Proche Orient, Paris, Gallimard, 1946)

For this event, the musée du quai Branly has acquired about thirty accessories: dresses, coats, head-dresses and veils, which complement the selected outfits and enrich the Permanent Collections' belts, aprons, jackets and jewellery.

visiting the exhibition

Esquisse de Christian Lacroix pour la mise en scène de l'exposition
Voile de visage de bédouine
© musée du quai Branly, photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

Christian Lacroix has designed the exhibition in terms of a poetic stroll. The garments form a motionless, hovering procession. They inhabit a colourful world where, bathed in warm and comforting light, the designer explores an imagined Orient.

From black to vivid colours, from night to day, the dresses seem suspended, frozen in time, before the visitor's secret gaze.

The exhibition starts with the display of a 13th century girl's dress discovered during archaeological excavations in Lebanon. Five white dresses with colored embroidery form the exhibition's climax. These are a nod to the traditional fashion show which usually ends with the presentation of a wedding dress.

Between these two temporal extremes, the journey follows a geographical route starting in Northern Syria and culminating in the Sinaï desert, revealing, step by step, the costumes of Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Bedouin women.
It is punctuated by stylised dummies in traditional costumes and by wedding chests containing the accessories of the traditional bride's trousseau. These chests, which the visitor discovers like hidden treasures, were designed by Christian Lacroix for the event.

A space decorated with gouache miniatures in Persian style and dolls dressed with traditional costumes, allows the visitor to rest on benches also designed by Christian Lacroix. Here, the visitor can read texts relating the history of silk in the Near East, or the story of indigo.
In the same space, a set of small embroidered dresses, specially created for the exhibition, provide visually impaired visitors with the opportunity to "finger read" the fabrics and discover the silhouettes and embroideries of the items on display.

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