© 2019 Anna Kwiecinska

  • Anna Kwiecinska

When Life Imitates Art


This lavender and cream silk gelabia glimpsed in the window of an antiques dealer in Fes was instant love - of the 'must have' variety. I'd walk back and forth, hoping my interest was obscured in the crowded souk. I'd take the long way home at night to see it there in the corner, lit and lolly-like with its candy stripe colours looking playful next to the sombre tribal artifacts arranged carefully to inspire desire.

Eventually, I stepped inside. The door had a little bell on it, like an old-fashioned haberdasher's shop, and a good-looking 50-something man glanced up. The two seemed incongruous: the interior was cute and cottage-like, with odd assortments of things casually stacked - rolls of fraying brocade saved from the hems of old gelabias, very heavy silver bangles lying around as if for the taking - or at least trying-on,oddments of mosaic, books with worn linen covers ... you get the picture, it was all a bit as if someone had cleaned out the attic and brought it all downstairs.

The contrast with his fashionably-crumpled cobalt linen shirt and mustard loafers was, intriguing.

Of course, it was a brilliant tactic. Immediately drawn to peering in closely at an object, quickly at ease, conversation happened naturally and refreshingly, avoiding all the usual tedious questions one fields constantly in the bazaar.

"Where does this come from? It reminds me of a painting".

Did my tone did not betray the fact that I already loved it, a lot ?

Something about it just said 'French' and 'arty' ..I was thinking of Renior's 1876 Bal du la Moulin de la Galette.

Of course, what it should have reminded me of were the langourous odalesques of Matisse 50 years later.

It was one of his favourite costumes during that 'odalisque period' when his North Africa-inspired sitters appeared in just such a garment on several occasions c.1919-1942, when he was working with Diaghilev and Massines.

But it was just as well that I hadn't realised 'that 'til I already owned it, because even at that point I was gripped by such a desire to own it that I would have eaten cous cous sans tagine for weeks on end to afford it.

I haven't had to, but I would have, really.

Mine is a Jewish garment, of a fine and flawless silk tissue entirely hand-stitched and embroidered with the most exquisite tiny silk buttons, double lined and only a little faded - I guess someone loved it as much as I do.

It is heavy, ponderously so, for such a delicate silken appearance, and came with its own matching under-bodice, similarly striped. It's unusual to find some costumes complete, so it must have been 'kept for best' - and I love imagining the occasions when it would have been taken out and worn, knowing how well one looked in it.

Mint tea, marzipan sweets, a café tete a tete or a stroll in the new city park. Its presence opens up an entire tableau and perhaps one day it will find its way back to a Fassi salon to join my small, but growing collection of pre-loved costumes for a glorious afternoon of tea and dress ups.

#Renor #matisse #Diaghilev #Massines #vintageclothing #gelabias #moroccanclothes

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