Saturday, January 22, 2011

Madame Lanvin’s Mid-East Connections

Madame Lanvin on holiday in Egypt, 1920’s.

At Maison Lanvin’s headquarters on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, there exists an archive boasting priceless examples of Ottoman textiles, vests from Morocco embroidered with heavy gold thread, and beautifully embellished Egyptian caftans. Most of these items were acquired by Madame Lanvin during her trips to North Africa and the Middle East, and served as inspirations for many of her embellishments and designs. Yet unlike her contemporary Paul Poiret, Lanvin avoided making literal interpretations of Oriental costume. Instead she referenced her archive of ethnographic material to add a hint of exoticism to her modern pieces.

Examples from Lanvin’s archive of antique ethnographic costumes and textiles, collected during Madame Lanvin’s trips to North Africa and the Middle East.

In the 1930’s and 40’s one of Madame Lanvin’s most prominent couture clients from the Middle East was Madame Henri Pharaon, (pictured above in 1937 wearing a couture evening ensemble by Lanvin). She was born Nawali Kassar, an heiress to a wealthy Palestinian family from Jaffa.

In 1922 she married Henri Pharaon, the Lebanese art collector, businessman and Politian. He played a crucial role in securing Lebanon's independence from France and served as its foreign minister; championing a peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. He was also responsible for designing the Lebanese flag.

Considered the richest man in Lebanon during much of his lifetime, he amassed a stunning collection of art and antiquities from around the world; much of it housed at one of his mansions located on Beirut’s Green Line. Today the residence has been turned into a private museum by the famous jeweler Robert Mouawad, where he displays his collection of gems as well as Arab, Greek and Byzantine antiquities. One of their other palaces in Beirut, long considered a landmark of the city, was purchased and restored by the Saudi royal family.

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