Saturday, 28 May 2016

my peasant blouse by Irving & Fine



You know the feeling when you hold a new and special garment in your hands, designed with depth and meaning? My wardrobe got richer when I received such an item, the Embroidered Peasant Tunic, a classic Tangier peasant blouse by Irving & Fine. It was a surprise gift from textile designer Lisa Fine (earlier this month I wrote a piece about Lisa Fine Textiles), although I kind of knew what it was when she told me she was going to send me their bestselling peasant top. I have had it for a week and the fabric feels so soft; double gauze cream cotton with blue embroidery, made in India. The label Irving & Fine is a collaboration between esteemed textile designers and friends Lisa Fine and Carolina Irving (remember her Manhattan home on the blog?), who create embroidered peasant blouses, tunics, kaftans, coats and accessories. Their design is inspired by their travels to exotic places.

This is my ode to their peasant blouse, a token of my appreciation.


As I unwrapped the blouse and admired it for the first time, I was reminded of the Romanian-blouse paintings by Henri Matisse, with their puffy sleeves - see e.g. his works The Romanian Blouse, 1940, and The Romanian Green Blouse, 1939. He travelled to Morocco and was fascinated by the city of Tangier, the subject of some of his paintings. From Matisse in Tangier my mind, enchanted by my blouse, wandered to fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who had houses in Morocco; one in Tangier. YSL paid homage to Matisse with his couture collection for autumn/winter 1980-81 and one item was the Romanian blouse (see image No. 3), a replica of the one in Matisse's painting from 1940.

When preparing this piece I found a short interview with Lisa Fine. Asked about the inspiration for the Irving & Fine clothing, she replied: 'Ottoman & Eastern European folk costume and old Yves Saint Laurent' (Cannon Lewis). It sums up my first impressions.


My photos should give you a clear idea of the design but here is the basic anatomy of the Irving & Fine classic peasant tunic: It's made of cream cotton double gauze with blue embroidery at the neckline, cuff and side seam, with embroidered medallions at the front and back. The hip length blouse has a gathered, self-tied scoop neck and bracelet-length sleeves. The blouse is made in India and is also available in indigo with cream embroidery.


Is it unnatural to be in love with embroidered sleeves? I cannot stop admiring their beautiful exotic pattern. The same goes for the embroidered side seams. Such wonderful design details!

The tunic has a bohemian vibe but one can easily dress it up and down, depending on the occasion. It's loose and comfortable, and the cotton fabric feels very soft.



When not wearing the blouse I leave it hanging on the wardrobe so I can look at it with pleasure and dream about the other Irving & Fine items I would like to have. They currently have an embroidered coat that I believe is taking a hold of my subconscious.

In my piece about Lisa Fine Textiles I kept referring to her as a designer with a sense of history. I would describe her collaborator Carolina Irving in the same manner. Under their label Irving & Fine they don't just design beautiful clothing for you to wear; when you put them on you feel inspired. The garments aren't a passing fad but pieces that help you to create a unique personal style.


~ · ~

[The colours in the following images do not reflect the correct blue shade of the embroidery.
My daughter took the photos of me in the garden wearing the blouse.]


As Irving & Fine use the term a classic Tangier peasant blouse, I want to give a nod to the city, even though I haven't had the chance to visit it. I believe I have romanticised it in my mind; probably stuck in its golden era. Tangier is a vibrant city on the northern tip of Morocco, a short ferry ride away from Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. Remember in The Living Daylights (1987) when James Bond tracks down General Pushkin in Tangier to kill him? That's when I became hooked, and I think of Tangier each time I hear the song by my Nordic brothers in A-ha. (I am yet to see Spectre (2015), also set there.) I can easily picture its cultural mix, its narrow streets and bazaar stalls where merchants offer their rugs and spices.



Talking about Tangier and leaving out its most famous expatriate, American writer, translator and former composer Paul Bowles, is like discussing the New Testament and not mentioning Jesus, or the Qur’an and not the Prophet. In 1958, in a travel article, 'The Worlds of Tangier', he wrote:
I am now convinced that Tangier is a place where the past and the present exist simultaneously in proportionate degree, where a very much alive today is given an added depth of reality by the presence of an equally alive yesterday. ... In Tangier the past is a physical reality as perceptible as the sunlight. (Paul Bowles.org).
It was Gertrude Stein who suggested to Bowles to try to live and work there. He arrived there for the second time in 1947, published The Sheltering Sky two years later (remember him as the narrator in Bertolucci's film?), and stayed for 52 years, until his death in 1999. (Patti Smith wrote about him and trips to Morocco in M Train, a book I loved reading.)


I would like to leave you with a visual dose of Tangier, a short video where other expats describe Tangier to the readers of T-Magazine (Umberto Pasti and Christopher Gibbs, to name some). You can read the article, 'The Aesthetes', in full with images on the NYT website (it's one of those bookmarks I have kept). Its author Andrew O'Hagan introduces Tangier as the 'high meeting place of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Europe and Africa, sanctity and sin, where men and women have long set out to find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea.'

One day I will visit. Until then I have my Tangier blouse by Irving & Fine.



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