To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia

Exhibition Highlights

Nothing signaled a person’s rank in Central Asia as conspicuously as a boldly patterned ikat coat. As valuable personal belongings, cherished ikat robes were handed down from one generation to the next and were eventually recycled into hangings, covers, or trims.

After you look at the dizzying designs of ikats for a while, you might begin to see familiar motifs—a comb, a jug, or a pendant here, a pomegranate or a flowering shrub there. These stylized and abstracted elements are transformed into repeated designs that dance across the surface of the fabrics. By modifying the color scheme or varying the scale of motifs, craftsmen introduced endless varieties of similar patterns with stunning visual results.

Inspired by the “unbelievably rich” colors of traditional ikats, Oscar de la Renta (1932–2014) was the first contemporary designer to introduce the distinct fabric into Western fashion. His creative responses to ikats include a classic trench coat that playfully appropriates Central Asian patterns. In contrast, the elegant fur-trimmed evening coat made from traditional ikat fabric is his contemporary interpretation of a Central Asian coat. De la Renta’s appreciation of ikat is perhaps best expressed in his evening gown from 2013. A masterful adaptation of both the outside and inside of a historic Uzbek robe, it integrates a characteristic ikat pattern and an exuberant floral design that refers to the linings found in so many Central Asian costumes.