A caftan is a flowing dress/tunic/robe…with a touch of the exotic & ethnic that has traveled through thousands of centuries and several cultures…from the Ottomans, to the North & West Africans, to the Russians, to the Perisans, to the Jews, to the Chinese, to the Japanese…
The caftan (or kaftan) first appeared in ancient Mesopotamia, an area that encompasses parts of modern day Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey around 600 B.C
“The structure of a caftan is really just loose fabric, attached to the shoulders with holes for the arms and the head,” says stylist and fashion historian Anna Yanofsky, who is the editor of Exhibiting Fashion and has also written about caftans for Nomad-Chic. “It’s the kind of garment that has been worn throughout history by lots of different cultures. The idea of taking loose fabric and covering the body is prevalent throughout the world. But the ones that we know now as fashionable caftans have their most immediate root in the 1960s, when designers were starting to look toward more exotic locations like Morocco and Turkey, places where these traditional loose, flowing garments were worn for centuries because of the warm climates. It’s such a breathable, comfortable garment in the heat.”
She continues about the history of the caftan into couture fashion: “In high fashion, the love affair with the caftan dawned at the beginning of the 20th century. When Queen Victoria’s granddaughter married Czar Nicolas II at the end of the 19th century and became Czarina Alexandra, she was photographed in the loose, traditional kaftan dress of the opulent Russian Orthodoxy. Her new appearance spurred a taste for the exotic in Europe and The Ballet Russe fed that appetite. Headed by Diaghalev and with costumes by Leon Bankst, the wildly popular Parisian troupe performed Sheherezade in 1910. Set in the heat of Arabia, the ballet brought the ornate luxury of the Middle East to the height of fashion. In the same spirit of Leon Bakst’s costumes for the ballet, designer Paul Poiret, headed the charge of dress liberation. Taking mystical Arabian dress as his aesthetic he championed drapery over tailoring. His wife Denise Poiret was his muse, and he dressed her in voluminous garments that soon graced the backs of nearly every fashion-forward woman. The waist was nowhere to be found, and womens’ bodies were let out of their corset cages for years to come.
The second rise of the caftan began in the mid-1950s with Balenciaga’s sack and trapeze dresses, and exploded into fashion in the late 1960s due largely to one single force: Diana Vreeland. The beloved Vogue editor’s approach to fashion was revelatory. On the wings of newly accessible jet planes, she sent her models and photographers to far-reaching destinations and dressed them accordingly. In 1967 the pages of Vogue bloomed with caftans under her direction. Oscar de la Renta, Pucci, Pierre Cardin, and Valentino crafted printed caftans of every color and pattern. It was the haute version of a hippie’s free love clothing.
Throughout the 1970s, the caftan stayed in the style picture. Halston’s tie-dye silk chiffon evening caftans twirled across the disco dance floor. Algerian-born Yves Saint Laurent sent caftans down the runway as an expression of his love for Morocco where he had a home. Enduring style icons like Bianca Jagger, Anjelica Huston, and Marisa Berenson wore the caftan with the kind of effortless elegance and allure that defines the era.
The caftan is still invoked in fashion as a symbol of exoticism and freedom by designers and the style vanguard. And, it is still sexy as ever. Each season’s runway shows prove that the caftan is making yet another comeback. Chiffon-caped dresses float down the catwalk in chic updates of favorite silhouettes. Bohemain luxe mainstays Emilio Pucci and Missoni always provide a seasonless caftan wardrobe.”
And now there are Guatemalan caftans created from vintage handwoven “cortes”/skirts worn by indigenous women in Guatemala. Each one is unique and one of a kind with natural indigo and other dyes from a gently used Maya textile using Fair Trade practices. Find these beautiful, flowing, glamourous pieces here on Coleccion Luna.
Celeberity stylist, designer, and fashion editor Rachel Zoe states it perfectly on why I adore caftans…especially ours made from vintage Maya textiles: “To me, caftans are one of the most versatile pieces of clothing, meaning you can wear it from the beach to a barbeque to a cocktail party to a black tie event. Caftans are timeless and I never leave home without a few when I’m traveling because you never know where you’re going to end up and need a caftan!”