Wednesday 14 February 2024

TRAVEL: How Social Media is Breathing New Life into Bhutan’s Unwritten Local Languages

By Tashi Dema, University of New England

Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

She is in three WeChat groups where people usually communicate through voice messages in their native language. Most WeChat users in rural parts of the country communicate in their oral native language.

“I learn many words. I learnt how to say a lot of things in my own language,” the mother of two now living in Western Australia told me.

Dechen’s story is not isolated. Social media is giving a new lifeline to Bhutan’s native languages, which do not have written script and lack proper documentation. By communicating through voice messages, social media is giving Bhutanese people in both urban and rural areas a new opportunity to use their local language.

Losing Bhutan’s languages

Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan nation with a population of under 800,000 people. Internet and television was introduced only in 1999 and mobile phones in 2004.

The country has more than 20 local languages, but only Dzongkha has written text and is promoted as the national language.

The country struggles to promote the national language and its usage against English. Today most urban residents, especially the elites, speak English as their primary language.

A Bhutanese woman on a phone.
WeChat users can send each other voice messages in their local language. Shutterstock

Many languages – especially minority languages – are vanishing or becoming endangered as younger generations switch to Dzongkha and English.

The medium of instruction in schools is mostly in English; Dzongkha is taught only as grammar and literature. Students are shamed and often punished for using their local languages.

The preservation and promotion of local languages, therefore, depends on the speakers. A language faces extinction when its speakers die out or switch to another language.

Linguist Pema Wangdi has researched languages in Bhutan, and he told me many people are losing their native language.

“When we lose our language, we lose a piece of our national identity,” he told me.

Masked dance of Dochula Tsechu.
Languages are an important part of cultural identities. Pema Gyamtsho/Unsplash

Wangdi has identified there are no longer any speakers of Olekha, an indigenous dialect of Rukha in Wangdu Phodrang.

“The loss of a single language is a loss of a piece of our national linguistic heritage and identity,” he said. “When a language is lost, cultural traditions which are tied to that language such as songs, myths and poetry will be lost forever.”

Other Bhutanese languages – including Tshophu language of Doyaps in Samtse, Monpa language of central Bhutan, and Gongdukha of Mongar – are endangered and at the brink of extinction.

Preservation of local languages

The future of the minority languages are at threat. The Constitution of Bhutan mandates the preservation and promotion of local languages, but there are no official efforts to preserve native languages.

But encouraging people to speak their native languages can have far reaching benefits in preserving and promoting Bhutan’s rich culture and tradition. Language embodies identity, ethnicity and cultural values: a thriving local language would help transfer this intangible wealth to the younger generation.

Social media could be an invaluable tool in this preservation.

Bhutanese man checking his mobile phone next a white stone wall.
Social media could be an invaluable tool in the preservation of languages. Shutterstock

Bhutan could save its languages from becoming extinct with promotion of social media usages and language education could be done on the social media platforms. With both young and old people glued to social media, encouraging more people to use local languages in social media could generate interest among the youth to learn their local languages.

It could also help in documenting the endangered local languages as the older generation can record their voices on WeChat.

Many elder citizens feel strongly about their language and emphasise teaching their mother tongue to the younger generation and their grandchildren. Social media – joining the younger generation on platforms where they feel at home – could be the way forward.The Conversation

Tashi Dema, PhD Candidate in Language and Politics, University of New England

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Tuesday 23 January 2024

Imane Ayissi's Colourful and Dynamic Collection for Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024

Raffia used in a creative way at the SS24 haute couture collection of Imane Ayissi in Paris. Photograph by Andrea Heinsohn. Cover picture by Elli Ioannou for DAM

Imane Ayissi’s Spring-Summer 2024 collection was a highlight of Paris Haute Couture Week. A tribute to the richness of African textiles and craftsmanship, the Cameroonian designer mixed brilliant colours with strong prints, diaphanous silhouettes, and unique textiles. He included traditional fabrics, illustrating how they can be used to preserve Africa’s heritage and inspire the next generation, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography by Elli Ioannou & Andrea Heinsohn

Designer Imane Ayissi at the finale of his Paris 
show.Photograph by Andrea Heinsohn
A vivid and engaging celebration of African textiles, Imane Ayissi's new collection of dynamic designs was a standout during Paris Haute Couture Week.

With the collection, Ayissi wove a story that beautifully intertwined tradition with contemporary haute couture. 

The runway pulsated with bright colors, under Ayissi's sure hand the purples, shimmering pinks and turquoise formed a cohesive whole and made a salient contrast to the all-black designs. 

The collection showcased twenty-six looks that cleverly mixed surprising fabric combinations with bold prints and elegant draping which enfolded the body. Ayissi's use of traditional African fabrics, was notable, particularly the Kente cloth from Ghana. Narrow skirts topped by short but voluminous jackets were especially effective using the African textiles. 

The collection showcased twenty-six looks which cleverly mixed surprising fabric combinations with bold prints and elegant draping

Traditional African fabrics were a feature
of the collection. Photograph by Elli Ioannou
The designer's use of Faso Dan Fani, a traditional fabric from Burkina Faso, was included in patchwork designs that had a subtle play of hues and textures. 

The collection also featured panels of woven materials and the use of raffia, another everyday material that is part of Ayissi's design canon. A vibrant orange minidress with raffia knotted down the front demonstrated the designer's capacity to use quotidian materials for haute couture.

Imane Ayissi's dedication to using and exploring African textiles means he is aiming to find high-quality materials from Africa. He is also a pioneer in integrating bamboo fibre into his work as part of his concern for the environment.  

The designer, who was the first from Sub-Saharan Africa to be included on the official Paris Haute Couture Week schedule four years ago, says he wants to recover and preserve Africa's textile heritage. Ayissi has said Africans need to embrace their history along with the economic potential of the fashion industry. 

Ayissi is challenging the fashion industry to recognize the value of Africa's textile expertise and encouraging Africans to take pride in their identity and heritage

The striking raffia orange minidress.
Photograph by Elli Ioannou
This Spring/Summer 2024 collection captivated the audience but also served as a call for the conservation and promotion of Africa's textiles. 

The designer's ability to use satins and silks with these local fabrics to create soigne gowns evinces his ability to bring a fresh vision to haute couture. 

As a couturier, Ayissi is not just creating fashion; he is leading a movement, challenging the industry to recognize the value of Africa's textile expertise and encouraging Africans to take pride in their identity and heritage.

Scroll down to see more highlights from Imane Ayissi's Spring/Summer 2024 collection in Pari
Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Andrea Heinsohn 

Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Elli Ioannou

Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Elli Ioannou

Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Elli Ioannou

Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Andrea Heinsohn
Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Andrea Heinsohn

Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring Summer 2024. Photograph by Elli Ioannou

Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Elli Ioannou

Imane Ayissi Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph by Andrea Heinsohn

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Sunday 21 January 2024

What was the Mantua? How a 17th-century Gown Transformed Dressmaking and Ushered in Financial Freedom for Women

Diego Velázquez, Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain, 1653, an early version of the mantua

By Sarah Bendall, Australian Catholic University

If you’ve watched many period dramas, you’ve probably seen a mantua before. Originating in France in the 1670s, this women’s garment consisted of lengths of t-shaped fabric that were pleated to create an unstiffened bodice with attached overskirts.

This gown was worn over a pair of stays (corset) and an often contrasting petticoat. The draping and folding of fabric created a front-opening gown.

What many people don’t realise, however, is how fundamentally this item of clothing altered women’s involvement in the fashion industry – and represented a ticket to financial freedom for an industry of female mantua makers.

The _Robe à la Française_ featured back pleats that draped to the floor.
The robe à la française was a mantua style that featured loose back pleats that draped to the floor. The Met/Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1954

What was the mantua?

After its invention in the 1670s, the new gown became immediately popular among fashionable Parisian women.

Although strict dress codes at the Versailles court of French King Louis XIV prohibited the wearing of mantuas, women at the English court helped popularise it in England.

By the 1680s, the mantua was widely worn in Western and Central Europe, as well as in European colonies around the world. It soon became the basis for all women’s gowns in the 18th century.

Popular versions of the mantua in 18th century included:

  • the loose style called a robe volante

  • the iconic robe à la française (sometimes called a sack gown) with its back pleats that draped to the floor, and

  • the tighter fitting robe à la anglaise  (also known as English or Italian gowns).

The _robe à l’anglaise_ was tighter fitting than its French counterpart.
The robe à l’anglaise had fitted back pleats and was tighter compared to its French counterpart. The Met/Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 2018

Tailors vs mantua makers

As well as changing the look of western fashions, the mantua radically changed women’s involvement in the fashion industry.

Before the 17th century, outer garments were usually made by male tailors. Apprenticeships and membership of guilds – the organisations that controlled most craft trades – were restricted to boys and men.

Women did participate informally in these professions. They sometimes worked alongside tailor family members (and some were fined for doing so) and widows were permitted to carry on the businesses of their deceased husbands.

Women had also historically worked as seamstresses or “silkwomen” making small linen or silk goods like underwear and accessories.

A blue loose 1730s style called a _robe volante_.
This loose 1730s style was called a robe volante. The Met/Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2010

However, this began to change in the late 17th century during what came to be known as the consumer revolution – a period, beginning in the 1600s, that saw a significant jump in the consumption of luxury goods.

Significantly, in 1675, women in Paris and Rouen acquired their own, independent couturière (dressmaking) guilds and began to take over making women’s clothing from male tailors.

In London, guilds with dwindling memberships also began to permit paying female members.

Due to the considerable influence of France on western fashions, women in London began to train under French dressmakers, giving rise to what were known in English as mantua makers.

Dressmaking and financial freedom

From the 18th to 20th centuries, dressmaking and other fashion or textile-related industries were the main source of formal employment for women in Britain, Australia and the United States (alongside teaching and domestic service).

New training opportunities in dressmaking – coupled with historical peculiarities such as London’s feme sole status, which allowed married women to run businesses and have finances independent of their husbands – meant many women began to open their own businesses.

Single women often lived in houses with other mantua makers and their apprentices, working as teams. Married women usually operated in workshops in the family home alongside their husbands, many of whom worked as tailors.

By the mid-18th century, manuals instructing parents on craft apprenticeships for their children noted mantua making was a large trade

reckoned a genteel, as well as profitable Employ [for women], many of them living well and saving Money.

But several male tailoring guilds in Europe attempted to stop women working as mantua makers, claiming they were taking away their business. Additionally, many women who worked in the garment-making industries were poorly paid and often worked in cramped conditions.

Mantuas were sometimes pinned up at the back.
Mantuas were sometimes pinned up at the back like this 1690s example. The Met/Rogers Fund, 1933

Yet, many did rise above. French mantua makers were particularly popular, with women in London paying substantially more for gowns made by French women with access to the latest fashion knowledge in Paris.

Some became confidants of queens. The famous fashion merchant Marie-Jeanne “Rose” Bertin designed many of French queen Marie Antoinette’s gowns (her detractors labelled her the queen’s “minister of fashion”).

These networks gave these women access to vast amounts of clients and social capital. By the 19th century, senior dressmakers and milliners called modistes often ran their own luxury fashion houses in the West End of London.

Mantua making was also a significant business opportunity for women in Australia.

“M. Hayes”, Catherine Mellon and Martha Matthews were all “mantua makers and milliners” who advertised their services in the early years of the Sydney colony.

Legacies of mantua makers

During the early years of the 19th century, mantuas fell out of use as new styles appeared. The term “dressmaker” also came to slowly replace the term “mantua maker”.

However, the gendered segregation of labour remained. During much of the 19th and 20th centuries, men were more likely to be tailors and have their clothing made by tailors. Women were more likely to be dressmakers and have their clothing made by dressmakers. The skills and techniques of each profession remained quite different.

With the advent of modern fast fashion, the skills of both tailors and dressmakers are fast being lost, and with it the knowledge of this revolutionary trade for women.The Conversation

Sarah Bendall, Research Fellow, Gender and Women's History Research Centre, Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Australian Catholic University

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Wednesday 17 January 2024

Paris Men's Fashion Week: Kidill's Autumn-Winter 2024 Collection: A Tribute to Punk's Unchanging Spirit and Renewed Rebellion

One of the new punk-inspired designs from Hiroaki Sueyasu new collection in Paris

Embodying the essence of punk, Hiroaki Sueyasu, the visionary force behind Kidill, not only commemorates its rebellious legacy but also reshapes the narrative for a new era. The resonance of the Autumn/Winter 2024 collection extends beyond fashion and is more of a cultural manifesto, an impassioned ode to punk's indomitable spirit, writes Antonio Visconti

Portrait of Japanese designer Hiroaki Sueyasu
IN the dynamic realm of fashion, where trends ebb and flow like the tide, Kidill's new collection emerges as a testament to the enduring spirit of punk. 

The recent passing of Jamie Reid, the iconic British artist known for his collaboration with the Sex Pistols, has cast a poignant shadow over the fashion landscape. 

For Hiroaki Sueyasu, Kidill’s artistic director, this loss marks not just the departure of an influential figure but the unraveling of a personal journey that began in collaboration with Reid for Autumn/Winter 2020.

In Sueyasu's own words, "Jamie was my very starting point." The profound impact of Reid's work and the collective influence of the early punk movement have left a void, one that Sueyasu poignantly describes as a tremendous loss.  Reid was more than an artist to Sueyasu; he was a reflection, a portrayal of the self.

Acknowledging the departure of remarkable figures who shaped early punk, Sueyasu speaks of a duty to ensure that the essence of punk, a force that has influenced our time and people, remains alive. In offering condolences that transcend the inimitable, Sueyasu declares, 'they are eternal,' affirming a commitment to immortalizing the legacy of punk pioneers.

The profound impact of Reid's work and the collective influence of the early punk movement have left a tremendous void

Punk for a new era
Sueyasu delves into the dichotomy of classic styles, recognizing the risk of becoming mere iconography over time. However, he asserts that stylized beauty has the capacity to absorb contemporary diversity and persist into the future yet anchored in the present. 

This philosophical underpinning sets the stage for the preeminent theme of the new collection: celebration of the positive energy of those who continue to breathe life into the rebellion embodied by punk.

The collection, a vibrant tapestry of DIY-inspired embellishments, prints, and jacquard weaves, crafted by Japanese artisans, serves as an exploration of the intersection between early punk classicism and the modern design ethos. 

Sueyasu pays homage to punk through deconstruction and the revival of ripped denim that is vintage and resewn, evoking the raw essence of the punk movement.

The direct message of this season’s collection resonates with the half-century history of punk, emphasizing its signature identity and attitude. Once perceived as a subculture confined to specific appearances, punk has transcended insularity. 

It has been inherited by many as a spirit of protest, propelling the evolution of a modern, independent culture. As articulated by Sueyasu, it has become a value system that respects individuality through freedom and expression.

The new collection crafted by Japanese artisans, serves as an exploration of the intersection between early punk classicism and the modern design ethos

Rebellion is the heart of punk
Sueyasu's return to the roots signifies more than a nostalgic homage; it is a channeling of origins, a rebirth and renewal of the brand. "As a matter of fact, my initial impulse and resistance remain the same." This simplicity becomes a poignant statement in a fashion landscape often dominated by complexity and change.

Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Sueyasu's journey from Omura Beauty and Fashion College to the vibrant streets of London in 2002 laid the foundation for a self-educated designer with a profound respect for the graphic artists of the punk age. Kidill, launched in 2014, draws inspiration from London punk, post-punk, and grunge cultures.

From the first runway collection in Tokyo for the 2014-15 Autumn/Winter season to the opening of the flagship store, Kidill Room, in Tokyo's Shibuya in 2016, Sueyasu's trajectory has been marked by accolades, including design awards and the governors prize for the Tokyo New Designer Fashion Grand Prix. Collaborations with respected artists include Dennis Morris, Public Image Limited, Sheila Rock, and Jamie Reid, among others.

Kidill's independent showcase in Paris since Spring/Summer 2021 and its inclusion on the official schedule for Paris Fashion Week from the Autumn/Winter 2021 underscore the label's growing influence on the global fashion stage. In paying homage to punk's roots, Sueyasu and Kidill not only celebrate a storied past but redefine rebellion for a new era. The latest collection is not just a fashion statement; it is more of a cultural manifesto, an ode to punk's unyielding spirit. 

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Monday 8 January 2024

Backstage with Timothée Chalamet in Los Angeles

Timothee Chalamet relaxes and plays the piano in LA as he gets ready for the Golden Globes in Celine Homme by Hedi Slimane.Photographs by Julian Ungano

As the curtain closed on the 81st Annual Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles, the spotlight remained on the effortlessly stylish Timothée Chalamet. While the accolade for Best Actor may have slipped through his fingers, the backstage glimpse into his pre-awards preparation reveals a star who shines just as bright offstage, writes Antonio Visconti

CAPTURED by the lens of the talented Julian Ungano, our exclusive behind-the-scenes look showcases Chalamet in the final moments before stepping onto the red carpet. Dressed in a meticulously curated ensemble by Hedi Slimane for Celine Homme, Chalamet exuded an air of understated confidence.

The embroidered jacket in wool gabardine, a striking creation in classic black, stole the show backstage. The intricate detailing and tailored fit hinted at the craftsmanship that goes into every Celine Homme piece, setting the tone for an evening of sartorial style.

Beneath the jacket, the loose shirt in cotton poplin took centre stage. In the moments before the grand reveal, Chalamet showcased how comfort and style effortlessly coalesce. The black shirt, elegantly unbuttoned, offered a glimpse of the actor's laid-back yet refined approach to fashion.

 As the final touches were added, the classic tux trousers in grain de poudre wool completed the ensemble with a nod to elegance. Chalamet's choice of black-on-black proved to be a good choice, creating a look that was sophisticated yet relaxed.

The drugstore Chelsea boots in calfskin, signature pieces from Hedi Slimane's design repertoire, added a contemporary edge and served as a testament to Chalamet's willingness to embrace avant-garde elements within traditional menswear. 

In the heart of Los Angeles, on the eve of the Golden Globes, Chalamet's backstage preparation unfolded giving a glimpse of his commitment to both craft and style. Though the Best Actor trophy eluded him and went to Paul Giametti, his Celine ensemble and the meticulous attention to detail provided a glimpse into a fashion-forward approach that resonates beyond the confines of the red carpet. As the curtain falls on this year's awards, one thing is certain: Timothée Chalamet's style steals the spotlight, both on and off the stage.

Scroll down or tap photographs to see more of Timothée Chalamet preparing for the awards ceremony.

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Friday 5 January 2024

Harmonizing Heritage and Haute Couture: Erdem's Ode to Maria Callas Pre-Fall 2024

Erdem's new collection inspired by the mid-century European world of Maria Callas
Fashion meets opera in Erdem Moralioglu's new Pre-Fall 2024 collection, weaving threads of inspiration from the legendary Maria Callas. A diva whose on-stage prowess belied a life fraught with insecurity and tragedy, Callas's voice possessed an electric capacity to project complex emotional states. While the opera singer has been the muse for other fashion designers this season, Erdem takes a more abstract approach, writes Antonio Visconti. Photographs by Sonia Szostak
One of the dreamy silk dresses in Erdem's
latest collection scattered with flowers.
Erdem's latest collection is a sartorial exploration of how Callas dressed and carried herself, drawing from the singer's style and mid-century motifs. 

The juxtaposition of structure and drapery, tailoring and organic shapes, creates an intriguing dance of contrasts, reminiscent of Fifties and Sixties silhouettes: cocoon shapes, boat-neck dresses, and felted pea coats with voluminous backs.

The overall sensation is one of decadence tempered with an austere edge. In Erdem's vision, each ensemble is a play between the controlled and the wild. A sleek black dresss with an oversized fuchsia bow, evinces the contrasts. 

Monastic dresses adorned with built-in bows and capes featuring jewel-encrusted shoulders, exude elegance tinged with exuberance. A cloqué gown, with exaggerated bows on the shoulders, showcases Erdem's masterful touch in navigating a delicate line between the extravagant and something more refined. 

A black duchesse dress, complete with a structured bustier and waist, has a sculptural quality. Whereas knits paired with mint-green draped skirts bridge both the casual and formal. Flower motifs, predominantly roses, are used as symbols, scattered across silk dresses, in blurred motion, as if caught mid-flight from audience to star. A long gown, entirely covered with hand-dyed applique roses in varying shades from red to pink, has a certain poetic expression. 

The juxtaposition of structure and drapery, tailoring and organic shapes, creates an intriguing dance of contrasts, reminiscent of Fifties and Sixties silhouettes

Roses adorn this gown inspired by the
mid-century style of Maria Callas
Silk-printed roses beneath black tulle skirts, and a black peplum suit jacket adorned with hundreds of black crushed flowers, almost camouflaged in their abundance. The collection creatively interprets the wardrobe of Maria Callas, who lived life both in the glare of the theatre and under the spotlight of high society. 

Erdem's designs blur the threshold between on and off stage making his creations very wearable along with being an homage to Maria Callas. 

The designer's own narrative has its drama, as he was born in Montreal, later traversing continents, honing his craft under fashion luminaries like Vivienne Westwood in the United Kingdom. 

His trajectory from London to New York and back, culminated in the launch of ERDEM in 2005,  Accolades such as the British Fashion Council’s Women’s Wear Designer of the Year in 2014 and an MBE in 2020 underscore his impact on fashion.

Creavity and elegance converge in Erdem's collections which are full of emotion. As Pre-Fall '24 unfolds, Erdem continues to be both curator and composer, weaving a tapestry that explores though the medium of fashion the enduring legacy of Maria Callas.

See more highlights from Erdem's collection below 


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