Ethnic trend in dress design is getting increasingly popular every year, becoming one of the important aspects in the work of fashion designers. Kazakh designers exploring this domain source their inspiration in the Kazakh traditional costume as part of the nation’s rich cultural heritage. Designers appreciate its time-proven shapes, unique structure, the details of the cut, a harmonious combination with jewellery, and colour solutions – all those qualities that can well be used in creating modern apparel.
Of the features of the Kazakh traditional costume, directly pointing to its nationality, the most expressive is colour, which usually evolves under the influence of the natural environment in which a nation lives. The idea of association with a particular colour belongs to Goethe: “Sometimes it suffices only to see a familiar combination of colours to almost unmistakably determine ethnic origin of an artefact” (1, p. 56). Clothing of early nomads, representatives of Sako-Scythian culture, played an important role in the evolution of design and colours of the Kazakh costume.
It is known that pants are the invention of nomads. Trendy articles of the 21st century, such as tiered skirts (sewn horizontally from sennit or woven pieces of fabric), were also devised by early nomads. This is confirmed by clothes discovered in Pazyryk burial mounds in Altai Mountains (4-5 cc. B.C.), which survived in the permafrost prevalent in those territories. Clothes worn by ancient herdsmen included “tail-coats” (named so for the similarity of style) made from sable furs and covered with Chinese silk (2, p. 33) and caftans (a unique find from Katanda mound, Altai Mountains, is exhibited at the State Historical Museum in Moscow).
A nomad’s costume is a fairly complex structure featuring decoration techniques, as well as the unique formula of natural dyes. The analysis of red and blue dyes has shown that Pazyryk textile contains real purple, carmine, kermes, lake and indigo, and is a unique artefact of the dyeing art that existed in the 6-5 centuries B.C. According to N. Kononov, to dye wool blue they used indigo, and purple and alizarin were used to produce red colour. Mealybugs (coccids) were another common method for textile dyeing: scale insects thriving in heat and moisture produced red mordant dyes (3, p. 42).
In the Issyk burial mound (the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau) they found the burial of a Sak warrior (5 c. B.C.) whose clothing, covered with gold triangular plates all over in an imitation of a plate armour, consisted of a red suede jacket and red leather pants tucked into boots. The costume design is a model of aesthetic perfection. The combination of red and gold in the attire of the “golden warrior” is a kind of confirmation of ancient oriental glorification of the Sun. Glittering gold was associated with the rays of sun, the sunrise and sunset.
Gold has always had a special significance in the system of religious and aesthetic ideas. Goethe wrote: “In its highest purity, yellow is always fair and clear, distinct in its merry spirits and soft charm. Gold in its perfectly pure form, especially when it glitters, gives us a new and high notion about this colour.” (1)
The set of women’s costumes from Pazyryk mounds includes a skirt, a shirt (with long sleeves and round neckline decorated with red braid and tape), and festive, lightweight fur-coat called chapan, which was made shorter at the front and deliberately longer at the back (train). The basis of the chapan decorations was leather appliqu?, and coloured fur was sewn to the rim of the garment. The feet were shod in tall white felt stocking-boots (the prototype of modern hessian boots) decorated with an appliqu? with zoomorphic motifs at the top. One of the women’s hair was styled in a high coiffure narrowing towards the top and decorated with figures of birds, deer and ibex. Perhaps, only a professional was capable of designing hair at this level of complexity.
Many facts confirm that red colour had a special import in ancient cultures. This colour was typical in men’s, women’s and children’s clothing found in a number of Pazyryk burial mounds (men’s and women’s woollen pants; structural seams in a shirt were also made with red lace; red colour was used for women’s dresses and woollen children’s hats (4, p. 305).
Clothing of nomadic population living around Lake Lobnor on the verge of the 2nd and 1st millennia B.C. (4, p. 307) was also coloured in different shades of red (occasionally in brown or yellowish-grey). An item worn around the waist from Ak-Alaha-3 burial mound (5, p. 41) is a skirt sewn from three horizontal pieces, each of its own shade of red: the upper one scarlet, the middle one pink, and the bottom one deep vinous. The skirt was girded with a braided cord with orange-red tassels. It would be appropriate to mention here that many nations considered red to be the colour of power and supremacy.
From ancient times colour in clothing was used to enhance its metaphorical and informative function, as well as to communicate aesthetic preferences of the wearer, but perhaps the symbolic function of colour was most important of all. Let us consider some specific examples. A baby’s first shirt in many Turkic nations was called it-koylek – the dog shirt. It was sewn from many multi-coloured shreds in kurak technique. The name came from the tradition of throwing the shirt over the head of a puppy or dog before putting it on the baby for the first time. If children died frequently in a family, the first baby’s clothes were sewn from seven pieces taken from seven different homes (zheti zherden zheti kurak). A distinctive feature of this clothing is not only its archaic cut, but also untrimmed hem and sleeve edges (yetegin kaiyrmaydy). Usually the baby shirt was sewn by the mother; a stranger was never trusted with this work, even a person within an extended family (6, p. 50).
The magical properties of the shirt colour were attributed to the fact that its red patches protected from measles, yellow ones from jaundice, and deep blue from whooping-cough. It-koylek usually had no protective amulets or jewellery on it. It was complemented by topy headdress sewn in the form of a bonnet of white fabric (6, p. 54); the choice of colour was not accidental either: white is a symbol of purity, nobleness, harmony and peace.
The baby’s first smile was celebrated by giving it a bracelet against evil eye – kozmonshak, which consisted of black beads with white spots. The combination of black and white in this case functioned as a strongest guard. We find many similarities in the symbolism of the Eastern nations. For instance, the “The Eye of Horus”, an elongated image of an eye, is one of the favourite Egyptian amulets. Myths tell us that “In a battle with Seth, Horus lost one eye, and Thoth, the god of wisdom, the great mage and healer, gave him the All-Seeing Eye in return. It became a symbol of healing, and the Egyptians believed that it brought health and strength, and was also the embodiment of sacrifice, because Horus lost his eye fighting against evil” (7, p. 4). We believe that the Kazakh amulet represents a human eye, where the eyeball is a black bead, and the white spot on it show the iris and pupil, repelling an evil look and performing a protective function. Turner, however, covers this issue in greater detail (8, p. 86). His research has shown that white colour (the beads are marked with white paint) was used to protect from the effects of evil spirits and deities, and as a remedy against evil eye and bedevilling.
An expressive element of traditional costume is a headdress that plays a key role in the identification function of a dress. In the headdress of Kazakh woman white colour dominated. A white headdress was always present in the life of a Kazakh woman, because white is the colour of Allah. But during the first year of marriage a woman wore saukele, where the predominant colour was red. In the study by I. Zaharova and U. Hojaeva we find the following description of the headdress: “Saukele consisted of two main elements: directly on her head a woman wore a conical hat made of cloth and quilted with inner lining, which could be up to 25 cm high; sometimes a forehead or a nape pieces were sewn to it…
An essential complement to saukele was a large veil (zhelek) made of light fabric, usually white, which was usually attached to the top of the hat and could cover the entire body” (9). In the colour solution of this item, the lead colours were red (fabric, corals) and white (fabric), as well as the natural colour of silver (white) and gold (yellow). White – a holy one; yellow – spacious, supreme, the symbol of the earth, the colour of steppe soil and clay; and the main sacred significance of red is the ability for childbearing, reproduction, fertility, health and well-being. Together with white, red forms “a life-asserting couple” symbolizing good forces, might, dignity, power and wealth.
As a married woman became pregnant, they put her first kimeshek (cover) over her head, details of which gradually changed with the woman’s age. Basically, it consisted of two parts: kimeshek itself – a cover sewn to fit the shape of a head with an opening for the face, and the top part – a woman’s turban wrapped over the kimeshek. Both parts were made of white fabric.
The clothing of girls and young women was predominantly red. This is also reflected in a Kazakh proverb, “Kyzdyn kozi kyzylda”, or “The girl’s eyes are fixed on red”. The predominance of red colour in the costume of women of childbearing age is characteristic of many Turkic nations.
After the birth of two or three children, red colour in a woman’s dress gave way to calmer tones. U. Janibekov noted: “It was considered improper for a married woman to wear a dress of bright colour, with ruffles and embroidery, while a young girl could wear any dress she liked, which was often embroidered with tambour, and gold and silver tinsel. The tradition required that, after becoming a wife and mother, a woman wore longer dresses without frills, and a coat fastened at the front on the waistline with a large metal kapsirma clasp, or often with buttons” (10, p. 13).
Men’s robes (shapan) are usually made of red broadcloth and completely covered with tambour embroidery, in which the main motif is solar circles symbolizing the sun and planets; the embroidery is performed with white, yellow, black, blue and green silk filaments.
The headdresses of Kazakh men are were quite diverse and predominantly white; therefore, the tall hat of white felt was called ak kalpak. Embroidery in white silk made the item look smart and festive. In men’s and women’s sashes of green, brown, and red colours, which are an integral part of the Kazakh costume, green colour dominates. In this case, the priority of green is probably explained by the fact that green is one of the colours of Islam and the colour of the holy banners of the prophet Mohammed.
Thus, the costume functionality was achieved with the help of the following techniques:
- Combination of straight-line and curving components in the cut of shekpen, shirts and other items;
- Predominantly horizontal sectioning, and playing with rhythm in a tiered skirt;
- Following the system of constructive sectioning and different finishing methods;
- Combination of sheared and fluffy fur;
- Combination of silk and fluffy fur;
- Combination of felt and leather;
- Combination of various types of fur, including finishing without the inner side of hide;
- Compliance of the compositional, constructive and decorative solution to static form and symmetry;
- Providing for the sacral and protective function in costume decoration and jewellery.
In the era of technological progress, “ethnic” collections of contemporary designers have acquired a new look and new shapes; nevertheless, all of them have a profoundly traditional flavour. Traditional colouristic range is also manifest in contemporary collections.
Wedding costumes created by designers from the “Symbat” Fashion Academy since 1960s are mostly white. White in combination with gold is particularly pronounced in the work of a talented traditional costume designer A. Ptitsyna. Her dresses were awarded diplomas of international Haute Couture traditional costume competitions. At the international exhibition “Intermoda-88″ designer I. Dobrokhotova was awarded the “Golden Ribbon” prize for her black and white collection that combined black leather and white woollen cloth decorated with stylized floral ornaments. Designer T. Denisko received a very enthusiastic feedback from her impressed audience. Her collection of black woollen cloth coats decorated with coloured plush appliqu? combining floral design with zoomorphic motifs was surprisingly original and beautiful. Splendid “Kara-Tau” black leather collection for men by A. Ptitsyna was decorated with braid laid to form the traditional zoomorphic motifs.
In the fabric colour every designer finds something that appeals to his or her artistic thinking, and uses traditional colour combinations characteristic of his or her own nation.
International fashion festival “The Oriental Season” held in October 1995 in Almaty, the designer general of which was E. Kuzhamuratova, turned into a broad-based event that provided an opportunity for the interaction and mutual enrichment of cultures, during which high fashion and music blended harmoniously. The invitation card for the festival featured pictures of items from the collection of designer S. Sohoreva. Her collection in black leather was performed in ethnic style. Head-wear was decorated with fine handmade jewellery, and the collection did not go unnoticed by the festival jury. The classic colours of the Kazakh costume helped Sohoreva to win recognition at the 2000 “Miss World” pageant in London. Her red taffeta dress made for Margarita Kravtsova, the contestant from Almaty ranked the forth in the contest, was recognized as the best dress of the past century.
A well-known designer B. Asanova also uses black and white extensively. The master of colour, she brings the exotic Asian flavour into her art and creates a costume on the basis of historical and ethnographic heritage, creative review of the Kazakh traditional costume, and design specimens of the past and present. Today Asanova is a costume designer recognized in Europe.
Thus, the general trends in the traditional costume colour scheme, in which red, white, black, green, yellow and blue colours dominate, reveal a connection with the ancient archetypes and are indicative of a sustainability of long-standing aesthetic traditions of the Kazakh people.
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Shahizada Turganbaeva (Kazakhstan)