silver: from fetish to fashion

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Silver jewelry collection that was recently donated to the Museum of Art and Design in New York

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  • 23 u

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  • photo 11 : Tara models a Hmong bracelet from Burma and a pair of Rajast-hani earrings from India. See Chapters XI and IX.p

    25 u

    What is fashion? This sphinx-like riddle can be answered on so many levels that great couturiers eternally wres-tle with itas do fashion editors. Every year, designers strive to make their mark, trying anxiously to set a trend for the beautiful people. An industry eagerly awaits for reactions to its shows, hoping masses of women will buy their designs, trying to feel included among the elite.

    The vision of fashion as a chimera created with mirrors and press agentry buzzing around models parading up and down runways exists only in the great capitals of the West. However, more fundamentally, fashion is an exercise com-mon to any group attempting to establish and maintain its identity, against the backdrop of a whole society. Within a given group, fashion helps in establish-ing the pecking order among men and women, and in defining its boundaries. These boundaries are always blurred, for social groupings and social standings are forever shifting. What is inclusive this year, may be exclusive the next, as groupings form and reform. Fashions assist, as barriers are raised and leveled, in rotating the infinitely varied kaleidoscope created by all dynamic societies. Fashion encompasses not only fabrics, but also accessories. Together with the gown, shawl and coatthe assorted tiara, necklace, bracelets, brooches, earrings and ringshave to be viewed as composing an integral whole. We must examine: not only the garb, with its many petticoats and the blouse with the bouffant sleeves, but the headdress, torque and anklets that complete the ensemble. Thus, fashion is the all-inclusive consideration of wearable art.

    To restate: Fashion defines the image we project to our group and to the world at large. To the famous dictum of male sartorial elegance: Clothing makes the man, we must add and jewelry defines the woman. One only

    Chapter i

    aCCessorize!

    *

    fig. 9-1 : Earrings : Similar to those worn by Rabari woman in photo 27.

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    Chapter i : aCCessorize!

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    u 26

    Chapter iX : the indian subContinent

    photo 31 : Bhil Woman: Bhils are the second largest aboriginal group in India and favor this type of necklace. Photograph courtesy of Fred Kohler: Rajasthan, Terre des Seigneurs.

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  • Chapter i : aCCessorize!

    27 u

    Chapter iX : the indian subContinent

    27 u

    fig. 9-25 : nEck ring : This bold neck-ring comes from the westernmost tip of Gujarat, the Ran of Kutch, but also is found in Rajasthan. Photo 31 opposite shows a Bhil woman wearing this necklace. This torque of coiled silver, probably made at Mundra, is fastened by a hooked catch in the front. (SI88.37)

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    fig. 9-26: cuff BracElEts: This pair of heart-shaped bracelets are held in place by a screw at the very tip. When closing an open bracelet, a piece on the side snaps into place after the five tubular rings have been engaged. The fit is so tight, that the screw (a left-handed one) just secures the piece redundantly. (SI88.12ab)

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    fig. 9-27: BracElEt: This hollow bracelet is hinged on the side and held in place by a pin inserted between the end knobs. Although its boldness is unusual, its origin has not been determined. (SI88.25)

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  • Chapter i : aCCessorize!

    29 u

    Chapter iX : the indian subContinent

    fig. 9-28: BracElEt: This bracelet from the Punjab, with pearl-sized beads on a cloth backing is reportedly made in a single village. The beads being hollow, oftentimes develop holes due to wear. (SI88.26)

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    fig. 9-29: BanglEs: These hollow bangles originate in the Rajasthan. Were it not for the rosettes along the side, they could be from the Shan plateau of Burma. (SI88.38; 39)

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    Chapter i : aCCessorize!

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    u 30

    Chapter iX : the indian subContinent

    fig. 9-51 : torquE: This type of hasli is worn frequently in Western Rajast-han. It can be seen on the woman who appears in photo 35. (SIY04.14)

  • Chapter i : aCCessorize!

    31 u

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    Chapter iX : the indian subContinent

    31 u

    photo 35: Village woman shopping in the Jodhpur Market. Photograph by Serga Nadler.

  • 33 u

    pphoto 45: akha matron: Peddler in her typical headdress of round silver balls. Photograph by Daniel Nadler.

    33 u

    Dwelling in the northern reaches of most countries of Southeast Asia are peoples who do not belong to the majority of the population. These people inhabit the highlands, having been relegated to the uplands by the majority lowlanders. Sometimes they are referred to as hill tribes, at other times they are minority nation-alities, as in China. Depending on the political and economic climate, alternately they were embraced, preyed upon, or treated as foreign entities. These re-lationships are complicated, and beyond our present scope.

    Ethnologists debate about the minorities ori-gin, and parse their languages and customs to try and establish their identities. By living isolated in the broken highlands, they have been able to retain their long-standing customs. Traditionally known as head-takers, it is not surprising that they are not always warmly received by their neighbors. Additionally, their periodic dependence on opium as their primary cash crop has caused repression by their host governments. Furthermore, their slash and burn method of cultivation makes them somewhat less than sedentary. As someone who is not a specialist in the field, it is difficult to differentiate between these groups since they are called by different names even within the same country. For example, in Thailand where there are six officially rec-ognized minorities, one is surprised to find than the Mien are also called the Yao. When visiting China, one discovers that the Miao are of the same stock as those to the south called Hmong, and the Thai population of Sichuanbana

    Chapter Xi

    nationalities of southeast asia:

    *thailand, burma, southern China, Cambodia, laos and Vietnam

    fig. 1 1 -26: torquE

    nEck-rings: Similar neck-rings can be seen worn by the Dong woman on photograph 57 and also in great profusion by the Miao girl on photograph 68. (SH00.07&34)

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    Chapter i : aCCessorize!

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    u 34

    Chapter Xi : nationalities of southeast asia

    fig. 1 1 -6 : nEckpiEcE: On photo 50 a Lisu woman wears silver necklaces similar to the neckpiece shown in this figure, which was made for the tour-ist trade. (SS88.20)

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  • Chapter i : aCCessorize!

    35 u

    Chapter Xi : nationalities of southeast asia

    35 u

    photo 50: lisu Woman: The Lisu are partial to profuse and very particular dangles with closed ends. Photograph courtesy of Richard K. Diran: The Vanishing Tribes of Burma.

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    Chapter i : aCCessorize!

    u 36

    Chapter Xi : nationalities of southeast asia

    photo 47: Blue Hmong woman.

    photo 48:Lisu women. Courtesy of Paul & Elaine Lewis Peoples of the Golden Triangle.

  • 37 u

    Chapter X1

    is called the Dai (not to be confused with the Bai.) One also learns that there are subgroups, such as the Blue Hmong and the White Hmong. Moreover, entire groups have been displaced, such as the Montagnards of Vietnam, who belonged to the Hmong.

    The vision of fashion as a chimera created with mirrors and press agentry buzzing around models parading up and down runways exists only in the great capitals of the West. However, more fundamentally, fashion is an exer-cise common to any group attempting to establish and maintain its identity, against the backdrop of a whole society. Within a given group, fashion helps in establishing the pecking order among men and women, and in defining its boundaries. These boundaries are always blurred, for social groupings and social standings are forever shifting.

    37 u

    fig. 1 1 -2 : nEckpiEcE: This elaborate neckpiece has the typical conical Lisu jangles, and is seg-mented into parts by a fish and a butterfly, both of which are enameled in yellow, purple and green. It further includes a grooming kit. See our Text. (SS89.05)

  • u 38

    Chapter i : aCCessorize!

    the nationalities of southwestern China

    Several years ago when visiting an antique show in New York, my eye hap-pened to fall on a small book displayed there; The Dong People of China by Gail Rossi, with photographs by Paul Lau. From the cover of this excellent booklet, reproduced as photograph 57, it is easy to understand why I was captivated by the boldly torqued necklaces worn by the young Dong woman, the likes of which I had never encountered. Whenever a friend traveled to Hong Kong, I handed him a photocopy of the cover asking him to buy such a necklace. There were never any positive responses, and even the most diligent of our friends claimed that such a piece had never been seen in Hong Kong. I must admit I found this hard to believe, for the Dong live only some 500 miles away as the crow flies.

    Some five or six years later, in 2000, we undertook a six week tour of Thailand, Cambodia and Burma, using Bangkok as our hub. One evening we were to have dinner at the Oriental Hotel, and, arriving early, whiled a few moments in the shopping gallery. Walking into a shop, my eye immediately fell onto a Dong torque necklace, and before we rushed off for dinner I had bought it (see figure 11-26 SH00.07&34) and another Dong piece.

    As mentioned earlier, Bangkok is the free-market emporium of the Southeast. All the wares which do not have read