On Schiaparelli’s Tarbushes, Chachias and Fez

Credits: Sipa

Schiaparelli’s 2015 haute couture show was a pleasant mix of the house’s original codes and Farida Khelfa’s personal inspirations. Born and raised in France from Algerian parents, Khelfa, who is Schiaparelli’s muse since its reopening in 2012, said she “wanted to put emotion inside the couture” for this very special défilé.

Indeed, it was special.

First, there wasn’t any artistic director for this collection since Marco Zanini, the

Details - Style.com
Details – Style.com

previous one, left in November 2014. The fashion community fretfully waited for it, wondering if Schiaparelli’s DNA would be well represented by the in-house team who was in charge, amongst which were Farida Khelfa and photographer Jean-Paul Goude.

Most importantly, an Arab-inspired vibe stunningly swept the catwalk. The whimsical royal blue tarbush on the first look set things straight: this collection will be amazing, from the tarbush cleverly worn above a golden-constellation-stained white suit, to the mysterious veiled silhouettes graciously passing by – sometimes even holding a fun twist brought by matching metal-structured caps. Each look had a unique headpiece created by the milliner Stephen Jones. But the one Franco-Algerian Khelfa chose to introduce the whole collection was the tarbush.

A tarbush is a deep red velvet or silk hat originally worn by men. Its first forms seemed to appear in Ancient Greece but it became popular during the 19th century when the Ottoman Empire made it an official item of the imperial costume. Later on, even when

GB Art & Photography
GB Art & Photography

the rest of the attire became more and more influenced by Western fashion, Ottomans kept using tarbushes, associating them with – guess what – formal suits, just like Schiaparelli’s first couture outfit! This traditional hat holds a very strong symbolical value, as it is worn now by both men and women, in the whole (Arab) world. Tarbush (from the Persian sar meaning “head” and push standing for “hairdo”) is the most used word to designate this hat, in Egypt, in Algeria and more generally in English language. Moroccans call it a fez, Tunisians say chachia. Sri Lanka, Cyprus, Pakistan, Libya, South-East Asia, Bosnia and Serbia are also touched by the red spot. Pop culture uses it as a formidable tool, not unlike Moroccan artists Ghita Benlamlih and Yassine Morabite who put fez on Mandela’s and Coco Chanel’s heads. Tarbush holds various forms, turbanized or not, with edges or without, but still, tarbush made it through time and space, through gender and class. And this is the kind of fashion we love, the one that federates and unites people, the one that makes you crave for a Schiap RTW line, not just couture.


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Besides the striking use of tarbush, Schiaparelli’s last haute couture show also emphasized Arab culture with a few silhouette heavily Orient-connoted. There were the two beautiful veiled ladies, stunning in vivid green and red hues.


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And then there were more subtle references like the sheer red harem pants that Scheherazade could have worn in one of her stories, the parsimonious 5-branch silver stars embroidered on a green satin dress, and the checkered keffieh pattern visible on a sparkly black outfit.

Thelma Foy, 1937

Schiaparelli’s collection had other ethnic inspirations (Spanish, African and Asian) as well, comforting the maison in its cosmopolite dimension. However, the Arab only caught more attention because Elsa Schiaparelli – Italian Elsa, Mediterranean Schiaprelli – herself used a sort of chachia during her beginnings for her looks in the late thirties.

View full collection here.

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