Man's Ikat Robe or Chapan, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan
This silk ikat robe was probably made and worn in the early 20th century, in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan’s central location between two major rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, allowed for trade from India, China, Russia, Southwest Asia, and Europe (Meller, 2013; Malik, 2010). Cities such as Bukhara and the current capital, Tashkent, were located on the Silk Road, filled with the textiles, ceramics, and food that flowed between the Far East and Mediterranean ports. The irrigation systems developed along the rivers were ideal for growing grains, vegetables, fruits, and most importantly cotton and silk (Sumner, 2010). Europeans called the unknown area of Central Asia ”Tartary” (land of the Tartars) before Russia gained control in 1865, renaming it the Province of Turkestan (Meller, 2013). The Soviets divided up Turkestan into five regions between 1924 and 1936. Uzbekistan, formed in 1924, declared independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 (Meller, 2013).
Uzbek ikat robes are directly tied to the culture of the Uzbek and Central Asian people. These t-shaped robes, called chapan, were worn by both nomadic people and those who settled in the region (Meller, 2013; RISD, 2008). Typically worn with a belt over a tunic and pants, men displayed wealth by wearing as many as ten robes at once. Robes could also signify wealth through the use of bright colors and intricate embroidering (Lillethun, 2010). The length of the sleeves, as well as being traditional, protected the hands from cold temperatures. The robes could be padded with layers of cotton to provide warmth in the winter months (Meller, 2013). Embroidered symbols on the trim offered protection against evil, adding a spiritual component to the garment. An important aspect to the robes was the sound made by the crisp silk when the wearer moved (Meller, 2013). This robe is slightly padded. The bright color and crispness of the silk suggests it was worn to show off wealth or was perhaps a gift from a wealthy owner to a favored servant.
This robe is possibly a shohi ikat, characterized as an all silk, plain weave textile. Shohi ikats were primarily woven using red and black weft threads and have an iridescent quality (Meller, 2013). These robes were known for making a distinct noise when worn and men would test them out before purchasing to ensure they made the “right” sound (Meller, 2013). Bukhara and the Fergana Valley were the heart of shohi ikat manufacturing in the 20th century (Meller, 2013).
This specific robe was hand sewn using pieces of woven silk ikat rather than a larger, whole piece. Both men and women wore the robes in a variety of colors and materials; depending on the region, the only difference was that men’s robes had a stand up collar and a simple tie closure (Meller, 2013).
Religion played a role in the choice of patterns and symbols that were woven or block printed onto silk and cotton. The repetition of geometric patterns and motifs are identifiable to Islam, as it signifies unity (Lillethun, 2010). Many of the ikat designs from the Fergana Valley reflect geometric and floral patterns that are quintessentially Islamic (Malik, 2010). Popular motifs include tulips, pomegranates, peppers, butterflies, and scorpions and were thought to ward off evil spirits (Malik, 2010). The interior lining of the robe in the URI Collection is block-printed with butterflies.
The revitalization of traditional Uzbek textiles after the fall of the Soviet Union was in part inspired by Uzbekistan people reclaiming a sense of national identity. Today Uzbekistan prides itself on the colorful textiles and patterns that are associated with its history. In 2020 Uzbekistan is the third largest producer of silk, according to the International Sericulture Commission, and the seventh largest producer of cotton behind, among others, India, China and the USA (Discover Natural Fibres Initiative, accessed August 31, 2020; Mentges, 2017). These statistics suggest an influence by the reestablishment of an ancient craft – silk ikat – as well as a renewed interest in traditional dress, and increase in demand of these fibers from outside countries such as Russia (Mentges, 2017).
In more rural areas both men and women still wear traditional dress such as caps, robes, sashes, and boots (Mentges, 2017). Context plays an important role, with contemporary Western dress considered appropriate in professional environments while traditional dress is often reserved for specific occasions (Vogelsang, 2017).
These examples of assimilation represent changes in tradition as well as the meaning of dress in regards to gender. There has been a rise in contemporary designers who are using traditional ikats and finding ways to modernize the use of these fabrics (Mentges, 2017). Many contemporary Uzbek designers, such as Bibi Hanum, are creating traditional Uzbek designs and infusing traditional elements into contemporary designs. It has since become a quintessential aspect of Uzbek identity for Uzbek people as well as outsiders. Designers including Oscar de la Renta and Diane von Furstenberg have incorporated Uzbek silks and embroidery into their collections (Malik, 2010).
Today the mixing of traditional and contemporary dress highlights the importance of acknowledging the past, present, and future.
Lillethun, A. (2010). Textiles of Central Asia. In G. Vogelsang-Eastwood (Eds.). Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Central and Southwest Asia (pp. 97–100). Oxford: Berg Publishers. Retrieved 29 February 2020, from http://dx.doi.org.uri.idm.oclc.org/10.2752/BEWDF/EDch5017
Malik, C. (2010). Uzbek Textiles. In G. Vogelsang-Eastwood (Eds.). Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Central and Southwest Asia (pp. 377–382). Oxford: Berg Publishers. Retrieved February 29 2020, from http://dx.doi.org.uri.idm.oclc.org/10.2752/BEWDF/EDch5061
Meller, S. (2013). Silk and Cotton: Textiles From The Central Asia That Was. New York, NY: Abrams.
Mentges, G. (2017). Textiles as National Heritage: Identities, Politics and Material Culture. New York : Waxmann Verlag.
Sumner, C. (2010). Dress from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In G. Vogelsang-Eastwood (Eds.). Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Central and Southwest Asia (pp. 369–376). Oxford: Berg Publishers. Retrieved April 16 2020, from http://dx.doi.org.uri.idm.oclc.org/10.2752/BEWDF/EDch5060
Vogelsang, W. (2017, September 17). 11. Uzbek traditional dress. Retrieved from https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-digital-exhibition/index.php/afghan-dress/item/81-uzbek-dress
Welcome – Bibi Hanum – Online shopping for luxury ikat kaftans, contemporary designer clothes, handicrafts and souvenirs from Uzbekistan. (2017). Retrieved from https://bibihanum.com/
cotton, plain weave fabrics
glass seed beads
cotton and silk yarns for trims
The exterior is a plain weave silk ikat, pieced
The interior is a plain weave printed cotton
There are two contrasting inside facings: a plain weave, wax-coated silk ikat of yellow and white; a plain weave striped cotton of beige and orange