“Tutto il mondo è casa mia, faccio mia la sua poesia” (The whole world is mine, its poetry is mine) sang Patty Pravo in 1977. In those days in the West the ethnic style was still a form of expression that went against the grain and was mainly associated with the so-called “flower power” movement and the middle-class revolt.
The trend was seen as a hippy alternative philosophy to life, conjuring up visions (albeit slightly vague) of distant lands and cultures – especially Indian – which youngsters from more developed countries flocked to in search of a different, more profound spiritual dimension. And which they came back from with fabrics, clothes, objects and hand-crafted furnishing accessories. A decade or two later, in the Eighties, the generalised ethnic style – generalised because it was not attributed to a specific tradition – took on a more sophisticated and popular appeal, and later ethnic-chic was to become one of the most exploited and best-loved styles of all time. The world of fashion had actually been keeping an eye on and absorbing influences from distant lands for a couple of decades, especially Africa, that vast and mysterious land that really sparked the imagination and was therefore irresistible. In 1947 the pioneer Christian Dior had designed two models inspired by the dark continent, called “Jungle” and “Afrique”, and had also filmed his advertising campaign for the Miss Dior fragrance there in the same year. Despite the predominance of European taste and Western fashion, Africa gradually began to grace the runways. Twenty years later in 1967, Yves Saint Laurent created an entire African-inspired collection which he called Bambara, influenced as he was by Marrakech, a city that proved to be pivotal for his artistic production. His love affair with the city ignited a passion for the crafts, art, atmospheres, customs, traditions and colours of Maghreb, which he then transferred to his creations. Such a special combination inspired the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation to open a museum in Morocco’s Red City just a couple of weeks ago in honour of the designer and his partner, housing more than five thousand articles of clothing, as well as accessories, books and jewellery. At the end of the Seventies, at the same time as Yves Saint Laurent, a young Valentino Garavani launched a collection inspired by the savannah, with fabrics printed with giraffe and zebra motifs.
However, the advent of the new millennium signalled a radical change, defining a new geography and witnessing the emergence of global pluralist fashion which featured an unprecedented intensity of influences. A similar phenomenon had occurred in the eighteenth century when the first chinoiseries, Indian flannelette, banyan or cashmere shawls had taken Europe by storm. But it was the opening up of new markets and globalisation in general that transformed the world definitively into a global multi-cultural village, cancelling out distances and differences and encouraging fusion of all expressive languages, codes and styles. And having fundamental repercussions on influences in the worlds of fashion, design, music, and art in general. The ethnic style, with its reputation for being exotic and different, now took on new resonance and the Eurocentric vision which defined fashion as the prerogative of Western clothing and ethnic clothing as “something else”, vanished. The very word, which expresses the bond, due to tradition or similar characteristics, with a particular nation, people or region, evolved until it coincided with fashion itself.
A whole series of clothing traditions which were considered ethnic, including folk in Europe and cowboy in America, have become an integral part of our daily way of dressing and appearing. Just as the boundary between fashion and style is blurry, so ethnic and fashion have begun to merge, giving rise to a new trend coined “fusion” or “worldhood”. Nowadays, being a citizen of the world means being able – and knowing how – to mix and match styles and different cultures in fashion and design. The melting pot of the new millennium sees clothes and accessories inspired by the customs and traditions of far-off peoples worn alongside looks straight out of our grandmother’s wardrobe. As far as fashion is concerned, this pluralist freedom includes inspirations or actual reproductions of garments like the Indian sari, the Japanese kimono, the Korean hanbok, the Arabic thobe and the Chinese qipao, which have featured on runways throughout Europe and the world. The same can be said for our own homes, where Indian fabrics, Thai silks, Japanese ceramics, Tunisian utensils, Indonesian furniture and African tribal statues have wormed their way in and now rub shoulders. This cultural kaleidoscope has also made its mark in the kitchen, where the variety of dishes and unusual cooking methods from distant lands have given rise to new ways of enjoying food and new habits, all in the name of fusion.