Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: The Hermes Scarf and the Appaloosa Horse

Luxury goods group Hermes recently introduced its new collection of silk scarves and shawls. A collection item called Appaloosa des Steppes has Kyrgyz national patterns together with an image of an Appaloosa horse.

This was actively covered by Kyrgyz media, but an exciting story, which this item, intentionally or not, symbolizes, was left almost unnoticed.

The story has rewritten the history of the Appaloosa horse. Still it is unknown whether the luxury goods maker was aware of and inspired by it — Hermes did not respond to a request to comment.

The story begins back in 2012, when Scott Engstrom, then a 68-year-old lady, who breeds Appaloosa horses in New Zealand, saw Conor Woodman, a director and a television presenter, in his Around the World in 80 Trades.

In that show Conor traded different things in foreign lands — from coffee in Africa and chili sauce in India to surfboards in China and horses in Kyrgyz Republic. Scott saw Conor selling a horse to a farmer and it looked like one of her Appaloosas. "And then I stood up in my lounge and screamed my head off..." recalled Scott.

As Conor said, after Around The World in 80 Trades, in which he bartered his way round the world, a lot of people got in touch with all sorts of crazy business ideas they wanted him to help them with. So, as he remembers, he discounted Scott’s email as the ramblings of a crazy old lady and got on with his life.

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Hermes' Appaloosa des Steppes scarf - there are a dozen colour combinations
But Scott didn't stop and was bombarding Conor with emails — for years she had a theory that the Appaloosa actually came from Asia. She had to find Martin, the horse Conor sold.  DNA evidence would prove her theory.

As believed by most breeders, Appaloosas arrived in Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors. Scott believed they moved into America across the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, long before the Spanish Conquistadors brought them to the continent.

This is how the film Secret Horse: Quest for the True Appaloosa was made. In 2012, Scott and Conor flew to Kyrgyz Republic to search for the evidence. The film tells Scott’s story — how her passion about the Appaloosa ended up changing the history of the North American horse.

The journey was not easy — Martin , the horse, had been sold multiple times and the trail led to a dead end. After attending a game of kok boru or a goat polo, they learned about a place where there were horses that sounded like Appaloosas. Scott and Conor spent three days until they reached a remote valley, which finally rewarded them with a herd of Appaloosas.

In Kyrgyz Republic the horses are known as chaar, which translates as 'spotted'. The owners of the horses let them be DNA tested. Scott's preterm confidence was finally confirmed when DNA results from Texas University were received.

The Hermes scarf reminds us about this truly unique combination — a combination of Appaloosa horses and their origins.

Here is the trailer for this remarkable film. [2 minutes. If the film does not display on your device, go directly here:]

Related posts:
Kyrgyz-style Polo: Ulak Tartysh or Buzkash
Tea with Bread and Jam – a Traveller’s Appreciation of the Finer Things in Kyrgyz Life
Ikat Porcelain Tableware
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani
Kyrgyz Blues


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ikat Designs - the Bibu Hanum Label, Tashkent

Muhayo Alliyeva, centre, and some of the Bibi Hanum team
Dana Davies, Uzbek Journeys client and owner of Caravanthology, an online textile gallery and boutique, has contributed this interesting article about the Tashkent ikat studio Bibi Hanum.

Muhayo Alliyeva, founder of the Uzbek fashion house Bibi Hanum, is one of three sisters raised in Tashkent by the father in a family that did not conform to the stereotype of the traditional Central Asian patriarchy.

He was, in fact, enlightened and progressive in seeking independence for his daughters. "My father was himself well educated with diplomas from two universities and always wanted all of us to get good education".

An older sister, indecisive and indifferent about education, went to seamstress school to learn tailoring skills. It was Muhayo, however, who became fascinated with her sister’s assigned projects and provided regular assistance with her homework, learning the craft at the same time.  As the two worked together, neighbors took note and began ordering clothes for themselves. 

In the period of economic instability following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Muhayo’s father believed that learning English would be a tremendous advantage for Muhayo and did not oppose her, then 17, spending a year studying in the United States as an exchange student.

At that time it was not common for a young Uzbek woman to live independently in a foreign country. Muhayo remembers when her relatives were trying to dissuade me from going, her father's response was "If she is selected among all the competitors, I will give all the support that she needs".

An outfit from Bibi Hanum's new collection
Her study abroad exposed Muhayo to Western culture, an experience that continues to influence her worldview and design. Not long after her return to Tashkent, her father passed away.

Then a turning point for her family - her two sisters opted for traditional, arranged marriages while 19 year-old Muhayo chose to follow the path of autonomy initiated by her father.

Her fluency in English opened doors. First teaching at Tashkent’s international school, Muhayo enjoyed independence but wanted more challenging work.

After completing an international business course she opened a design and sewing workshop in her mother’s garage hoping to include her sisters in the venture. At the same time, she worked as a cultural assistant at the US Embassy with assignments that included international art events. 

“Unfortunately, my sisters both suffered domestic violence that is sadly common in my country, and I couldn’t convince them to seek change. I tried to involve them in our business, but their family problems always interfered.

I was determined my married life would be different; I am fortunate my husband is very kind and supportive in everything that I do, even allowing me to take our children abroad with me even though he cannot leave his job to join us. He is always there to help me when I need it.”

While her passion for design and textiles continued to grow, Muhayo experienced a revelation when she discovered the Western celebration of Uzbek textiles that included extensive museum collections, academic experts, publications and information not readily available in Uzbekistan.

Determined to play a role in reviving and adapting Uzbek textile traditions that were being copied elsewhere, Muhayo applied for and was awarded a grant in 2011 from the Prince Klaus Fund in the Netherlands to produce 20 robes (chapan) based on traditional designs from a catalog of vintage robes. With this, her company Bibi Hanum was formed, named after the favored wife of Amir Timur (Tamerlane). Two years later, the Bibi Hanum line was accepted into the prestigious Santa Fe International Folk Art Market  (New Mexico, USA) where she has continued to bring her designs every year since.

Gorgeous photo album covered in ikat and suzani
With growing demand for her line, her sisters unavailable, and a desire to help women, Muhayo saw the opportunity to “do well by doing good” and reached out to form alliances with programs helping women develop skills and economic independence.

Muhayo also works with Istiqbolli Avlod, an Uzbek program of End Slavery Now, helping women and girls escape human trafficking, providing training and employment in her workshop.

"I think there is a reason for everything that we do in life. I feel that all of the places where I worked had a tremendous impact on my life and in what I would do in the future. I worked in every job with great passion and loved learning new things and tried to improve the job I was doing. I could never say no to extra work. I have learned so much working both at International School and the US Embassy. All of the skills that I obtained working there, I am applying in my current work.”

The Bibi Hanum atelier is located adjacent to the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent.  Phone the atelier before you go, to get precise directions for your taxi driver. Tel: +998 90 947 91 95 or  +998 71 200 10 40.

In addition to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, Muhayo exhibits at shows in New York and Europe.

Entrance to the Bibi Hanum atelier, adjacent to the Chorsu Bazaar
She also sells internationally through her ecommerce website, expanding her fashion line to include home accessories exquisitely crafted with traditional materials and techniques adapted to a modern lifestyle.

Related posts:

The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Uzbek Ikat as Interior Design Element
Ferghana Valley Silk Ikats: Tying the Clouds
Ikat Porcelain Tableware
The Fantasy World of Uzbek Textile Artist Dilyara Kaipova

Muhayo Alliyeva in her boutique, Bibi Hanum