Madina pulls out some Uzbek pastries to munch on, and tea, lots of tea. I pull out a packet with pattern and stencil and a dream of a coat. We drop to our hands and knees and pour over the neckline, the length. She looks at me perplexed, turning the pattern this way and that. It is her accomplished hook embroidery I'm asking, yes, but rendered in an entirely new way. She asks questions in a halting English, she pins and puzzles over it. This is the moment where two worlds meet and could possibly lose everything in translation. Or create something utterly, fantastically, originally new.
You often ask how we do it. How we go from there to here, from idea to product - and without even a common language?
Unlike fashion designers, who start with a vision of what they'd like to create, at Ibu we start with the women who are already making something we love and learn about the making of it. We study the art of chikan embroidery or resist dyeing or back-strap loom weaving or reverse appliqué . . . . and learn its cultural use and meaning and history. In other words, we learn their language before we begin to speak. In this case, hook embroidery refined in Uzbekistan, and polished to perfection by Madina Kasimbaeva.
Then, we muse about how the cultural language of Uzbek women might speak to women in our culture today; and it is in that conversation, bouncing between tradition and innovation, between east and west, between ancient and modern, that we find something new. In this case, excitingly new.
We take a favorite Uzbek ikat pattern - the red one in the image below - and we half it, abstract it, and consider it in embroidery rather than dye. We lift the stripes out of the design and blow them up because they somehow add a modern structure to these ancient curves. Our Design Director, Erin Reitz, draws itup, creates a stencil, drafts a pattern and grades it, then packs it up for me to carry to Tashkent last May, which is where I started here, having tea with Madina in her workshop, along with the women of lyrical needle and thread.
In the months ahead, the first sample will arrive and surprise us; it usually does. Much can be lost in translation when two worlds meet. We take to What's App, speaking countless times through Madina's husband who translates for her, and a second go at it meets with everyone's applause.
Then, we wait. This fine hand-embroidery takes time.
Eighteen months later, we receive a specimen so stunning, I'm speechless before what a few women, together, can do. The coat is a show-stopper. But, what matters to me even more is the voice. The conversation. The exchange of ideas and respect. And the money going into the hands of these skilled women, opening up their lives.
We hear a lot about cultural appropriation these days. This, I want to say, is quite the opposite - this iscultural conversation. And one in which both sides realize a benefit - income, beauty, respect. The result isa ravishing coat that crosses borders. And a relationship that knows no borders at all.
That's the kind of style I want to wear.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker