I read the stories of the Rohingya: the more than 600,000 Rohingya in western Myanmar attacked violently by their government, driven from their ravaged homes, running for their lives after watching their parents diced with machetes and thrown into ditches, their daughters raped, their villages - 354 of them - burned to cinders. Their life in Myanmar, always uncertain and unrecognized, is now in ashes. The remaining huddle in refugee camps in Bangladesh, while the violence they survived seeps relentlessly into their memory like sewage water into their tents.
Tiala, loving nothing more than to cook, prepares a dinner for me of Naga-spiced chicken and vegetables. I frankly find black pepper a little overwhelming, so when I turn fiery red and sputter and cough and start gulping wine, she kindly washes off my dinner under the faucet with all of her precious spices and hard work going down the drain, muttering about wimpy white people who can’t stomach anything interesting.
In the late 19th century, Nemicio Cano, a stone paver in Colombia, South America, discovered major archeological artifacts from Pre-Columbian times while he was working on the land. Igniting what became a legacy of intrigue and fascination with the gold of these forebears, Nemicio and future generations of his family became guardians of this cultural history, through it resuscitating the cultural pride of their people.
In a Marrakech boutique last January, Charlotte snagged a head wrap in a dreadful fabric and bought it. Just outside the door, I asked what she was thinking and she let me know we had some work to do perfecting the turban for her Ibu collection. I’m down! Every caftan entertaining moment needs the option of a scarf tied casually around one’s locks. Classic Chic. But who knows how to do that anymore?! You need some help. So, we took the half-right head wrap and enhanced, edited, sized, and sent it off to our good friend, Muhayo, in Uzbekistan, with her gorgeous ikat fabrics.
Twenty years ago, I met Nawal while she was running a world-class boutique for my friend Meryanne Loum-Martin in Marrakech. Years later, after Nawal had started a business of her own and I had, too, we found our way together again. One afternoon over espresso and invoices in her shop, Nawal told me in her halting French-inflected English about her childhood - how her mother had died when Nawal was only three years old, how she was sent away from her home in the mountains to live with her grandmother in the mellah of Marrakech. Here, in the impoverished Jewish Quarter, where needlework is the game, Nawal learned to embroider in all of the complex ways of Moroccan style - a rich, dense soutache that I admire; no - that I obsess over.
Ibu team member Austin told me one day that his college friend had started making kilim shoes in Turkey. Curiosity drove me to the screen to check it out - loved instantly what I saw. Boston-based Millicent Armstrong is making one of a kind classic smoking slippers out of old kilim rugs and calling the enterprise Artemis Designs. I ordered a pair and wore them everywhere. Comfortable, richly textured, and oh so chic. Wish I could carry these, I thought, knowing you would love them as I do, but since they are not made by women artisans, the notion passed.
Calling from her home outside Santa Fe, Ali MacGraw has a preemptive apology. “They just paved the dirt road I live on,” she says, “and they did something to the...
As Wendy McNeil listened to a presentation about Ibu artisans, she found herself thinking of Antonia. Born in London, Antonia Stogdale spent holidays in Kenya where the last 3 generations of her family were born. When she decided to settle there, a celebrated chef on luxury safaris led by her husband, she also reached out to Maasai women to start a beading project with them making uber-chic clutches and bags. Wendy quietly put me in touch with Antonia, whose bags sell so quickly in Kenya and Europe, they haven’t even found their way to a retail store in the US. Until now.
Those are still my two goals for the work of Ibu: putting money in the hands of women and doing so by elevating their under-appreciated, under-paid skills of hand-crafted beauty.
Last August, Ali and I poured over vintage beads at an Ethnographic Market, captured by the patina of old shells and coins and brilliant blue glass. And then we saw these humble tear-shaped beauties, light and gentle and the hue of spring rain . . . and we were hooked. Job’s Tears.
The first thing I do - after Ali says Yes - is to scour the internet for what signature looks have come to define her life, what dress has become her second skin. I want her collection for Ibu to capture the essence of her iconic style.
They’ve taken an 8 hour train from their home in Sefrou down to Marrakech, carrying a bag so heavy it takes two to inch it along. Amina, fearless and well-traveled, has brought her lovely daughter-in-law, Wafae, who’s never been to the pink city in her 22 years. At 9:00 in the evening, the two travelers, without a sign of weariness, arrive at Jnane Tamsna where I am staying and celebrate our grand reunion over dinner, having such fun that the proprietor, my friend and Ibu Ambassador, Meryanne Loum Martin, comes to join us.
My dear and brilliant friend, Jill Weeks, looks at our popular cuffs one day and wonders aloud, Why not have words woven into them? A month later, we find our way to Magno and Reinel of a Zenu artisan group in northern Colombia, learning about how their cuffs are woven out of caña fleche fiber in ageless symbols which bind their lives together. Can the artisans weave words as well as symbols, we ask?
It started with a tattoo. A line drawn on the torso signified power or totem or clan. Bodies were the first canvas upon which one might make an artful mark, claim an identity. Only later, much later, did clothing take over that job - textiles are often the extension of tattoos, a literal second skin, carrying forward the same symbolic patterns while also offering warmth and modesty.
First I noticed the silver amulets around the necks of friends, then the chunky rings, unusual earrings. When I raved, they sent me again and again to the same source: Jewels.
What’s the difference between a coaster and a cocktail napkin? Not something Cesi thinks about a lot - until ibu commissions hundreds of handwoven cocktail napkins (what do they use these things for???) When I first met Cesi last December, she had traveled many miles through the mountains to present me with piles of her work, already completed.
I leaned out of an open lorry and saw long stretches of cinnamon colored paths winding over the lush mountainside. Dotting the path were brightly colored sarongs swaying on women’s hips, the companion piece of cloth wrapped around their heads, or tied over a shoulder, or billowing like a curtain against the hot African sun.