Philly is an easy two-hour drive from Baltimore and has one of the few remaining costume collections on the east coast. While no Met / Brooklyn Museum of Art collection, it was a phenomenal exhibition and worth a visit.
Smartly curated, the Vlisco exhibit shows clothing made up in the wax prints. But, also highlights the history and meaning of various prints along the walls. In addition, they give a history of the company, how the wax trade worked and how the fabrics are made.
Briefly, the fabrics we know today as ‘wax prints’ were originally made in Holland for the Indonesian market. The Indonesian batik process was labor intensive. So, the Dutch tried to speed up the process with mechanics.
While the Indonesians rejected the prints, the global slave/commodities trade brought it to the African continent and they fell for the bright and bold colors.
I, as a confirmed magpie, will wear ALL the wax prints. Years ago I went to Ghana and must have brought home 60 – 100 yards of wax prints. I didn’t buy any fabric when I went to Bali. Turns out I was totally underwhelmed by Indonesian batiks. But, I highly recommend a textile tour if you do go to Bali. It’s worth it to see the process.
Yet, when I look at Dutch wax prints, it’s easy to see the roots of the Indonesian batik process.
You know, I generally don’t like saying ‘African’ because Africa is a continent made up of 54 different countries. I imagine it’s correct to say Dutch Wax Prints as the most famous line is Vlisco and they are made in the Netherlands. But, there are companies in Africa who also make prints like GTP. I try to say Ankara which is how a lot of the West Africans I know refer to it and it shows up on Instagram.
Let’s close with some of my favorites:
Shirtdress. This is going to happen this year. I promise.
Cape Dress. It’s so gorgeous I weep.
I just want to wear it and dramatically walk out of a room.
Overall, a totally satisfying exhibit.
More photos from the exhibit with a few from my textile tour in Bali.
Some further reading if you’re interested:
Africa’s Fabric is Dutch, the New York Times
When West Africans Dress, the Fabric is the Message , The New York Times
Finally, I’m slowly working on altering some of my mom’s clothes for my wardrobe. This dress was made for my mom by my Aunt Judy when she visited Ghana.
I’d like to thank the Ghanian women who made my mom’s two piece dress for their 4 inch seam allowances. I was able to let the top out and wear it to the exhibition. I’m about six sizes larger than my mom.
The bust is woefully unflattering (smooshes me into a pear vs an hourglass). But, it was my mom’s so I kind of don’t care 🙂 You can read more about the dress here from when I first altered it to fit her.