Friday 15 April 2011

Ancient Treasures as Fashion Accessories

Harrods apparently have a new line in menswear: It's named after a famous TV Egyptologist and got a mutant four-legged dung beetle in the logo. The blurb announces:
Rich khakis, deep blues and soft, weathered leathers give off a look that hearkens back to Egypt’s golden age of discovery in the early 20th century.
That's Egypt's golden age, or the European golden age of digging up Egyptian stuff? I rather think the Egyptians working for the European explorers in the early twentieth century wore something else... they only started adopting European dress styles later in an attempt to shed their identity as an 'other'.

The "Karnak Shirt" has been "hand painted (with grime?) washed and repaired to recall (sic) the rugged experience of excavating the ancient tombs of Egypt". In "Karnak" that is, the Egyptians are apparently keeping the lots of "tombs" there a secret from the rest of us, but hey, if we buy one of these shirts, we can "recall" excavating them.*

An Egyptian blogger writing in English has however picked up the discussion going on about this (Zeinobia: 'Our ancient treasures are not accessories ya Doc !!!', Egyptian chronicles - the Egypt that you don't know, April 15th 2011). It is referring to a November 2010 photo shoot which James Weber a NY photographer did in the visiting Tutankhamun exhibition in New York in connection with the promotion of this new line. She seems not to be very pleased about it, but clearly seems to be confusing the director of the New York museum with the director of the Cairo Museum. She also seems to think that the antiquities used as props and to provide background are ALL real (they clearly are not).

I see Kate Phizackerley has picked up the story Zahi Clothing Line - Shocking Photos). Kate raises the question of the destination of royalties for those photos in association with the new law in Egypt about such matters.

Apart from the general laughable premise of the collection itself (surely though just a bit of fun and not worth getting worked up about) and effect of the whole project, I am not sure there really is so much of a problem using antiquities in product promotion. It actually happens quite frequently - in fact is it not a sign that these "things" actully mean something even to the consumerist materialist fashion junkie? Frankly it does not seem particularly worrying that an archaeologists should have a brand named after him, it happens to sportsmen and actors, I do not see why astronauts and astronomers or archaeologists should not have the same status. Perhaps we should be grateful that Ms Flaugh did not decide to do a Simcha Jacobovici line, or a Mick Aston/Phil Harding line.

* Actually if they are to depict what a shirt looks like after exploring the West Bank tombs, my fashion advice to Lora Flaugh is they should have a long rip down the back and smell vaguely of bat excreta.

Vignettes: Egyptian explorers of the Valley of the Kings in the 1920s, below, non-Egyptian explorers of the Valley of the Kings in a slightly earlier 'golden age'. Ties and jodhpurs seem to be in order for the men, can't see Lara Croft (perhaps the fashion-house's next project) in a dress like that though.

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