Fringe Benefits – How The Craft Has Evolved From Inconspicuous Embellishment To Historical Relic
When I first chanced upon Etisha Collective’s e-boutique, I was pleasantly surprised; in my five years of working in the fashion industry, never had I come across a product offering as unique and culturally rich as theirs. A chat with the brand’s PR Manager – Nainisha Mehta – gave me a deeper insight into the history of the craft and a chance to explore a facet of the craft that was significant to the construction of their pieces – fringe making.
The art of fringe making originated in 3000 BC in Mesopotamia – the area that is now largely associated with modern-day Iraq. Ancient relics including sculptures, statues and texts give a brief insight into how the fringe was incorporated into their dressing. The embellishment adorned the edges of skirts and shawls and in later years was also used on the garment themselves; fringes were integral to the Mesopotamian culture and were used to sign contracts by pressing the fringe into the clay contract. The fabrics used to make the fringes spoke volumes about the societal dichotomy; while linen and cotton were reserved for the lower classes, silk was prominently used by the rich and wealthy.
FRINGES IN NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE
Native Americans are credited as being one of the first to incorporate fringes into clothing for both decorative and practical purposes. The fringes were crafted in leather or suede and were crafted from strips of cloth and served as a means to reduce textile waste; it was a common practice among Native Americans to not cut away the seams and instead clip them into fringes. The fringes also served as an excellent repellent against rainwater and natural hazards and served a pivotal function within Native American clothing.
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FASHION AND THE FRINGE
The fashion industry’s long-standing affinity for the art of fringe-making has seen countless iterations over the years – from the fringed Charleston Dress of the Gatsbian decade to Elvis Presley’s iconic adaption of the craft via his signature leather jackets. In the 1920s, particularly, fringes took on a more glamorous avatar than they had in years; with the exuberance that is synonymous with the decade, fringes adorned cocktail dresses in a style that would come to be popularly known as the Flapper Dress for the way the fringes would sway with the movement of the wearer. Charles Worth – known as the father of haute couture – pioneered this trend, which was worn by everyone from Joan Crawford to Claudette Colbert.
In the 1950s, the trend resurfaced with Elvis Presley and his fringed leather jackets (which instantly inspired a flurry of knock-offs across the world) and continued into the 60s and 70s with celebrities like Twiggy, Jane Shrimpton, Penelope Tree, Sonny and Cher and styles that are popular among festive goers till this date, including ubiquitous gypsy dresses and 2020 work-from-home staples like tie-and-dye t-shirts. Haute couture has wholeheartedly embraced the fringe as well – from Azzedine Alaia’s beaded fringe dress for actress Tina Turner (seen on the covers of Vogue Italy and Vogue America) to the more recent fringed renditions of Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior.
THE TURKISH TOWEL FRINGE
Also known as the Peshtemal towel in Turkey, Turkish towels have been traditionally used in traditional Turkish baths that are known as hammams and are produced using some of the highest quality cottons in the world. They are one of the most iconic variants of towels in the world – woven flat and larger than most others. The towels are traditionally loomed by hand and are often fringed by craftsmen who have been skilled in the art of fringe making for generations. The fringe that adorns the Turkish towel has many variations and some of the different types of tassels or fringes include the Hand Tie Knot, Straight Fringe, Raw Fringe, Twist and the Pom-pom.
As the global craft community begins it’s long journey to recovery, designers and brands have an even greater responsibility to support the craftsmen who form the backbone of the global luxury industry. With a pandemic that continues its rampage across the globe, there has never been a more significant time in history for both brands and consumers to lend their patronage to local crafts. At a time like this, rethinking the values of sustainability, ethical fashion and conscious consumerism is critical to the preservation of local crafts and the livelihoods of the local craftsmen who have come to depend on the craft to support themselves and their families.
To enable historical crafts like fringe-making to thrive, designers need to find newer avenues to bring the craft to consumers of luxury products. This means going beyond the realms of what is the norm and exploring how the craft can best fit the lives of today’s customer. Consumers, on their part, also need to think beyond the scope of discounted pricing and take the time to evaluate their wardrobes and homes so that they can invest in those pieces that are timeless in design, superior in quality and support a local craft. And while a piece like this may involve a higher price tag than usual, it also allows for the preservation of the craft and the opportunity for customers to give back to the community. It is imperative that consumers understand the value of buying less but buying better and the responsibility of educating the customers on the history and heirloom value of local crafts falls on the brand or the designer in question and it is one of the many ways that they can create a community of customers who prioritises value overpricing. As evident in the craft of fringe-making – and it’s longevity along with the many iterations over the past few decades alone – supporting local crafts and craftsmen, whether as a designer or a consumer will be an investment worth making in the years to come, especially in a post-pandemic the era where designers and consumers, both, look to find meaning in their work, possessions and the world around them.