Sometimes, we get obsessed. Sometimes it's a certain color, fabric or pattern, and sometimes it's a particular era or designer. But, for a while now, it's been caftans, (or is it kaftans)? I think both ways are acceptable, but however you spell it, once you start learning about the caftan, you might find that you become a little obsessed too!
15th Century Ottoman Empire Kaftan from the Topkapi Palace Museum
The kaftan has a very long history but we will make this the abbreviated version! The caftan was considered a very prestigious garment during the reign of the Ottoman empire in Mesopotamia, the ancient region in the eastern Mediterranean that included today’s Iraq, and parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey. The type of fabric used, the details, and the amount of work put into the kaftan indicated a person's social status.
Kaftan from Topkapi Palace Museum Istanbul
The finer, more elaborate kaftans were worn by people of a higher rank or by those who were particularly close to or favored by a Sultan.
Sultans would keep a variety of kaftans in their homes for guests and the way they felt about you often determined the kind of kaftan you would be given. If a Sultan didn't like you, he might give you a kaftan made more simply or of a more common fabric. I like to think of it as having handbags in your home to give to guests, some get a Birkin and some get..well, anything other than a Birkin.
In the early part of the 20th century, Mario Fortuny was inspired while visiting Northern Africa to design a sleeveless tunic, called an aba, (shown above) that is very similar to those used in the Arab world. He then went on to design a wide variety of caftans inspired by different regions.
Fortuny 1910, 1920's & 1930's caftans Indianapolis Museum of Art & MET
Starting in the 1960's, the caftan became popular once again in the western world when progressive designers started creating them in new ways. Women found them to be liberating and embraced them wholeheartedly. Something that had been around for hundreds of years became new and fresh for thousands of women around the world.
Halston Caftan Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco circa 1975
Emilio Pucci circa 1970 Bob Krieger photograph
Some of the first, most prolific caftan designers during the 60's, 70's and 80's were Halston, Zandra Rhodes, Emilio Pucci, Thea Porter and Oscar de la Renta.
Thea Porter Caftan Museum of Fine Arts Boston Circa 1969
Thea Porter caftan Circa 1973 The Museum at FIT
Zandra Rhodes Caftan circa 1969 Victoria and Albert Museum
Circa 1969 Oscar de la Renta caftans The Museum at FIT
Oscar de la Renta circa 1982 Kent State Museum
You couldn't open a fashion magazine without seeing a different caftan created in some variation of silk, brocade, velvet, or cotton. Of course, models like Veruschka von Lehndorff did a lot to made the new caftans look glamorous and ultra modern.
Veruschka in Dior
Veruschka circa 1965 in Emilio Pucci
But perhaps no two celebrities did more for caftans than the beautiful Princess Grace of Monaco and Elizabeth Taylor.
Princess Grace of Monaco in caftan designed by Madame Gres
Marc Bohan for Dior Caftan owned by Princess Grace of Monaco
Princess Grace in Pucci Caftan dress
Christie's display of Elizabeth Taylor Caftans
Elizabeth Taylor circa 1967 photographed by Henry Clarke for Vogue
And the rest, as they say, is history! Caftans continue to be popular and the vintage pieces are even more desirable! So whether you spell caftan with a C or a K, embrace your inner Liz or Grace and find the right one to add to your wardrobe. After all, something that has been around for 600 years is definitely worth considering!
Vintage Caftan dress with statement sleeves
Oscar de la Renta floral vintage caftan
Silk Chiffon Sheer vintage caftan