Islamic Art

A Coat Fit for a Prince

By Roxane Zand

I am a lover of beautiful Oriental robes – it evokes for me a now-extinct grandeur and glamour which the wearer emanated, regardless of how heavy, onerous or ornate a garment would be. In the upcoming Sothebys Arts of the Islamic World sale, which is in London on 25 October, a royal coat will be presented which harks back to this bygone era of fantastic ornamentation and beauty.

Speaking to expert Chiara de Nicolais, she told me, “This magnificent royal tunic, embroidered with thousands of Basra seed pearls, exemplifies the splendour and sophistication of the opulent courts of the Maharajas in the late nineteenth century. It also bears eloquent witness to an ancient and thriving sea-trade which supplied bounteous quantities of natural pearls harvested in the Persian Gulf to the princely families of South Asia. The present coat belongs in the same category of craftsmanship as the famed 'Pearl Carpet of Baroda' now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, sold at Sotheby's in Doha, 19 March 2009. Embroidered in the mid-nineteenth century with as many as one and a half million 'Basra' pearls, the carpet embodied the wealth and grandeur of the legendary courts of the maharajas.”


While current ‘royal’ fashions for outer garments favour lighter, more functional pieces (this one weighs 5 kgs), these historic ones were made precisely to be entirely cumbersome and extravagant in order to imply the high status of the wearer.  Its proud owner did not need to move a limb or carry anything, with the glorious external decoration endowing the height of elegance and prestige. One can just imagine dressers bringing the coat to its wearer and helping them into it, with utmost ceremony and decorum. Not to mention the many hands that toiled to sew on the thousands of pearls seeds imported from the warm waters of the Persian Gulf.

Displaying such an item even in a modern interior or as part of an eclectic collection would be no less evocative of an era than a precious painting or exotic artefact. I say bring back glamour and preserve the glory of what will never be recreated again in an increasingly utilitarian world.

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