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Turning vintage dowry goods into fashion

 
From a very young age I've felt a connection to textiles, especially antiques ones, and I thank my mother for this all-consuming love affair with fabric. Her dowry trunk from Greece was filled with awe-inspiring hand-woven blankets, rugs and a very special folk art vest worn by some strong, Spartan woman. As an adult, my admiration has extended to quality craftsmanship and design that can range from a simple, chic Chanel jacket to fabulous vintage fashions of the 1930s and 1940s. My fascination with dowry quilts and elaborate needlework, now the foundation of my business, all began with India.
 
Prior to launching The Joannajohn Collection in 2008, I worked as a wholesaler and retailer of vintage and antique jewelry for 28 years. When I traveled to India several years ago, the inspirational and colorful journey dazzled my eyes, mind, and heart.  It was on that trip that I found myself drawn to the detail and beauty of vintage dowry quilts.
 
Anyone with a keen interest in textiles — the purist or the fashionista -- will understand the magnetism of these dowry quilts. Traditionally, the quilt is a gift given by the parents of the bride to their daughter on her wedding day. These quilts hold a special meaning in various ways. First, they are typically the only gift of value handed down from mother to daughter. Secondly, they are treasured as fine works of art and, in some cases, antiques in which the patterns, motifs, and designs are one-of-a-kind and no longer available. 
 
The workmanship and the skill in creating these quilts take a great amount of time, and it is a true labor of love. Historically, women made the quilts. It could have been a joint project between mother and daughter, or with a grandmother and close female family members. During the sewing process, the women would gather and sit in a circle working slowly and sharing family stories. It is believed that during these long creative sewing and embroidery sessions that the minds, hearts and souls of these women became a part of the quilt, thus it was not only aesthetically patched, but also permeated spiritually by the family's love. That essence that makes these quilts even more valuable to textile enthusiasts.
 
For my coats and jackets, I select 100 % cotton dowry quilt combinations. I strive for a richly textured jewel-toned palette, often with unexpected combinations. In creating the designs, all the hand-sewing and the piecing occurs in India. Each reversible coat or jacket is hand-made one at a time, and it's a lengthy process. We take into account every quilt detail during the selection process, and this can range from the boldness of color to the intricacy of the patterns and motifs. Once selected, pieces of the quilts are hand-sewn together with rows of tiny running stitches. This technique is a work of art in of itself.
 
The designs are heavily influenced by European and Asian styles--one of our jackets shares similarities with a classic Chanel, whereas the other has open underarms typically found in vintage Chinese and Japanese jackets. 
 
We’ve been described as couture, and perhaps it's our intensely handmade combination of old and new that make the textiles and ultimately the finished product so attractive. We strive to make clothing that is as treasured as the original dowry goods – objects that justify the "treasuring impulse" we fabric fans are prone to. Exactly the opposite of disposable fashion. 
 
For more about Joann Narkis’ fashion, please visit www.thejoannajohncollection.com.
 
 
 
 
 

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