This cloak (abayah) is the first part of a two-piece ensemble which also includes a traditional Syrian headband (shatfah) (ZI 500490a Syria).
The abayah, and its associated headband, were originally the property of the Emir of Barca in Libya, most likely Idris al-Senussi. In the late 1930s, they were gifted to an anonymous French doctor, in gratitude for preventing the Emir’s son from committing suicide. The doctor was crossing a bridge in Paris when he saw the young man about to jump. After the rescuer’s death, his son sold the two items and they were purchased by the Zay Initiative at auction.
This high-status men’s cloak is made from two pieces of fabric, each the width of a loom. The join is visible as a gold embroidered hemline running horizontally mid way down the garment’s length. The fabric is hand-woven from crimson red silk and the decorative work is loom weaved with gold threads of varying thickness. The resulting geometric shapes and straight lines featured across the breadth of the shoulders are typical of the region and era, possibly influenced by late-medieval, Egyptian, and Libyan tiraz embroidery.
The bottom of the cloak features individually embroidered vertical lines, loom weaved, and of varying degrees of thickness. The front opening of the cloak is highlighted on both sides by a striped line, containing one thick line sandwiched between two sets of double, thinner lines. These lines extend from the shoulders to the bottom of the garment.
Syria was famous for this specific type of weaving at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Their weft tissue is intertwined with the warp forming elegant geometric shapes that appear on both sides of the fabric. Due to its high price, this type of fabric was desirable to both men and women belonging to wealthy families in Aleppo and Damascus in particular.