Requests from referer
This cloak (Qaftan) was obtained with great difficulty by Dr Reem Tarek El-Metwally. For years the founder of the Zay Initiative searched for excellent examples of antique Moroccan fashion, a hunt that occupied much time and effort. Thankfully, a volunteer assisted his time in the search and through him, a set of traditional antique clothes were purchased in August of 2019 from Mrs. Leonor Arno Pons. Mrs Pons is an ethnographer and dealer in genuine ethnic and tribal jewellery and adornment, she lectures on ethnic jewellery from an anthropological and historical perspective and works as an advisor to both auction houses and collectors. Regarding the piece in the Zay Initiative’s Collection, she wrote: “My mother, Reine Van der Linden, is dead. My parents used to live in Amsterdam, which has a clothing store called Reflections for a long time and my mother used to buy her clothes there. And because she was a frequent traveller as well, she made sure to buy beautiful and expensive things to wear in her Amsterdam-produced films, and some of those films were produced by her brother, William Van der Linden, the famous filmmaker.”
This antique Qaftan possibly originates from the Mediterranean coastal city of Tetouan and was originally intended for weddings. It is sewn from an apricot-coloured silk Brocade fabric lined with cream-colored silk. Around the collar and the bottom edge of the Qaftan, the lining is a deep blue-gray colour. The woven Brocade fabric has a repeated shape of a basket of bright roses also in apricot colour. Some of the baskets and roses are hand embroidered with silver, gold, and lilac silk threads, and the fabric has light silver linear stripes.
Surrounding the front of the collar and extending down to the top of the navel, the Qaftan’s chest is decorated with light olive green and gold al aghabani style embroidery in the form of triangles. The front is adorned with golden Jacquard ribbons, as are the shoulders, from the top down to the armpits. Golden thread was added to all edges of the Qaftan, including the bottom edge and the two wide sleeves. This edging is called (sififah). There are spherical buttons (Iqad) along the chest opening made of golden and silver silk thread.
There are multiple names to what is generally called a Moroccan Qaftan, such as (Mansuriyah), (Tahtiyah), (Qaftan_Khrib), and (Qaftan_makhzini). Furthermore, in English the term is often spelt ‘caftan’ or ‘kaftan’ changing the [q] from the Arabic letter [qaf] to a hard [c] or [k]. The word Qaftan comes from the Persian word Khaftan, and entered English by way of Turkish and French.
Historians disagreed about the oldest origins of the qaftan, some give credit to India and Persia, while others to the Ottomans. Some assert that it arrived in Morocco at the time of the Islamic conquest around 680 CE. While still others claim that the qaftan is Moroccan in origin, flourishing during the reign of the Moroccan Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur al-Dhahabi (1578–1603), and from there spread through Andalusia at the beginning of the ninth century CE, thanks to the musician Ziryab.
Most likely, the qaftan was used since antiquity by several ethnic groups in ancient Mesopotamia, possibly sewn from wool, Cashmere, silk, or cotton, and originally a long vest-like tunic tied at the waist with long sleeves, typically worn by men. The first documented mention of the qaftan in Morocco appeared in the 16th century, although the qaftan had been worn across the Middle East and Persia long before this time.
Regardless of the differences in viewpoints, no one denies the fact that the qaftan is popular in the Arab Maghreb countries, and that the aesthetic was especially popular in Fes, Tetouan, and Rabat. Indeed, history attests that the city of Fes was known for its textile and weaving factories since the beginning of the thirteenth century AD. Around that time the number of factories exceeded three thousand, and they would have been producing the fabric used to make qaftans.
The qaftan can be worn on both formal and informal occasions, depending on the embroidery and stitching. It is the outfit that expresses the culture of an entire society. Designing, sewing, and embroidering with gold thread or silk are activities that require skill. It is said, ‘the qaftan is the service of a teacher,’ meaning that the sewing and embroidery involved in making a qaftan is that of a skilled craftsman. Among the most famous types of embroidery known in Morocco (rabat), after Rabat city, and (fassi), after Fez, are the most common.