As I was delicately foraging through the closet of a former Hollywoodlite at an estate sale last week (and of course imagining her life in a thousand different movie scenes), I noticed that she had quite a lengthy love affair with the Orient. Ranging from silk kimono robes to an ornately decorated and gold-tipped dressing screen, this lil lady was enamored. It took me back to the era when harem girls and their exotic wears were hypersexualized and oft idolized.
French Orientalism of the 1910s and 1920s brought a sensuality to the silver screen and the European lifestyle. Cosmetics and perfumes, clothing, decor, literature, and films were draped in woven silks and clouds of incense. Romanticism of the Orient compelled Edwardians and flappers alike to eroticize and mystify.
Paint a sensual, bergamot scented picture:
Along the silk road, there is a Moroccan bazaar. A flyer posted on the quilted walls tells of the Orient Express, a luxury train with lush velvet cushions and soft glowing fringed lamps. You stop at the perfume vendor and dab Opium on one wrist and Shalimar on the other, imaging you are the great Mumtaz-Mahal who grew her love with the King in the Gardens of Shalimar and inspired the Taj Mahal. Intolerance and Ben-Hur are still playing on your eyelids as you glance around this intoxicating world. Beautifully tanned women with sculpted jet black hair and painted faces offer you gauzy, brilliantly colored dresses to change out of a silk kimono behind the dressing screen. You fasten intricate beads and 22kt gold around your neck and wrists, and slide your feet into jeweled slippers. With the cloud of incense swirling around in your head, you try to remember what you packed in your steamer trunk, already planning the next day’s wardrobe. Ah yes. Tomorrow, after your morning spiced tea, you shall put on your harem pants and jeweled headdress, and the next day, a hobble skirt and a satin turban. You fan yourself with a black and rose embroidered design and head outside, the smell of jasmine and amber filling your nostrils. The sun is high and you smile coyly as a mysterious traveler offers you a floral parasol…
Imagine this world and delight in these photos of Orientalism of the 1900s–>
Reminisce with this scene from D.W. Griffith’s 1916 Intolerence: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages. (the life-size Babylon set was a major landmark here in LA in the 1900s!)