Australian Company puts Lao Silk on the Map
01 Dec 2004
Banziger Hulme Fine Art Consultants

 

Australian Company puts Lao Silk on the Map

The ASEAN conference is putting the spotlight on a little known country, usually more associated with natural resources than with fine craft. But one of the most outstanding products to come from Laos is hand woven silk.

Face of Asia Textiles is the only Australian company to specialise in this centuries-old fine craft.  Since 2000, the company has been representing the work of the country’s best weaving studios, among them Nikone. This renowned weaving studio produced the soft furnishings for all the ASEAN ministers’ residences, including John and Janette Howard, for their stay in Vientiane.

The range stocked by Face of Asia Textiles encompasses fashion, interior design and art -  from scarves and shawls to table runners and wall hangings as well as the woven art of Carol Cassidy. Her museum quality textiles have gained a worldwide reputation and are available in Australia only from Face of Asia Textiles.

Face of Asia Textiles now supplies one of the world’s leaders in fine silk, Fabric Frontline of Zurich, Switzerland (www.fabricfrontline.ch), who in turn supply haute couture silk to Christian Lacroix, Balmain and Ted Lapidus - giving Lao silk the standing it deserves.

In Australia, the Powerhouse Museum and the Opera House in Sydney as well as the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra stock Lao textiles supplied by Face of Asia Textiles, as well as Planet Furniture in Sydney and Feathers Boutique in Melbourne.

The Magic of Lao Silk

Weaving is a centuries old tradition in Laos. It has created some of the most intricate and stunning designs to come from the simple floor loom. Designs and patterns such as diamonds, birds, elephants or flowers are not merely ornamental. They are significant symbols as well, which offer status and protection to the wearer.

Traditionally, Lao women only weave for themselves and their family, breeding the silk worms, extracting the silk and dyeing it with natural dyes before perhaps taking an heirloom textile as an inspiration for their own piece. They weave mainly cotton for everyday use, such as clothes, mats, pillows and much more. For ritual events, like weddings or funerals, special pieces are woven in silk and used as shoulder wraps or presents to the Buddha or the ancestors.

The many ethnic groups in Lao provide a vast variety of patterns, colour schemes and shapes. Therefore, the clothes will also portray the wearer’s identity as well as their social and marital status.

 

 

Weaving revived and renewed

The weaving skills were passed down from mother to daughter, and only wealthy families could afford to "spare" a daughter for this time-consuming craft and take her away from the main work in the rice paddies.

After a long period of decline in the art of weaving, a few weaving studios were founded in the early 1990s. Today there are several weaving houses reviving, continuing and expanding the tradition, and the art is still handed down from mother to daughter in the villages.

All studios place as much emphasis on high quality as on uniqueness. Every weaving house has its own philosophy on how to interpret the tradition of Lao weaving in its pieces and therefore each creates its own unique design style. Some studios produce their own silk material from scratch, while others prefer to buy it ready for weaving.

The silk weaving studios have also created highly regarded and well paid employment possibilities, thereby strongly empowering women within their society.

From craft to fashion and art

Every weaving studio produces exceptionally high quality pieces - some of which may take several months to finish with patterns so intricate that the weaver can only weave two centimetres in a day. Contemporary pieces have been discovered by celebrities like Kylie Minogue and Mick Jagger.

Meanwhile, Carol Cassidy’s masterpieces are collected by museums such as the Textile Museum in Washington DC and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and her textiles are sought after by designers like Donna Karan and Valentino, proving that silk weaving is also recognised as art.

Face of Asia Textiles - the company

Brigitte Banziger and David Hulme founded Face of Asia Textiles in 2000. During an extended trip of South-East Asia, they encountered in Laos the most beautiful silk textiles they had seen on their journey. They fell in love with the beauty and diversity of Lao silk and decided to introduce it to Australia.

From the start, David and Brigitte had been supplying the Powerhouse Museum shop in Sydney. Since then, they have visited Laos on a regular basis to continue their friendships and to source the best of hand-woven Lao silk.

They created "Silk Magic", which showcased, for the first time ever together, hand woven silk works by Laos’ most outstanding weaving houses plus select traditional pieces from Hua Phan province, renowned for their silk weaving. The exhibition was opened by His Excellency Mr. Vichit Xindavong, then Ambassador of the Lao PDR to Australia, and Christina Sumner, Curator International Decorative Arts and Design of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

Location: Face of Asia Textiles, Level 1, 51-53 The Corso, Manly NSW 2095

For more information & photos: David Hulme, 02 9977 0700 and 0403 772 526

Email: info@faceofasia.com.au

Web: www.faceofasia.com.au





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