Henri Matisse, Lorette with Turban and Yellow Jacket, 1917, National Gallery
My grandmother doesn’t wear yellow, but she wears head wraps and has, still, dark curly hair and exotic features, like the Italian model in Matisse’s Lorette with Turban and Yellow Jacket. I bought my grandma a postcard of it several years ago during a visit to the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. She still has it up on her refrigerator.
Lorette’s jacket, aside from the color, also looks like something my grandmother would wear — the kind of soft, unstructured jacket that she pairs with one of her many calf-length skirts. Of course, my grandmother (who is not Italian, but Catalan) likes head scarfs and easy jackets for their no-nonsense practicality. I imagine Lorette liked them for a different reason: their exoticism. This was, after all, 1917, six years after Paul Poiret hosted his legendary “Thousand and Second Nights” party and put all of bohemian Paris in luxuriously comfy — and, for much of the bourgeoisie, shockingly indecent — harem pants (the fashion cycle moved much more slowly then).
Indeed Western intellectuals and bohemians have long used Eastern dress as a way to convey their worldliness and glamour — see Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s silk pajamas from 1916 or Greta Garbo’s and Gloria Swanson’s turbans from the 1930s.
Turbans have made several comebacks in recent years: First in a 2007 runway show by Miuccia Prada (fashion’s reigning intellectual) and then again in 2010 in the shows of Jason Wu, Vena Cava and Armani.