Over 500 years ago, the Ottomans ruled a vast empire stretching from North Africa across part of Arabia, right up to the Balkans. Their power and influence was immense and their interests were controlled by powerful Sultans from Topkapi Palace on the Golden Horn, Istanbul.
Befitting their status, the Sultans commissioned teams of weavers trained in the great art of silk hand weaving, to create opulent kaftans in original designs that became so valuable they were treated as a currency of the day. Silk thread produced in Safavid, Iran’s Northern provinces, passed to Bursa, The silk capital of Turkey.
Silk farming within the Ottoman States increased and weaving workshops in Bursa proliferated in luxury velvets and metal ground silks which were purchased by the European markets and often ended up in palaces and churches as secular or ecclesiastical garments worn by high ranking officials. The textile workshops at Topkapi Palace were focused on producing cloth of gold and silver for use as clothing and furnishings in the imperial palace and honorific garments given to courtiers and foreign ambassadors.
The Ottoman Sultans were known for their elaborate ceremonies. Parades in the capital of Istanbul, involved every member of court from child to janissaries (the Sultan’s elite soldiers) who would be clothed in a new design for the occasion.
During the peak of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries, the great Sultans commissioned thousands of extraordinary designs. Beautiful motifs characterised by wavy vertical stems, carnations, tulips and pomegranate fruit to large scale ogival layouts with delicate peony blossoms, creating a lattice pattern that was popular during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent.
Ottoman Silks has revived these iconic designs by creating a contemporary Collection of kaftans, handbags, shoes, purses, pillows, waistcoats and hats. All beautifully made, in Turkey.
Silk caterpillars feed only on Mulberry leaves.
Once matured they build their cocoons by excreting fibrous glue and move their bodies more than 130,000 times to weave a cocoon around themselves which when unravelled produces up to 1500 meters of continuous silk yarn!
The style of the clothes worn by the sultans and members of his court differed radically from that of the common people and consisted of specially-woven cloth known as Saray (palace) fabrics, these were manufactured on looms used solely for this purpose.
All the costumes worn by members of the court were made strictly in accordance with definite rules and principles. Particular attention was paid to the quality and design of both the everyday and ceremonial apparel of the sultan and played a very important role in the development of the palace workshops.
With the growth and expansion of The Empire, the products of these looms increased in both richness and variety, while at the same time, increasing urbanisation was transforming the art of weaving into a professional branch of art. Turkish woven fabrics of the 16th and 17th century were particularly fine and the Bursa looms, the most famous of the period, excelled in the production of silk.
The fame of these fabrics spread as far as Hungary, Poland, France and Italy although Bursa remained the unrivalled centre of silk production.
The contents of the Enderun Treasury (the private treasury of the Ottoman Sultans) were originally acquired in the form of gifts, war booty, commission or purchase. This collection accumulated with the passage of time and was very carefully stored and preserved. Moreover, there was a tradition in the palace that on the death of a sultan, his clothes were wrapped in a bundle and the bundle labelled, sealed and permanently stored in the Silahtar Treasury (the treasury of the Guards). As a result of this tradition, which was piously followed right up to the very end of the Ottoman Empire,Topkapı Palace Museum now houses the finest collection of royal costumes in the world.
Altogether there are many hundreds of kaftans in the Palace, 21 belonging to Mehmet the Conqueror, 77 to Suleyman the Magnificent, 13 to Ahmet 1, 30 to Osman II and 27 to Murat IV.
Designed and made in Turkey, Ottoman Silks have replicated the opulence of this bygone age with a collection that is the first of its kind and created in the very heartland of silk production, Bursa.
Photographs of original kaftans by kind permission of Topkapi Palace Museum
Ottoman Silks Ltd
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