The international influence of the Moroccan Kaftan

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Whether it's an engagement, a wedding or a baptism, the Moroccan kaftan is an indispensable outfit. Emblematic of Moroccan culture, the kaftan will appeal not only to Maghreb women and their diasporas but also to women from the Middle East.

Several factors over the course of history have allowed the Moroccan kaftan to spread internationally. It all began in 1950 with the improvement of the conditions of Moroccan women. Moroccan designers were introducing European aesthetics and fashion elements with lightweight, flowing fabrics used in European high fashion. They also reduced the number of layers and the usual kaftan width. The Moroccan dress then underwent a profound change.

An article in American VOGUE (July 1966), illustrating Ms. David Naylor-Leyland, Lady Egremont and Ms. Ahmet Ertegun, Lady Antonia Fraser, Countess Michel de Ganay, Ms. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Ms. Leo d'Erlanger, Ms. Giancarlo Uzielli and Ms. Lesley Blanche, all wearing Moroccan kaftans.

Pioneers of the time included Zina Guessous (1925-1998), Naima Bennis (1940-2008), Zhor Sebti (born 1928), and Tamy Tazi (born 1930). Their creations attracted and charmed international icons like Oum Kalthoum or Queen Beatrix of Holland.

Oum Kalthoum wearing a kaftan designed by Naïma Bennis.

These creators have given the kaftan its credentials, attracting the attention of numerous international magazines. The famous editor-in-chief of American Vogue, Diana Vreeland has devoted numerous articles to Moroccan clothing.

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It is in this context that the Moroccan kaftan has inspired many Western designers. This was the case with Yves Saint Laurent, a native of Oran in Algeria, who discovered the kaftan for the first time during his stays in Marrakech. He reinterpreted it and created iconic outfits.

When I discovered Morocco, I understood that my own chromatism was that of zelliges, zouacs, djellabas and kaftans.
It was then that I became more sensitive to light and colors, that I especially noticed the light on colors [...], at every street corner in Marrakech, we meet impressive groups of intensity, relief, men and women where pink, blue, green, purple caftans mingle. — Interview with Yvonne Baby, “Yves Saint Laurent at the Metropolitan in New York. Portrait of the artist”, Le Monde, December 8, 1983.

Praised by numerous international personalities, the Moroccan kaftan is a great success.

Arnaud de Rosnay (1970).

It has become the perfect blend of tradition and modernity. An idea that the first fashion magazine “Women of Morocco” strongly encourages. In 1996, the magazine launched an annual event called “Kaftan”. The objective? Present traditional Moroccan clothing from a new angle through international fashion shows.

Over time, the event has become a reference in Morocco and in the world. It thus contributed fully to the international influence of the Moroccan kaftan.

Jim Morrison
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The royal family also played a major role in promoting this outfit. True to Moroccan tradition, the kaftan is the official garment for almost all events. Formerly carried by ambassadors, it was now time for the royal princesses to take up the torch and showcase it internationally. They often appear with kaftans of unparalleled elegance.

Princess Lalla Aicha visiting Buckingham Palace, London 1965.
Princess Lalla Salma, her three sisters-in-law at the Royal Palace in Marrakech with Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto 2016.
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Thanks to the increasing interest in Moroccan women's clothing, the Mattel company, which makes the famous Barbie dolls, was inspired by it. In 1999, they launched the Moroccan Barbie. In order to represent Morocco, the doll is naturally dressed in a kaftan. The American company held a second edition in 2013. This time the doll was wearing a green kaftan. It was also decorated with accessories promoting authentic Moroccan clothing.

The Moroccan Barbie thus criss-crosses the whole world. It attracts admiration wherever it is sold and conveys a radiant civilisational image of Morocco.

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In the space of a few years, the Moroccan kaftan has therefore become very famous and very popular. It has successfully established itself around the world and is now causing an international sensation.

Numerous documentaries around the world have also been devoted to the magnificence of this outfit. This is the case of Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, China, the United States, Norway, the Netherlands or even Jordan.

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Références :

Moroccan fashion: design, culture and tradition | Maria Angela Jansen

MOROCCO IN THE PRESENT: from one era to the next, a changing society | Baudouin Dupret, Zakaria Rhani, Assia Boutaleb and Jean-Noël Ferrié