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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 27, 2002

Middle East fashions join Islamic art display at academy

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Fashion Writer

Model Mary Moriarty of Waikiki wears a Jordanian cotton caftan embellished with embroidery, crewel and crochet. Her earrings are from Syria, the necklace (also worn as a headpiece) is from Iraq, and the anklets from Tunisia (left leg) and Oman (right leg).

Photos by Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Celebrating Arts & Culture of the Islamic World

Noon-4 p.m. today

Honolulu Academy of Arts



There's more to Middle Eastern attire than meets the eye.

Behind closed doors, under the black robes (often called burka) and even on the streets, is a wealth of color, texture and embellishment.

Gipsy Norton of Waikiki knows this. She's been an avid collector of Middle Eastern clothing for nearly 25 years. During trips to Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Oman, Norton shopped in bazaars and boutiques for clothes and accessories. Today, for the first time, she will share her collection in a fashion show as part of the Honolulu Academy of Arts' Celebration of the Arts and Culture of the Islamic World.

While the Islamic world includes Indonesia, West and North Africa, the Philippines and Malaysia, Norton's fashion focus on the Middle East.

"It's marvelous to me that women seek beauty no matter what part of the world they live in, or under what circumstances," Norton said.

She may be best known as the former owner of Gipsy Norton Studio, a Honolulu modeling agency.

As a producer, she put together a group of Polynesian dancers and booked shows at hotels throughout the Middle East. Since the shows lasted six weeks to eight months, she found plenty of time to shop.

Norton said she simply bought what she liked — be it modern or vintage.

Although fashion silhouettes in many Islamic countries are often similar — full length and caftan-like with deep armholes — the fabrics and embellishments vary a great deal.

Some of the pieces in today's show include:

  • A monochromatic Moroccan djellaba (long caftan) in cream cotton damask with dozens of tiny covered buttons and lavish embroidery and braid.
  • From Jordan, a black rayon caftan with hand-crocheted trim and colorful embroidery over the entire garment.
  • An Egyptian white cotton peasant dress with bold, hand-embroidered crewel symbols.
  • An elegant metallic mesh gown from Asyut in Egypt sewn with real gold and silver threads.
  • A Palestinian dress with a mu'umu'u-like silhouette and yoke encrusted in embroidery.

Clothing wasn't all that Norton collected in her trips. She also also acquired jewelry: coral chokers from Iraq, Syrian necklaces with dangling charms inscribed with sayings about Allah, children's anklets from Baghdad that jingle and strings of tiny salt-water pearls from Bahrain.

During her trips to the Middle East, Gipsy Norton of Waikiki purchased this jewelry from Iraq, Egypt, Syria and other nations.
While the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art has been generous in donating ceramics, furniture, paintings and metalwork to the academy, Duke's clothing collections remain private. That means this fashion show may be the best opportunity to see Middle Eastern clothing on display in Hawai'i.

In addition to the fashion show, the academy's Islamic festival will feature expressions of artistic and cultural diversity such as music and folk dancing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Indonesia. There will be demonstrations of calligraphy, henna painting and carpet weaving. A bazaar will offer arts and crafts, aromatic oils, fibers, baskets, carpets, spices, teas and food.

For the keiki, storyteller Jeff Gere & Friends will present "Sinbad the Sailor" from "The Arabian Nights." Other keiki activities include calligraphy and making of mosaics and good-luck hands.