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LOS ANGELES — The caftan’s simple style has globe-trotted through the centuries, from the warrior times of Genghis Khan to the high fashion era of Kate Moss. While its beginnings had more to do with practicality than style, today, its influence is seen in the bohemian tunics and short dresses seen on the streets.
In Los Angeles, girls have been snapping up caftans and their shorter cousins, kurtas, at vintage shops for some time, and then designers started getting in on the act. XOXO and Hype are doing caftan-inspired styles for spring and summer, and some other looks include ABS’s gauzy tops with crochet trim and Hot Kiss’s numerous versions. “The reaction has been tremendous,” says Moshe Tsabag, president and chief executive officer of Hot Kiss.
Of course, looking chic on the street was not the caftan’s original purpose. Historians trace the silhouette as far back as ancient Mesopotamia, approximately 3500 B.C., when men and women wore it for ceremonial or military purposes. From there, its practicality and comfort sustained it through the rise and fall of several powerful empires, including the Roman, Byzantine and Turkish, spreading its appeal through much of Asia, northern Africa, Europe and the Mideast.
Skip a millennium or two to the mid-20th century and the caftan was still in play, this time by young hippies in the Sixties and Seventies looking to let their hair down and loosen up a bit. The earthy, homespun look fit the mood perfectly. By the mid-Seventies, everyone from Cass Elliot to Yves Saint Laurent had slipped into one. And more than one celeb’s been known to wear one in order to hide a few extra pounds.
Today, however, the popularity of caftans and other Eastern-inspired looks is part of the boom on peasant and bohemian looks that have been so popular for the last few years. And it has two great advantages going for it. Desiree Kohan, designer of the Los Angeles-based line Goretti, says, “It’s sexy and comfortable.”