À la Turc

Sometimes size just doesn’t matter. The exquisite small exhibit Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette currently at the Frick, organized by the stylish Curator of Decorative Arts Charlotte Vignon, contains only 6 pieces, yet the workmanship, history and lasting style implications make this a must see if you are in New York.

The 18th century interest in all things from the orient included stories starting with Galland’s translation of A Thousand and One Nights. It was the Turkish operas and plays of the time, performed at the French court, that inspired Marie-Antoinette to follow her brother-in-law, the comte d’Artois’ lead in decorating à la turc. The spectacular door panels from his Turkish Room at Versailles, a part of the exhibit, are shown above. Elements such as turbaned figures, camels, arabesques and stars appeared as ornate and subtly erotic decorations on furniture, wall panels and in paintings. Aristocrats enjoyed dressing in Turkish garb such as ermine trimmed capes, low cut, tightly fitted bodices and of course turbans to have their portraits painted.

This spectacular pair of bronze dromedary firedogs (the decorative fronts on andirons), on loan from the Louvre for the exhibit, were part of Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir at Fontainebleau, which was decorated in exotic Turkish style.

The last items from the exhibit, a pair of gorgeous small console tables, are part of the museum’s permanent collection. While of an unknown origin, all the elements suggest they were made for a late 18th century European room in Turkish style.

Credit: Courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, © 1999 David Franzen via Elle Decor

Turkish style has had an enduring influence on fashion and interiors that continues today. The ottoman and sofa are not only derived from the Turkish language but the actual pieces are also of Turkish derivation. Doris Duke’s famous Shangri La in Honolulu, now the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, is an amazing homage to Turkish design.

Turkish baths are another popular design adaptation. Witness Sienna Miller’s Turkish spa and sauna in the basement of her former London abode

or Arthur Upham Pope’s 1920’s design for the billiard room in the San Francisco Fairmont Penthouse, the renovation of which I wrote about last year.

But of all the influences of Turkish design, I think the turban has had the most impact – not only on 18th century fashion but style throughout the centuries. From Gloria Swanson (above), to Joan Crawford (below), to

Grace Kelly to

Twiggy, to

Sophia Loren, to

to contemporary fashionistas such as Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, it has served as an enduring and chic accessory.

Turbans were even adapted as part of Pan Am’s uber chic uniforms in the ’60s. I can’t wait to see more of their stylish attire this fall on ABC’s new retro “Pan Am” series.

If you still have any doubt of the wide ranging influence that à la turc has exerted over the world of the creative arts, just watch this episode of “The Lively Ones” from 1962 – Blue Rondo à la Turk!

28 thoughts on “À la Turc

  1. Another fantastic post!
    I miss the Frick, one of the world’s perfect museums–I am sure that these pieces must be dazzling in person…

    And let’s not forget Prada’s frequent use of turbans as well…

  2. Thanks for the reminder what a jewelbox The Frick is. Love the door panels and how I would love a turquish bath .

  3. My favorite image is the billiards room. Turkish design has such beautiful detail and pattern. The influence is seen in many modern textiles and products today. I guess Marie Antoinette had a good eye!

  4. Incredible works of art, awe inspiring. Love the turbans too….granted not everyone can wear one but they are so chic and stylish on the right person. I think many lines are showing them this year, Prada, Milly, Jason Wu, Armani its turban fever!! Love all the pictures above…so glamorous. Welcome back.

  5. I love every bit of this exotic Turkish decor. How fun to point out all of the celebrities who influenced fashion with turban wearing. Ireland narrowly beat out a trip to Istanbul this year. I WILL get there at some point… Wonderful Post!

  6. Well this cinches it! I will have a turban for this fall–I have been thinking about this and hoping that I could pull it off. A little Dave Rondo a la Turk and I can keep the beat in my head to do this. Thanks again for a wonderful post.

  7. a la turk is at once exotic but also fills our need for design that is grounded in old, old traditions…what is old is new and what is new is old…it’s what we love…
    gorgeous images…

  8. I think we need to take your inspiration and investigate it a bit more. Let’s start at the Frick (one of my favorite museums!), then on to Paris and for nice long wander through Versailles, then on to Venice where we can trace the Turkish influence, and then to Turkey itself. Sound like a good itinerary?

    Welcome back! We’ve missed your smart and sophisticated voice. I hope that you are taking care of your back and feeling rested.

  9. I wish I were in New York to see the Frick exhibit. My pick from your posting is the exquisite console(s). Elegant and a little erotic!

  10. That billard room, wowza. I would be quite happy to have a turkish bath here in my home, what luxury. I don’t think I could pull off a turban but Gloria looks so devil may care in hers, love that. Looking at the Sophia Loren photo, with her hair out of the way, you can really see her features and how gosh darn gorgeous she was, is. Captivating.

  11. I was just doing some research on the early 20th century craze in America inspired by Leon Bakst’s sets for the Diaghilev ballet, Scheherazade in 1910. Those sets had a huge impact on haute couture and the decorative arts.

  12. Marvelous post and to end it with Dave Brubeck, divine. All the pieces are so intricate and unique. I am a fan of Turkish design. No one could wear a turban like Ms. Swanson, but Sophia is a strong contender with those eyes.

    I too can’t wait for Pan Am on t.v.! I hope it won’t let us down?

    Have a terrific Tuesday.
    x Deb

  13. I adore the Frick and these look worthy of an MTA trip into the city!!

    I never thought of the turban originating in Turkey….how fun to see it make a return on the new show, Pan Am.

    I always love that I learn something new and valuable at Quintessence!!!

  14. I have always loved Middle Eastern style, whether it be Turkish, Egyptian or even Morrocan. Colours and the intricasies of patterns give one so much inspiration.

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