Photographed by Peter Lindbergh, Vogue, January 1990
This month, we came to fall in love with sequins, having looked into their surprising, divine and deep history. Sequins can be traced all the way back to King Tutankhamun, alive from 1341 to 1323 B.C, whose garments were covered in “gold sequin-like disks”. Historians believe they were meant to ensure his financial stability in the afterlife. At some point during the Renaissance Period, between 1480 and 1482, Leonardo Da Vinci himself put together a sketch for a sequin-making machine. Luxuriously, the hands that sew sequins, known as 'petit mains' (French for little hands), have been long revered for their intricate needlework used widely by haute couture houses.
Time for a little etymology. The dictionary definition of a sequin is “A small shiny ornamental disk, often sewn on cloth.” The origins of the word “sequin” have always referenced wealth. The Arabic word sikka means “coin”, and during the 13th century, gold coins produced in Venice were known as zecchino. Variations of sikka and zecchino were used in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, with the French later referring to the coins as sequin, later adopted into English.
Sewing gold and other precious metals onto clothing was multifunctional, and you know how much we love practicality here at Yalabeh. Firstly, it served as as a safe-keeper for valuables. This came especially handy for the Bedouins, who kept coins close to the body attached to their clothes as they traveled. Secondly, sequinned clothing were a clear status symbol in places like Egypt, India and Peru, with the reflective shine of the metal reminding onlookers of the wealth and power of the patron. Thirdly, and most interesting to us, sequins, with their glaring sheen, sequins were considered to evoke the light of the divine and therefore were a sort of spiritual guide, meant to ward off evil spirits.
Other than clothing, we also see the use of sequins in tapestry, which has evolved into unique art forms in different parts of the world with a religious significance. In Haiti for example, in Vodou flags or "drapo", sequins have more than a decorative significance: they embody what Robert Farris Thompson referred to as the “Flash of the Spirit,” the creative spark imparted by the divine.
With all this history, we have been feeling especially inspired to use sequins more often in our designs to the tell our story and the story of humankind. Watch this space for more.