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Naima Bennis and the famous Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum wearing one of Naima’s designs, probably taken at the Hilton Hotel in Rabat, where the singer performed in 1968. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Part of the archival material donated to the V&A by the designer's daughter, Mouna Lotfi, in 2014

Naima Bennis and the famous Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum wearing one of Naima’s designs, probably taken at the Hilton Hotel in Rabat, where the singer performed in 1968. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Part of the archival material donated to the V&A by the designer's daughter, Mouna Lotfi, in 2014

Today very little is known about fashion in Morocco, although the first Moroccan fashion designers, who emerged in the 1960s, caught the attention of Diana Vreeland, renowned editor of American Vogue, and dressed some of the most influential fashion icons of the time, including Jacky Kennedy, Talitha Getty and Catherine Deneuve. Instead, non-Moroccan designers such as Mariano Fortuny, Paul Poiret and Yves Saint Laurent have become famous for their Morocco-inspired fashion collections.

Consequently, only a small number of Moroccan fashion items can be found in museum collections across the globe. These are mostly isolated pieces because no public or private, national or international museum has yet developed an active and strategic collecting policy for Moroccan fashion. In the meantime, the designers themselves and the people who bought their designs and witnessed this phenomenon are reaching an advanced age and with their disappearance, an important heritage risks being lost forever.

The main aim of this project is to establish a representative collection of Moroccan men and women’s urban fashion from the postcolonial period to the present. The 1960s and 70s are an especially high priority area because these garments are not yet considered historically valuable within Morocco, and are rapidly disappearing.

Intended outcomes

The main outcome of this project is to establish a Moroccan fashion collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, with its attendant conservation and documentation (both archival and contextual, in terms of oral history). Items are being donated from private individuals mainly in Morocco and France, and the documentation is being collected through intensive field research. Because very little has been documented and/or preserved especially from the early postcolonial years, priority is given to the collection of life stories from respondents who are today in their eighties and even nineties. Of the first generation of Moroccan fashion designers, Naima Bennis and Zina Guessous have already passed away, but their personal archives as well as actual garments preserved by their children and former clients represent invaluable sources of information on this period.

Furthermore, for the first time we will collect the work of contemporary Moroccan fashion designers, with the aim of establishing a representative timeline of postcolonial Moroccan fashion, and the changes it is undergoing today.

Longer term, we plan to display some of these collected pieces in the Museum and to develop a publication on Moroccan fashion in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Project Leads:

Dr M. Angela Jansen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, London College of Fashion
Dr Mariam Rosser-Owen, Curator Middle East, Victoria and Albert Museum

International Training Course

The Victoria and Albert Museum welcomes applications for ‘Creating Innovative Learning Programmes’, its new one week intensive course. This is a unique training opportunity for museum professionals from overseas who are interested in attracting and programming for a range of museum audiences.

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