Sarah E. Braddock Clarke is Senior Lecturer and researcher, Falmouth University and co-editor, with Ryoko Yamanaka Kondo, of Byzantine Silk on the Silk Roads: Journeys between East and West, Past and Present (2022).
Fashion and textiles have been a part of my life from a young age and over the past three decades my research has firmly integrated the present, the future, and the past. I was immediately captivated with the Byzantine era when Ryoko Yamanaka Kondo, an expert and lecturer in historical textiles and decoration, showed me photographs of Byzantine silk fabrics she had taken over a number of years. We decided to embark on in-depth research with the aim of communicating this incredibly rich period of design to everyone via a book. The result is Byzantine Silk on the Silk Roads: Journeys between East and West, Past and Present published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts in the latter half of 2022.
There is much to be learned and enjoyed from delving into this inventive period when textiles came to the fore and were lavishly coloured and patterned with stunning imagery. Undertaking this research led me into unknown territories where parallels can be drawn between Byzantine culture, lifestyle, fashion, and textiles - and those of today. I found this fascinating and immersed myself in learning about the decades from 330 CE, when Emperor Constantine divided the Roman Empire into two halves - western and eastern – through to 1453 CE, ending when the Ottoman Turks took over. The eastern half was called the Byzantine Empire and centred in Byzantium, renamed as Constantinople, now Istanbul.
Gianni Versace. Autumn/Winter 1997/1998, womenswear, haute couture.
Photograph by Niall McInerney. © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
This entailed over one thousand, one hundred years of design to follow along the Silk Roads that connect east and west. Byzantine woven silk textiles were full of powerful imagery - awe-inspiring and highly creative in their depictions and symbolic in their meanings - conveying scenes and narratives. I marvelled at the scope which ranged from ecclesiastical references - iridescent with much use of gold and the Christian cross motif to fantastical hybrid creatures where beast, bird, and fish merged. A sense of spirituality existed that connected the material with the immaterial and Earth with Heaven.
Thierry Mugler. ‘La Chimère’, Autumn/Winter 1997/1998, womenswear, haute couture. Photograph by Niall McInerney. © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
The Byzantine era was a period of great innovation and ingenuity; celebratory and visionary - it certainly held me in its grasp. Relevance to twentieth and twenty first-century design is to be found where diversity and eclecticism, aided by global awareness, give reverence to different cultures and creative expressions. Eastern and western aesthetics and approaches can benefit from such mutual appreciation where reality connects and imagination soars.
Sarah E. Braddock Clarke