As we read about haute couture, and I reveled in the gloriousness of this practice of hand fabricated garments, I recalled one of my favorite opulent gowns from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection: this Egyptian Revival 1912 gown by a New York dressmaker that went by the moniker Simcox. I discussed in this garment in my presentation on Egyptomania and fashion for the Common Threads symposium last spring. This piece predates the discovery and opening of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, but it was from the year that the famous bust of Nefertitti was unearthed. The beaded embroidery embellishing the gown contains several Egyptian motifs, especially on the front bodice.
Fashion is all about drama and Cleopatra’s life was full of it, from her legendary affairs with some of the most powerful men of their time to her struggles to maintain influence as ruler of Egypt. Even her death was not a quiet affair—a series of miscommunications led to both her and her lover Mark Antony committing suicide while believing that the other had already died, in a Romeo and Juliet-like twist. As a figure that was exotic (queen of a distant-seeming land) and yet accessible (she was not ethnically Egyptian but Macedonian), she was and has remained a singular influence in the world of style.
The extent of her beauty, based on statements from her contemporaries and numismatic artifacts, is debatable. But Cleopatra was by all accounts an exceptionally charming woman, one who intuited how to present herself in the most strategic manner. Similar to stars of today, Cleopatra…
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