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The Banyan’s Beauty in Geometry: Recreating the Traditional 18th Century Dressing Gown

Back in May 2022, we were commissioned by a collector to create a replica of their original 18th century banyan gown. That way, the owner can still wear their banyan, while the original is secured away. This was a very exciting project, like a journey through history. So let’s start from the beginning: What actually is a banyan gown?

A banyan is men’s nightgown for informal wear at home, made in Europe of imported silk damask, in the 1720s-30s. It’s a wide, loose garment, open in the front center, with wide sleeves. The silk damask was woven in China for importation into Europe and is similar to the silk damask used to finish furniture. The width of the fabric is around 120 cm. This is longer than other kimono-shaped banyan, where 46-64 cm is more common, and suggests that this silk may have been intended for furniture, but was also suitable for a banyan. The entire width of the silk was used on the back. 

Historical Context of the Banyan Robe

The term “banyan” comes from a Gujerati word for a Hindu merchant or tradesman in Gujerat Province, India. The anglicized form of the word is mentioned as early as 1599. It came to be applied to the clothing that Europeans mistakenly thought such merchants wore. The loose style of this banyan is based on the Japanese kimono, the so-called “Japanese robes,” which were first brought by merchants of the Dutch East India Company (founded in 1602) to the Netherlands. In that country the nightgown soon gained popularity. The Shogun presented these garments to the directors of the United East India Company at his annual audiences. The presentation of thirty of these silk robes restored the trade agreement between the Shogun and the Company so that it would remain in force for another year. This most likely occurred in the 1640s, when trade to Japan and China was the most important business of the Dutch East India Company. The only silks the Company brought from Japan in 1648-50 were one parcel of Japanese kimonos. These may have been kimonos donated by the Shogun. The kimonos were often modeled after the Japanese kosode in a “T” shape with a shawl collar and wide short sleeves. So few came each year that their rarity made them desirable and signified high status. The aristocrat Jan Six (1618-1700) recounted that “June 1689 was so cold that we had to wear winter underwear, braziers at the table, and Japanese tailcoats.” Elsewhere in the Far East, Chinese potters in Canton made portrait figures of Europeans dressed in kimono-style banyans.

Creating a Banyan

For the replica, we were tasked to find a visually similar fabric. Since we own a large collection of fabrics, we found a beautiful brocade that is very similar to the original. We choose dark orange and purple metallic brocade with lillies, a purple velvet trim and purple satin lining. The collector was very pleased with our creation and now they can easily wear their banyan, while the original garment is safe and secure. 

A New Collection in the Making

The uniqueness of the traditional banyan lies in its geometrical, logical cut and beautiful display of fabric. The beauty of the banyan’s construction has inspired us so much, that we plan on releasing a small collection of our own modern day banyan style dressing gowns for women and men. We own a lot of stunning patterned fabrics, that will be perfect for this type of wide and flowing robe. Stay tuned for the launch of these new, almost historical pieces! Follow us on Instagram to view the process behind the scenes.

Should you be interested in ordering a custom banyan robe for yourself, simply contact us here.

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