French May Talk : A Passion for Silk

AF Library, Jordan Centre
Saturday, 1 June 2024

5 pm
In English
For adults 

The Antique Paisley Shawl - The Road from Kashmir to France

Poster adapted from the Portrait of Empress Josephine, by Antoine-Jean Gros, ca. 1808. Courtesy of Musée Masséna Nice.

On the occasion of the exhibition dedicated to silk at CityU’s Indra and Harry Banga Gallery, Alliance Française will hold a talk with renowned shawl collector Romi Lamba. Through his collecting journey, Lamba discovered that a gift from Napoleon to Josephine launched a European fashion trend for wearing Indian shawls over dresses and even imitating them with French silk manufacture.


Romi Lamba
Private Collector

Romi Lamba’s collecting journey has spanned more than four decades and a variety of disciplines, from antiques to ancient textiles to Asian contemporary art.  Drawn to opulent textiles from disparate regions, his trips to various carpet dealers eventually led him to a group of fine Kashmir shawls. His focus expanded to include these skillfully woven fabrics with delicate patterns that had more of a connection to his home. Referring to the significance of this moment to his collecting journey, Romi noted, “I didn’t know it then, but I was hooked; not just to the shawls themselves but to the lifelong addictions of a collector.”


A Passion for Silk: The Road from China to Europe

The Indra and Harry Banga Gallery, City University of Hong Kong

11 April - 1 September 2024

The art of silk (sericulture) emerged in China in 8,500 BCE, becoming an important financial industry over the succeeding millennia. Chinese farmers cultivated silkworms and the mulberry trees, while master craftsmen and women wove and embroidered shimmering, colourful fabric. The value of silk was so high that it was used for payments like gold. Though kept a state secret, by the third century CE the production of silk had become known to China’s neighbours while India had independently developed its own silk weaving tradition. In Europe, Italy first learned sericulture in the medieval period, followed by France a few centuries later. Through technological and artistic innovations, these two countries dominated the European silk market, while Chinese silk remained a luxury item for royalty and aristocrats. The fame of Chinese silk was such that in the 19th century China’s early trade routes came to be called the Silk Road.

Just as important as silk’s financial role is its cultural, political, technical, and religious significance. The fabric’s design and usage reveal developments in art, trade, fashion, and technology (to name just a few) and expose important cross-cultural influences. With over a hundred samples of silk clothing, accessories, and furnishings from China, India, Italy and France, this exhibition provides a rare overview of the crucial cultural role played by Chinese silk making and its influence abroad. Just as important, the exhibition reveals how European silk makers adapted the Chinese methods of production and artistic styles in ways that then influenced Chinese fabrication itself in the 20th century. Silk’s continuing appeal is visible in contemporary high fashion silk creations today.

The talk is an associated project of:

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