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How to resurrect an extinct elite fabric

Here’s a round-up of weekly news from the world of fashion, luxury, retail, music and online auction

Weavers use handlooms to make traditional muslin garments at the Dhakai Muslin Project facility in Narayanganj.
Weavers use handlooms to make traditional muslin garments at the Dhakai Muslin Project facility in Narayanganj. (AFP)

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In Bangladesh, government authorities are trying to resurrect a fabric long thought forever lost to history. Worn by generations of the Mughal dynasty, European aristocrats and other famous personalities like Jane Austen, Dhaka muslin was celebrated for its fine quality and soft touch.

“Nobody knew how it was made,” Ayub Ali, a senior government official helping shepherd the revival project, told AFP. “We lost the famous cotton plant (flower), which provided the special fine yarn for Dhaka muslin.”

According to the AFP report, botanists spent five years, travelling to the corners of India, Egypt and Britain, looking for the flower used to weave the fabric. After efforts like consulting a book on plants by 18th century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, the research team the flower they were looking for, the Phuti Carpus cotton. It only grows near the capital Dhaka.

“Muslin can’t be woven without Phuti Carpus cotton. So to revive Dhaka Muslin, we needed to find this rare and possibly extinct cotton plant,” said Monzur Hossain, the botanist who led the effort.

The plant is now being grown in experimental farms in an effort to raise yields and scale up production.

The muslin was so famous that historians say it helped Bangladesh, now home to factories of the global fast fashion trade, supplying huge brands such as H&M, become prosperous. The industry, however, collapsed after the 18th century conquest of the Bengal delta by the East India Company, paving the way for British colonial rule. After the industrial revolution, factories in England started producing much cheaper textiles, while European tariffs killed the foreign market for the delicate fabric.

“We want to make it (muslin) a top global fashion item. It has a great history,” Parvez Ibrahim, whose family owns a factory supplying global fashion retailers, told AFP. “But to bring down cost, we have to speed up the production process. Otherwise, reviving Dhaka muslin won’t mean anything.”

A rare Stradivarius heads to auction A three centuries old Stradivarius violin will soon be up for grabs.

Estimated to sell in the range of $15 million-20 million on 9 June at an online auction conducted by the fine instrument auction house Tarisio, the fully functional violin is called the “da Vinci, Ex-Seidel”, reports Bloomberg .

According to an auction house representative, the da Vinci part of the name seems to have been given in the early 20th century, and ex-Seidel refers to its previous owner, Russian-American virtuoso Toscha Seidel. Under his stewardship, the violin can be heard in the original film score for The Wizard Of Oz, and in recordings with major orchestras around the world, according to the Bloomberg report.

“From the musician’s standpoint, it’s definitely priceless,” said Carlos Tomé, director at Tarisio. “From the audience point of view also it’s priceless, but you have to put a monetary value to it.”

Tomé says bidders will include private collectors, along with institutions looking to diversify their investments. “Whenever there has been war, whenever there is a depression, the violins have never suffered. It doesn’t have the big spikes of returns like the volatility of other markets, it is a very, very steady return,” he said.

This rare Stradivarius “has a luscious, deep and powerful sound and is something that really carries you,” Tomé says. The instrument will go on tour, with viewings in London, Berlin, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo, before returning to New York for the official June auction.

A Barbie doll makeover

Toy maker Mattel is paying tribute to women from around the world by turning them into Barbie dolls. The latest in the list are American TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, whose Shondaland Media company is behind hit Netflix series Bridgerton and Inventing Anna, British make-up artist Pat McGrath, French blogger Lena Mahfouf, German digital entrepreneur Tijen Onaran, and Sonia Peronaci, the founder of Italian cooking website GialloZafferano, according to a report in Reuters.

“It’s a huge honour and it’s something quite unbelievable because when I was younger we used to only have... a few models of Barbie and they all looked kind of the same, blonde, tall with straight hair, and I didn’t feel represented by that,” Mahfouf said. “So now to have my own Barbie with some curly hair and a bit darker skin, I’m happy to see that.”

Mattel said its global Barbie Dream Gap project was teaming up with charitable organisation Inspiring Girls International to work with local schools in various countries delivering workshops and advice, reports Reuters.

“It is crucial for girls to have role models, because you cannot really dream of becoming something if you haven’t seen it,” Inspiring Girls International founder Miriam Gonzalez Durantez said. “So having that visibility is crucial for girls.”

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