This book reveals a largely unknown and unexplored side of Arab culture and design—one rarely glimpsed in today's geopolitical debates that characterize the region. In Damascus and Aleppo, approximately 200 companies vie for a highly competitive domestic lingerie market. The lingerie forms part of popular Syrian tradition surrounding marriage; if a groom does not buy the undergarments for his wife-to-be, then her mother will. Some lingerie designers resort to gadgetry (blinking lights or sound loops of pop music) or the sweet tooth (candy- or chocolate-encrusted panties), while others stick to classics like the thong panty featuring a bird embedded in a ring of fl uorescent pink boa feathers: called Ish Al Asfour („bird's nest“ in Arabic)—a kitsch interpretation of women's pubic hair. Malu Halasa describes her and Rana Salam's visits with the designers, manufacturers, vendors, and consumers of these undergarments, shedding light on the social mores of Syrians and questioning Western preconceptions about Islam. Photographs by Gilbert Hage highlight the editors' „top 30“ of lingerie styles discovered on their many trips to the souk in Damascus. Also in the book: self-portraits by the young Syrian artist Iman Ibrahim; a history of the Syrian textile industry and how dictatorship created a homegrown fashion empire; excerpts from fi lmmaker Noura Kevorkian's journal, impressions and observations made while listening to Syrian women speak candidly about their lives, leading her to further investigate the relationship between lingerie and polygamy; and an interview with one of Syria's reformers, the author, publisher and activist Ammar Abdulhamid, among much more depicted within Rana Salam's graphic collection of Arabic design. Texts by Malu Halasa, Noura Kevorkian, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, interview with Ammar Abdulhamid, and photographs by Gilbert Hage, Iman Ibrahim, and Issa Touma among others.
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Why would a veiled woman buy crotchless panties? Or underwear with zippers and feathers? Or panties with cartoon birds and musical buttons? Is it possible for a woman to walk comfortably wearing underwear with feathered Tweety Birds the size of apples resting against her crotch? Most likely these indulgences are meant to be worn only in the house, possibly just in the bedroom. But then what about the musical panties playing Western pop tunes? Why would a society that shelters its women design and sell such explicit lingerie? And why do the women buy it? I grew up Christian in the Middle East. These women were my neighbors. Yet a number of contradictions about the life of these women of Damascus perplex me, and I am determined to fi nd out their meaning. – Noura Kevorkian
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