Body adornment is a universal art, practiced by Berber women covered with amulets and pendants, Indians sheathed in their bridal saris, Africans with highly codified headdresses, Geishas disappearing under their ghostly white makeup, and Maoris, their bodies sculpted with spiral tattoos. This use of finery however is anything but haphazard.
As ethnic markers, crystallizing superstitions and beliefs, they symbolize wealth or fertility. The ethnologist’s job is to decipher the language formed by these jewels, clothes, tattoos and scars.
I met Linda Pastorino in one of those New York Asia Week afternoons at Rossi and Rossi gallery. She was so beautiful I almost thought she was part of their “Tantric Carpets from the Himalayas” exhibition that week.
I dared asking. She said no, she was just visiting. I complimented her for the magnificent long old Chinese skirt she was wearing made out of an imperial robe and a Himalayan Yak collar vest. I then asked her where she found her clothes, and with a sixth sense I guess a bit shy, she started sharing with me our common life’s passion: the art of ethnography.
Since she was eight years old, Linda would go to auctions and personally bid on lots she liked next to her parents — of Italian origins and avid collectors of Americana. But destiny and a trip to Morocco at the age of thirteen changed Linda’s life and made of her what she is today; one of the most prestigious dealers and experts specializing in rare and hard-to-find examples of ethnic jewelry, costumes and objets d’art.
I am now at her boot on the New York Asia Pacific show. She’s with a cute long-time friend from San Francisco named Lin Chen, with a style as intriguing as Linda’s, who came to help her with clients. Lin is wearing an enormous early 18th century amber necklace that made me beg her a few times for a style picture in the blog.
Linda is busy with old clients, Lin Chen her buyer pal, too. I suddenly feel like I am in an Ali Baba Downtown Manhattan cave filled with precious gold and treasures from afar…. having at my right, ready to be worn, a beautiful Ikat robe with Russian chintz lining from Uzbekistan, and from the early 20th century rare central Asian jewelry from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
In a small window near other magnificent robes, a Mongolian Khalka tribe headdress, a Tibetan flint of leather with coral, a wood bead Tibetan necklace and rare Dhzi bead necklaces all make me feel like the 40 thieves, taking with me everything I see to wear it wherever I need to go. I would not really care. It’s about connecting with the energy of distant generations coming from different lands. After graduating from Parson’s School of Design in the 70’s , Linda taught ethnography at the Metropolitan Costume Institute as an intern under Diane Vreeland.
She then was invited to work at a prestigious eclectic antiques store called Putmayo. Linda was sent to India by the owner and in 1981 she created her own brand of ethnographic vintage couture clothing under the name of “Images of Change” sold worldwide with an enormous press return and continuously accessorized with unique one-of-a-kind ethnic jewelry always sourced at private collectors and different countries of origin like China, Indonesia and Mongolia.
She, like Talitha Getty in the 70’s, started the globe-trotting fashion trend!
A client negotiates with Linda the price of a large heart-shaped Ask braid pendant coming apparently from Yomud Turk-men tribe living in Khorezm Uzbekistan. With my camera I capture an Ikat robe elegantly displayed with a large silver chain from Yemen, a belt being worn as a necklace alongside a Syrian turban shelf and Persian 18th century candlesticks.
My favorite, an early 17th century Loro Blonyo figure meaning ‘two become one’ (wedding couples worshiped in Bali and kept in the palaces in pairs) wearing a gold and cloth collar from Sumatra which I hear from Lin Chen was sold to a couple half hour ago.
Linda works in a newly renovated 18th century barn in New Jersey and attends by appointment only, a rare privilege for only a few. If you have time check her hidden treasures out……
Sources: Ethnic Style History and Fashion, Berenice Geoffroy-Schneiter, Assouline
The Antique Store: Singkiang, Ethnographic Adornments Objects of Art / Tel 1 908 879 8952 , E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org