The Art of Dressing

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Tulicarpa spins history into wearable silks

Photography courtesy of Tulicarpa

 TULICARPA’S LUMINOUS SILK dresses and shawls are more than beautifully patterned clothes. They’re portals into another place and time. The history of art is woven literally into these ornate designs, inspired by 15th- and 16th-century paint­ings on view at the Prado Museum, Spain’s cultural jewel in Madrid. The rose gold trellis pattern, for example, is drawn from the floral motifs that adorn the background of Juan Sánchez’s 1460 painting, “The Crucifixion,” while the teal and gold St. Stephen silk is inspired by the robe of the mar­tyred saint in an altarpiece by Juan de Juanes made between 1555 and 1562.

Named for Santa Tulicarpa, a mythic Spanish saint who turned tile into silk, Tulicarpa is the brainchild of designer Lily Lewin, who just over a year ago began weaving together the artistic talents of three local women — painters Mariana Langley and Simoni Trapsioni, and clothier Cate Lyon — calling on their artistry and craftsmanship to help transform historic artworks into wearable silks. Each pattern is born from a physical encoun­ter with a painting or building discovered during Lewin’s travels to Spain and elsewhere in Europe, where she spends half the year with her husband, Lucas, a retired doctor from Madrid.

While Tulicarpa’s shawls and dresses originate from a historical source, each pattern begins with a newly commissioned painting either by botanical watercolorist and chief collaborator Langley or by neo-surrealist painter Trapsioni. These hand-crafted images — of lover’s eyes or celestial skies — are then digitally scanned and manipulated into a repeat pattern before being printed on silk in China. The fabrics return to Savannah (a place that serendipitously served as a silk colony in the 18th century), where they are cut and stitched into bespoke custom dresses or Spanish-inspired shawls by couturier extraordinaire Lyon.

Digital technology makes such global collabo­ration possible, but at its core, Tulicarpa embodies handcrafted attention to detail and craftsmanship, cutting through the common cliches and homog­enization of so much contemporary fashion and instead drawing on a long tradition of custom-made clothes. “It’s a deliberate choice of aesthetics,” Lewin says, “rooted in history and symbolism.”

England founded Savannah in part as a strategic buffer against the Spanish in Florida, but Lewin sees many similarities between the Hostess City and Spain. Through her time in both places, she’s come to find haunting parallels between ghosts in Southern gothic culture and the fantasmes of Iberia. There’s also a shared emphasis on hospitality and the ritual of getting dressed up, Lewin says — in particular, the importance of appearance as an expression of pride and respect. Tulicarpa speaks to all these histories: the brand is a renaissance of elegant dressing within an artistic storyline that tells of self, of place and of spirit.

Lewin says there are no plans for a brick-and-mortar store in Savannah (or Madrid, for that matter), but shoppers can purchase the fabrics, shawls and dresses online at Tulicarpa.com, or visit occasional pop-up shops around town at The Paris Market and Brocante, Perry Lane Hotel or Satchel