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Fascination With the Far

Art history graduate student Andrea Truitt examines America's fashion fascination with the Middle East
December 9, 2015

Portrait: Andrea Truitt

Portrait: Andrea Truitt
Photo by Jack Swift, CLAgency student

Looking back into the 19th century, PhD student Andrea Truitt was amazed with the fascination Americans had with luxurious styles that reflected Middle Eastern culture. “This exotic style has been called by many names—Oriental, Persian, Moorish, Mooresque, and Turkish,” she says. “My research shows there was an interest in Middle Eastern style by Americans even in the 1890s, though it became more pronounced after the end of World War I.”

Truitt has found countless similarities between interior design elements of that era and today’s decorative tastes. Although her main research focuses on popular interior design trends of 125 years ago, she recognizes the correlation between trends of the past and those of today. “Even today, consumers are still presented with exotic swirling patterns and lotus flower pots,” she says. “We continue to see objects of all sorts referencing, copying, mimicking, trying—and often failing—to look like Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian styles.”

The Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship and the Luce Foundation Fellowship in American Art have supported her archival research into historic imagery, popular magazines, and developments in 19th century interior design. Her work with magazine illustrations began during her master’s research and became part of her dissertation, Experiencing the Otherworldly: Magazine Reading and Illustrations of Orientalist Domestic Space in the United States, 1880-1920. She has found that the exotic and foreign styles of the late 19th century represent “America’s ascent into global imperialism and a powerful economic force in the world.” As the United States started to become a corporate powerhouse, consumers were not only purchasing American products, they were “buying certain assumptions of culture, behaviors, and ways of working that American companies were telling consumers were appropriate and should be emulated, creating spheres of economic influence,” Truitt says. As the United States continued to expand its global influence, homemakers were encouraged to appropriate foreign styles and prints in their own living rooms and dining areas.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.