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Dress (Argentina)

This is a Dress. It was designed by Lydia Novillo and made by Lydia Novillo. It is dated 2009 and we acquired it in 2011. Its medium is chaguar fiber (bromeliad family) and its technique is interconnected looping and crocheted. It is a part of the Textiles department.

This dress, woven by Lydia Novillo in a women’s cooperative in Formosa, Argentina, is a contemporary interpretation of an important South American textile tradition. The tradition stems from the weaving practices of an indigenous people of South America, the Wichi, who live primarily in Formosa, an isolated area in northern Argentina. Originally settling near the Bermejo and Pilcomayo Rivers, they were a semi-nomadic, agricultural people who also relied on fishing during the dry season. For centuries, they have used the fibers of the chaguar, a plant in the bromeliad family, to weave fishing nets, bags, and other objects that continue to sustain many of the communities today.

Using an interconnected looping technique, Novillo makes a beautifully executed and graphically dynamic halter dress that incorporates variations of the traditional diamond pattern of the rattlesnake into the dress. More tightly woven loops in the midsection help cinch the dress to naturally form a waistline, and crocheted edging around the dress, as well as in the halter straps, finish the garment. This particular dress took the weaver one month to make. The process of making the fiber is even more time-consuming. After the chaguar leaves are picked, they are mashed with a stone to retrieve the pulpy fiber. The fiber dries for one to two months, after which it is twisted together to make a yarn that, although initially rough, softens over time resulting in a wearable fabric.
In the fall of 2011, the Smithsonian Latino Center hosted a design program at Cooper-Hewitt, presenting contemporary work from Argentinean designers. This dress by Novillo was one of the featured works as it illustrates the contemporary evolution of an important textile tradition. Although the museum does not collect fashion design, it does collect garments that represent an important technique or structure. The museum also collects contemporary textiles that use traditional techniques. At the time of proposed acquisition, the museum’s collection includes bags that are a variation of the looping technique used by Novillo in this dress.

This object was featured in our Object of the Week series in a post titled A continued tradition.

It is credited Museum purchase from Friends of Textiles Fund.

  • Waraji (sandals)
  • hand-woven kibiso.
  • Courtesy of Reiko Sudo and Tsuruoka Fabric Industry Cooperative.
  • 89.2015.3

Its dimensions are

H x W: 176.7 x 77.3 cm (5 ft. 9 9/16 in. x 30 7/16 in.); includes tie

Cite this object as

Dress (Argentina); Designed by Lydia Novillo (Argentine, b. 1969); chaguar fiber (bromeliad family); H x W: 176.7 x 77.3 cm (5 ft. 9 9/16 in. x 30 7/16 in.); includes tie; Museum purchase from Friends of Textiles Fund; 2011-17-1

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Duro Olowu Selects.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Dress (Argentina) |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=31 January 2023 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>