Sultana's Journey

I remember, growing up in Liverpool, I was into the art of colour combinations. I have memories of my Polly Peck silk 60s dress with striped shocking pink and red. I still have a photo of myself aged about 17, wearing a pink Jaeger suit with a matching pink hat, a black leather handbag, black gloves and black patent shoes. Posing as always. A poseur!! I dreamed I would be discovered, go to Hollywood and become a film star. I had a 'League of pity' money box to put in my pennies in readiness for Hollywood!

Another photo I have in profile is posing again in wishy washy pale pink with a cerise 2 tone leather thonged square pendant. I can date my age as 22 in 1966 because I am wearing a Bueche Girod 22 carat gold watch given to me by my parents for my 21st birthday.  The watch was my choice when I saw it in the window of Watches of Switzerland. I had expensive taste then despite living in a crummy bedsit in Manchester paying £2.50 a week and wearing bulky Italian mohair cardigan jackets.

An earlier memory was jiving on Sundays at a Jewish social club with a pinched in elasticated wasp clasped belt and a full voluminous pink skirt under which we wore full white petticoats. Woe betide you if there was a glimpse, not of stocking, but underskirt. We would say for some unknown reason in Liverpool, 'Charlie's dead!'

Also I recall in the late 60s I was invited to a Dutch wedding in the posh district of Wassenaar. What to wear? I decided to buy a silk brown and pink swirly sari from an Indian shop in Mayfair with the help of an Indian colleague who made me the bodice. She even showed me how to wrap it around my waist. My Dutch hostess kindly loaned me a necklace which I placed around my head and secured with Kirby grips.  Already I was showing interest in a definitely non-European look.

Another memory was modelling a tan and black 'sailor' outfit by Mary Quant in 1962 for The Ginger Group. I was skinny then and working as a trainee fashion buyer in the Liverpool Lewis' department store. I was proud  my photo got into The Liverpool Echo!

In Italy in the late 60s  I had silver mesh streaks in my medium length brown hair which was parted in the middle. I even bought a pair of purple leather court shoes and matching handbag in Rome when girls back in England were wearing white shoes. Even the Queen wore white shoes! I knew after Italy that England lacked colour. The fashion then was twin sets in pale blue, beige or pale pink with a string of pearls so everyone looked like a secretary!

I had a lime green mini to show off my legs. It was the 60s. The Jean Shrimpton era. Mini gonna they called it in Italy, mini jupe in France. I recall an enraged man in Israel ordering me back on the bus for fear that I could be raped by arabs in Nazareth on a desolate biblical site I had attempted to locate when I asked for directions. I had no concept of how that mini skirt would have looked to men! I still wore it in Buenos Aires in 1970 when I first met the welcoming Wertheim family. What the matriarch of the family must have thought of that skirt, I know not!

Another 70s dress I favoured was a short bright striped yellow and orange summer dress. Bring the sunshine into your life I would say but once back in grey England, I turned to black or dark grey, jazzing the darkness up with statement jewellery like painting a canvas with black as the background primary 'colour'. 70s was also the maxi era which suited my pear shape Rubinesque body! I recall one hippy maxi skirt made from patches of Indian recycled textiles and a dark burgundy dress with a sexy slit up the side at the back which I wore when I worked for Trader Travel at the London Hilton.

Paris was my fashion turning point. I was living there in the late 70s and was taken to a shop in the Latin Quarter. It was the first time I had spent money on clothes and experienced Retail Therapy. Before Paris I had gone ethnic. American Indian adorned with Sioux ermine ties for my bunches and silver and turquoise Navaho jewellery completed the style. After America came Mexico with long white cotton dresses and hand stitched embroidery around the shoulders and front, Huipiles and woven triangular wool shawls from Guatemala. I was into texture, bright colours and handwoven textiles.

On that special Paris shopping day that was to change my look forever, I bought black leggings to wear under a loose fitting baggy dark grey textured tunic. It was a time of black and gold, long blouses with padded shoulders coming into the early 80s. That day I also bought a pair of electric Klein blue and dark pink arabesque trousers, the Turkish look I still wear today, however it was, in fact, the Moroccan look I had seen back then called Saraelles.

I had a furrier in London and one in Paris. It was the era of the Red and Silver Canadian fox. My name was embroidered inside on the tan satin lining. The Dr Zhivago style fur hat completed the late 70s fur look. 

The next fashion influence came from New York when I visited for business in 1980.  By then I was wearing Sonia Rykell tunics with matching straight legged trousers. Black and gold with the seams showing on the outside. Velour was her trademark with inside outside. I was in love with my new Parisian look.

Next I discovered the Paris Troc shops. There were not too many but I had a good one at Alesia close to my hotel in the rue du moulin vert, 14e. Second hand Parisian fashion style at it's best. I purchased a man's evening printed floral velour jacket. I knew it was a man's because the buttons were the wrong way round but it gave me great pleasure wearing it.  Also from my local Troc shop I bought long tunic length blouses in golden colours as gold and black was the flavour of the decade. Then came a new look of glitz rather than bling, in the form of an emerald green sparkly jacket and a dark red one from the same label.

I was known in the flea markets as 'chaperon rouge' (Little Red Riding Hood) because I wore a French wool beret. I got into berets and then, in the 80s my oldest best friend Helga influenced my look accidentally. She sent me 2 religious headdresses worn by Israeli women with a thick twisted band that went across the forehead. Black and gold and red and gold. To this I would add drop earrings and loved my 'Middle East' look. My husband hated this 'snood' look and I am sure it had something to do with his mother in the 40s when British women wore snoods in the war effort. I know not but he was almost hysterical. I would leave the house with the headwear in my bag and then put it on remembering to take it off when I came home. I dressed for me not for him! He later confessed he always hated my style of dressing! Maybe that's why we eventually got divorced after 25 long years of being together!!

But back to New York and enter Ruth Shromron from Israel. One day she was wearing baggy black 'Turkish' trousers. I HAD to have the same so we went to the shop where I bought the same black and a red pair plus another which was sage green with a gold cummerbund around the waist and matching gold cuffs at the bottom of the legs.

In the late 70s I wore vintage floaty dresses cut on the bias to hide my abundant shape. I would buy fabulous lame evening and cocktail jackets and coats from Charles in Portobello Road who also hired out costumes for films and magazine stylists. Today I still have a pastel portrait of myself hanging above my bed done in 1982 by the punk artist Jo Brocklehurst. I am seated in a French Napoleon 111 bergere armchair in my velour black and gold evening coat with the dummy Charlie Macarthy on my lap.

By the 90s I was wearing hats and berets but now with embellishments. Then, due to the traumatic breakdown of my 25 year marriage and mental abuse, came my 'lost years'. Depressed, I had no interest in anything let alone clothes, jewellery, makeup or colour combos. I was in a black hole and could not imagine colour back in my life again.

But I survived. I am a survivor and a strong person. I reinvented myself after my ex-husband suddenly died of leukaemia 4 years ago in 2012. I cut my hair and went blonde in 2013 when a short intense relationship with a handsome Italian went wrong with more mental abuse. I walked away. I was reborn. I rose from the ashes like a Phoenix. I spread my wings internationally and embraced the Interfaith cultures and fashion of our diverse world.

There is no one now to criticise my style nor ever will. I created my own style. I spend time each morning thinking about what combo I will wear after checking the weather app first. I wore makeup again. I took a pride in my appearance. I look in the mirror before I hit the streets. I sometimes photograph my 'look' to document the colour combinations. A photo journal you might say.  I accidentally created The Sultana look. My unique style with the turban being my trademark, one step away from the Israeli headdress all those years ago.

I bring happiness to some women on the streets who come up to me and give me compliments. Even the odd man has asked me if I am a medium, have a crystal ball or read the cards. I have twice been called 'Norma Desmond' of Sunset Boulevard fame. or asked if I am in the theatre in productions like Blythe Spirit or know Molly Parkin.  Men, unless they are gay or into fashion, mock me fortunately with humour!

Well the world is a stage and life is a play but not a dress rehearsal. I say to women of a certain age, brighten up your life. Colour is known to affect our mood and wellbeing. There are even colour therapists around. Not many in the UK but I have the pleasure to know a Greek one who has trained in America, Theresa Sundt. Follow the sun. Feel the warmth and happiness that colour and fashion creates. Go window shopping, be inspired. Everything is on a fashion cycle. It seems in 2017 we are back in 1970 with a fresh approach.

Time spent in 2013 both in Crete and Antalya changed my look forever. In Crete I met the only Indian with two retail shops who became a wholesaler by accidentwho had a line of long multi coloured cotton tunics designed for the Greek market but made, bien sur, in India. I bought about 6 different designs and instantly changed my look. Colour and sunshine  came flooding back into my life. I was hooked on other tunics also designed in Greece but made in Indonesia with a different fabric. Last year I spent a week in Abu Dhabi on my way back from India where I bought a series of bejewelled colourful tunics made in Kerala but designed for the Arab market. I was in fact hooked on tactile Walking Art. After all I had founded, curated and owned a History of Graphic Design Archive and consumer advertising photo library - Retrograph Archive for 25 years founded in 1984.

Turkey with its wondrous Anatolian textiles completed the look for winter with hand embroidered wool and silk wraps and shawls as did pashmina and chahtoosh textiles in Jodhpur with more wraps and shawls. Not to mention my ever growing collection of turbans, headwear and eyewear.

This year, in 2017, one day I decided to add a sparkling costume vintage brooch onto one of my turbans. I had hundreds to choose from having been in the jewellery and antique collectibles world for 30 years. Bingo! I received compliments from day one. 

Then back in New York decades later I went to the flea market 'The  Garage'. I was told to dress down by a dealer friend so I had no makeup on and stuffed my then medium length hair into an Israeli headdress. A walking art apparition approached me asking who I was. This was non other than the ‘Outsider’ artist Sue Kreitzman who told me about the Advanced Style movement and the documentary film she was in called the Fabulous Fashionistas adding I would be a suitable candidate. By good fortune, although American, she lived in London. Happenstance again. I would meet up and interview her for my YouTube channel in 2017, 4 years later.

The Advanced Style look was created in New York by Ari Seth Cohen through photographing older well dressed ladies in the streets of Manhattan which has now expanded worldwide. I am proud to be almost 73 and am an 'advancing' Sultana in more ways than one! 

I created my Sultana look through happenstance. This year in Greece and Turkey, bandanas are IN. I am in luck because there is a lot of choice. To this I have added crocheted flowers with Nazar beads made by the local ladies who are experts in the art of crochet. I seem to recall crochet and macrame back in the 70s. This summer in southern Spain, I added fresh flowers to the bandanas obviously without a brooch. After all you can't overdo the look too much although some people think I do! But do I care? The older you get, the less you care what others think!

The Sikhs notice me, the Pakistanis too and especially the Turks in Kaleici, Antalya where I am known simply as 'Sultana'.


Epilogue #1

I thought the wife of the Sultan was Sultana so I was amazed when I was informed that in the Turkish language the word Is also Sultan for the wife! The word Sultana does not exist in Turkish. Thus I must surely be the only Sultana!

Epilogue #2

I had the pleasure to meet up with the ‘Outsider’ artist Nanni Pilhjarta from Finland but living in Stockholm.  She said she loved Sue Kreitzman's artwork and had seen an interview on Facebook - MINE!

Epilogue #3

I was recently in Rhodes Old Town sitting by a fountain licking an ice cream one barmy evening when a foreign man asked to take my photograph. ‘Why?’ I asked knowing it was because I stood out in a crowd wearing my signature Turkish turban. The man was from Finland and told me his partner wanted to meet me. The very same day I had an out of the blue text from Nanni in Antalya. The beautiful woman I was introduced to was in fact a Russian called Galina Gorevaja, a Finnish resident with a fascinating tale to tell. She had recognised me walking alone aimlessly in the Main Street as a Fashionista and wanted to meet me. A model, stylist and fashion designer specialising in felt, we are now in regular contact and next year, I am invited to Finland, the country that gave her asylum and a new freedom.

Written on the Turkish Airways flight Istanbul to Gatwick on 26/10/17. Updated in Kalkan 11.6.18.



Advanced Style
Ari Seth Cohen
Sue Kreitzman
Outsider Art
Norma Desmond - Sunset Boulevard movie
Polly Peck
Sonia Rykiel 
Mary Quant - Ginger group
Bueche Girod watches
Wikipedia -Jean Shrimpton
Maxi skirt
Saraelles - pants
Retrograph Archive -
Little Red Riding Hood
Theresa Sundt
Nanni Pilhjarta
Galina Gorevaja

To be read in conjunction with a creative writing piece of writing entitled 'Sultana' 4.11.17 written in Brighton.

Written for Rebecca Weef Smith's website 'Wearing wellbeing' and published online on her blog in 2017.

See Jilliana's interview with Rebecca Weef Smith on YouTube - click here
See Jilliana’s interview with Sue Kreitzman on YouTube - click here
See BHCR with guest Rebecca Weef Smith under 'Radio'