University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

How does Louis Vuitton Imagine Fashion?

September 2, 2011

For the Imagine Africa project, the Penn Museum wants to know how you imagine different aspects of African cultures and societies, from religion to art to medicine.

One particularly interesting theme is Imagine Fashion, which, as its name suggests, explores the sartorial trends, bodily modifications and adornments of African cultures. Perhaps one of the last things that will come to mind when asked how you Imagine Fashion in Africa is Louis Vuitton. However, after taking a look at the fashion house’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection, you may have different thoughts:

Compare the collection to the clothing worn by these Maasai elders at the end of this short video on Maasai Rites of Change.

This video interview with the New York Times delves into Louis Vuitton designer Kim Jones’ background and how he was inspired to use these Maasai prints in his collection. What do you think? How do Jones’ use and interpretation of traditional Maasai textiles stack up to the real thing? Is it appropriate for a luxury Western brand to capitalize on the pairing of traditional fabrics of a culture with the fashions of their imperialist oppressors? Is this, on some level, fetishization or objectification of the Maasai culture? Should contemporary fashion in such cosmopolitan societies even be analyzed so critically these days? Some thoughts for consideration.

  • Kate B

    I showed this x-ray to my manager, who is a Senior Radiographer. She
    says that no bones are broken, so this strange jumble is unlikely to
    have been caused by injuries such as if he had been a soldier who had
    been extensively injured or died in battle.
    Here are my conclusions
    based on my analysis of the imaging. As the mummy wrappings are intact,
    the disarticulation wasn’t caused by desecration of the mummy, unless he
    had been rewrapped afterwards. I thought that the jumble of bones could
    possibly have been caused by rough movements during transportation, but
    as the left femur would have been moved to its present location by the
    mummy being tipped upside-down, the spine being moved out of alignment
    by a sideways movement, and the clavicle and ribs being moved into the
    thorax/abdominal cavities by a downwards movement, the disarticulated
    bones should have moved together at each subsequent movement, each
    falling to the top (towards the head), bottom (towards the feet), or to
    the side, however, they remain in their distinct positions. In addition,
    the fact that the arms, fingers, and right leg are in the correct
    locations, and at least the falanges would have been considerably more
    rearranged than they are (although it is difficult to see they are all
    in their correct locations) through such movements. This suggests that
    heavy handling and large movements of the mummy aren’t the reason for
    the strange positions of the bones. Are additional scout views
    I think the most likely theory is that the unusual
    arrangement of the bones is due to a mummification ‘bodge-job’: the
    exterior (apart from the visible teeth) shows no signs of the
    mis-arrangement of the interior, so that by all observations it looked
    as though the people who mummified him did a good job. The tightness of
    the wrappings and the dessicated skin should have held the bones in
    their correct locations after mummification, at the very least in the
    case of the femur, which would have been difficult to reposition within
    the tight skin and wrapping of the body if the movement of this bone had
    happened after wrapping. In theory, the mummifiers would have replaced
    the femur bone at least to the correct anatomical position before
    mummification if they had been doing their job to the best of their
    ability. Therefore, this suggests that the repositioning of the bones
    happened before dessication. The radiographer who examined the x-rays
    with me can identify no amulets within the wrappings, and if this is the
    case, this lends support to the theory that this was a case of poor

    mummification on the interior, as none of the traditional mummy amulets
    are present which were required as part of the mummification ritual, in
    particular for an individual as seemingly wealthy as Nespekashuti, as
    evidenced by his beautiful coffin.
    Kate Bernasconi, BA (Hons.) Egyptian Archaeology, MA (Egyptology)

    • mgleeson

      Kate, this is such great input, thank you, and thanks to your manager, for taking the time to interpret these x-rays. I am going to share this with our physical anthropologist and with our curators and will let you know about any further thoughts or questions we might have. I do think this sounds like a plausible theory. We did take some other x-rays which aren’t included in this composite image. Are there any areas in particular that you/she would like to see? I could certainly share higher resolution images if that would be helpful. You mentioned re-wrapping – do you or does she know of any mummies that have been re-wrapped? This was one of our hypotheses but I haven’t heard of this happening in antiquity. I think it’s possible that at least Nespekashuti’s feet have been re-wrapped, but I’m not sure when that would have happened. Thanks again!!!

  • B. L.

    Another thing, in the x-ray, there seems to be a sort of ‘colum’ running between his legs. Is it just part of the coffin wood?

    • mgleeson

      I believe that that “column” is linen. You can also see it wrapped around the arms.

  • M.C.

    This is very interesting and intriguing. I would like to add a few remarks and questions in passing, just to further the investigation.
    I may be mistaken, but I do not think one can be sure that coffin an mummy truly belong together. It was rather frequent at the end of the 19th C. to rematch coffins and mummys in order to sell them more easily to travellers and museums. Is there a letter from Emile Brugsch authentifying the mummy ?
    As for the coffin, based on the picture in your previous article, I would have rather attributed it to the Late period, rather than New Kingdom, because of the striped headcloth and general composition of the text and decoration.
    Lastly, concerning the lack of amulets : I do not know much about radiography, but is it possible that amulets made of wax would not appearon the X-ray, being too “light” to stop the rays ? In any case it would not be surprising either for a Late Period (or later) mummy not to contain amulets.
    As for the hypothesis that the mummy could have been kept upright, this sounds very plausible for it appears many coffins at that time were made to stand upright. Is there any decoration on the foot plank or on the back of the coffin ? The lack of it could be evidence on the way it was supposed to be placed : no need to decorate what won’t be seen…
    It would indeed explain the jumble of bones in the upper part of the mummy, though not the femur… One might have to get a look at the different layers of cloth : all the mummy parts may not have been wrapped in the same layers of cloth, thus explaining why the hands are less jumbled, if they were indeed mummified separately. The question is : where lies the femur amongst these layers of cloth ? On the radiography, it seems to lay above every other bones ; it is then possible that it is separated from them by cloth, and ended up there at a different time through tough manipulation during excavation or transport maybe ? But once again, I am no radiographer soI will leave any conclusions to the specialists…
    In any case, thank you very much for these very interesting blog papers on the artworks !

    PS : is the coffin to undergo restauration as well ? I would be very interested in seeing more pictures about it !

    • mgleeson

      Thanks for your questions and to adding to this discussion. These are all great questions and I’m not going to be able to answer everything at the moment, but I’ll take a stab at a few of them here:
      – It is definitely *possible* that the coffin and the mummy don’t belong together. The acquisition records are pretty brief, and I’m actually trying to look into this a bit more.
      – I think that if wax amulets were present, they would show up. You can actually see the honeycomb pattern from the support board underneath the mummy and coffin in these x-rays, and it’s made of paper!
      – The exterior of the bottom/foot plank of the coffin is painted/decorated. The coffin is too fragile with the mummy inside to examine the back so I can’t say for sure what’s on the back of it, but we’ll get to that, because we will be treating the coffin as well as the mummy.
      – We’re still trying to sort through the jumble of the remains. I’ll be sure to update this post if/when we come to more conclusions or have some plausible hypotheses!

      • B. L.

        Well, atleast there seems to be an actual mummy inside the wrappings, as in one complete body, and not just random stuff made to look like a mummy 🙂

  • riffers

    Just a thought: could different bones have shifted at various points of his desiccation? It does appear the mummy has spent some time standing on end, which would account for the grouping of vertebrae and ribs around the midsection, and then additional smaller bones (phalanges, cuboids, etc.) piled toward the bottom. Could the femur have shifted at a later time, possibly during transport, when the remaining connective tissue was much more fragile? Can’t wait to hear Dr. Monge’s conclusions!

    • mgleeson

      I think that this is a very plausible explanation. Ultimately, I think we’ll want to CT scan the mummy, although this will have to wait until the conservation treatment is complete because his remains are too fragile to be transported outside the building until he is stabilized. I’ll be sure to report back on any further conclusions we make! Thanks again for your input!

      • B. L.

        A CT scan would be very interesting. I’m curious also about which bones are on top of which.

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