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T HE L OTUS F LOWER A TEXTILE HIDDEN IN THE WATER

T HE L OTUS F LOWER

A TEXTILE HIDDEN IN THE WATER

L oro P iana

THE L OTUS F L OW E R

L o r o P i a n a T H E L O T U

A TE XTI L E HI DDE N I N THE WATE R

Photographs by

Bruna Rotunno

F L O W E R A T E X T I L E H I

The discovery of the lotus flower fiber comes from a gift. Little more than a year ago, a Japanese friend, Choichiro Motoyama, a man of great elegance and culture, gave us a length of fabric made from the lotus flower. Its pleasantly irregular appearance had the look of raw silk or antique linen. Its feel, how- ever, was incomparable to any fabric we had ever come across before. Wearing it was a new experience, and getting to know more about it became a need. For this reason, last March we went on the long journey to Myanmar, the place where the lotus flower is extensively cultivated. Since then the lotus flower has been a continual discovery rich in enchantment for us. Inle Lake on which it grows is a time- less place; here the people live in unison with uncontaminated nature. The flower itself is prodigious for its features, uniqueness among plant organisms, its medicinal proper ties, and its strong sym- bolism and sacredness within the Buddhist religion. The fiber that is obtained from it has no equal in nature, nor has its crafting, which must happen within 24 hours subse- quent to the harvesting of the flowers. Feeling cer tain we had discovered an extraordinary and new raw material, we began to do what was necessary to be able to bring it into the Western world and make it known to our customers. This was an under taking carried out in close collabo- ration with the inhabitants of Inle Lake who, thanks to this new project, can continue to spin the lotus, thus perpetuating an ancient tradition that would otherwise have risked extinction. In tr uth, the fiber’s yield is very low. It is processed completely by hand and very slowly; around 6,500 lotus stems are needed to get little more than the four meters of cloth necessary to make a single jacket. This is why the ar tisans who produce it tend to abandon the spinning and weaving of the lotus for more profitable activities, often leaving the lake to head for the city. Our intervention, and subsequent constant demand for this fabric, will allow this ar t to survive, and the inhabitants of Inle Lake to stay in their native land. This is the story of the lotus flower, the story of a product of rare nobility that we have sought to tell with passion through the images of photographer Br una Rotunno, who made this journey with us to Myanmar. The fabric was the precious gift of a friend, and it is also the gift that nature has made to man in the shape of a flower with extraordinary vir tues. Similarly, these photographs were created to represent a sign of respect, a documenting of the discov- ery of a raw material tr uly unique in the world.

Sergio and Pier Luigi Loro Piana

T H E L A ND S C A P E S O F M

THE L A NDS CA PE S OF M YA NM A R A ND I NL E L A K E

Myanmar, also called Burma by the British, reflects an Asia of old a noble, poetic, secluded one. Modern life comes to Myanmar for just a few hours a day andin just someof its cities. The West has barely brushed this land. Thenumber of visitors hereis low, and tourism stillhasnt affected thelocalinhabitants’ customs and traditions. Thepopulationis a patchwork of different ethnicgroups and tribes,geographically separated as well. The streets linking thecities with thecountryside arelittlemore thandirt roads,usedby trishaws andcountless bicycles. Three- quarters of thepopulationis engagedin farming andlives a life ruledby the rhythmof theland and the seasons.

Youcan breathe Buddhist wisdomever ywhere: wholecities arecovered with temples, thegolden roofs of the stupas break up thehorizon, andmonks drapedinbright orange and red robes holdout ricebowls to ask for charity: they arent begging, they’regivingpeople thechance todo a dhana, a gooddeed. After youpass Yan- gon, a growingcity, one that is constantly struggling with its past and forever locked in a race toward the fu- ture, Myanmar sinks back into an atmosphere filled with suggestion as you reach Bagan and its motionless landscape studded with 4,000 temples. Once you have left behind the traces of histor y you lose yourself in a kindof nature that is immensely rich and varied, from thecentralplains covered with ricepaddies to the trop- ical forests, from themangrove-filled waters to theuplandplains in Shan State, whereorangegroves give way to thick wooded areas. Picturesque andmysterious scenarios openup amid themountains: herelies Inle Lake, a vast body of water with a sur face area of about 250 square kilometers, dotted with houses and floating fruit and vegetablegardens. Inle Lakeis oneof thehighest lakes in Myanmar, andundoubtedly oneof themost fa- mous: a destination for tourists,pilgrimages, and a fertile and very productive area for fishing,horticulture and local handicrafts. Thereis no actual coastline as the shores merge together anddisappear into the surround- ing vegetation, sweetly accompaniedby thebroadleaves of thelotus flower.

All aroundonecan see thecountless villages with their typical woodenhouses on stilts connectedby bridges sus- pendedinmid-air. This is where the Intha,or childrenof thelake,live. Thehustle andbustleof lifeon thelake andits shores is dominatedby themarket, the reignof the skilledlocalcraftsmen, as well as by themonasticcom- munities in their monasteries. Each year Buddhist rites involving the lake dwellers and the pilgrims are cele- brated: a hugeprocession starts out from the Pagoda of PaungDaw Oo,moving solemnly to transport the Buddha statues to the villages. Leg-rowers wearing their traditional longyi, alllinedupinper fect synchrony,glideover the still waters. When thecelebrations areover, thelakeis restored toits supernaturalcalm, toits activities, to theun- challenged ruleof a divine flower.Here,in this enchantedplace, Loro Piana has discoverednature’s generosity and thelegendary lotus flower fiber, theoldest raw material of plant originprocessedin Asia and sacred to the Buddhist religion. Loro Piana once againundertakes an amazing journey on Inle Lakein searchof a natural,ex- traordinary fiber that holds withinit all theintrigue and sacredness of this ancient land. Myanmar: a land where lifecanbehard,but where thelinear flowingof humanevents is inseparably interwoven with theeternalhistory of the spirit… soul andnature, Buddhas andlotus flowers,mantras and silent contemplation.

T H E L A ND S C A P E S O F M
T H E L A ND S C A P E S O F M

THE L A NDS CA PE S OF M YA NM A R A ND I NL E L A K E

The air is thick with moisture and an eerie stillness seems to suspend the passing of time, as it awaits the peo ple’s surrend er to the slow pace of nature.

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THE L OTUS F L OW E R

T H E L O T U S F L O W E R P r

Previous pages

Thegolden roofs of thepagodas andmonaster y are silhouetted against the sky of Kyaing Khan village.

This page Daylight filters into the vast halls of Shwenandaw monaster y in Mandalay.

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THE L A NDS CA PE S OF M YA NM A R A ND I NL E L A K E

C A P E S O F M YA N M A R A ND I

Shwezigonpagoda in Bagan, oneof themost important in thecountr y, believed tobe sacredbecauselegendhas it that the teethof Gautama Buddha areenshrined there.

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THE L OTUS F L OW E R

T H E L O T U S F L O W E R  T

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THE L A NDS CA PE S OF M YA NM A R A ND I NL E L A K E

C A P E S O F M YA N M A R A ND I

Damarazika pagoda in Bagan. Thepagoda has fiveentrances: four represent the Buddhas who appearedon theearthin thepast, while thelast entrance awaits the Buddha of the future.

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THE L OTUS F L OW E R

T H E L O T U S F L O W E R S e

Seagulls circle freely in themoist air, protectedby thebenevolent gazeof the Buddhist population.

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THE L A NDS CA PE S OF M YA NM A R A ND I NL E L A K E

C A P E S O F M YA N M A R A ND I

U Bein Bridgenear Mandalay is thelongest woodenbridgein the wholeof Asia; since thenineteenthcentur y it has witnessed silent monks filingby as they return to thepeace andquiet of themonaster y.

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L OTUS F L OW E R

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THE CHI L DR E N OF THE L A K E

Eighty per cent of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist. The monks are the repositories of the most ancient knowledge and are both a spiritual and cultural reference point. For this they warrant deep respect.

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THE L OTUS F L OW E R

T H E L O T U S F L O W E R  T

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THE CHI L DR E N OF THE L A K E

T H E L O T U S F L O W E R  T

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T H E “ C H I L D R E N O F T

THE CHI L DR E N OF THE L A K E

Monks with faces marked by the passing of time, yo ung novices wrap p ed i n red tunics peering out of large oval windows, golden Buddhas and dancing cats that prance like small tigers inside circles in the air… these are the inhabitants of the pagodas on Inle Lake.

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THE L OTUS F L OW E R

T H E L O T U S F L O W E R  T

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THE CHI L DR E N OF THE L A K E

T H E “ C H I L D R E N O F T H

Novices study at Shwe Yan Pyaemonaster y, locatedclose toNyaung Shweon Inle Lake.

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T H E “ C H I L D R E N O F T

THE CHI L DR E N OF THE L A K E

An astringent, antiseptic and powerful defense against the harmful rays of the sun are the extraordinary proper ties of thanakha powder, which the people of Myanmar obtain from the bark and roots of a fragrant plant known as limonia acidissima. It is spread over their faces and bodies to keep their skin beautifully unblemished.

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T H E “ C H I L D R E N O F T

THE CHI L DR E N OF THE L A K E

They live in wooden houses on stilts, and on long and slender boats move amid fruit and vegetable gardens, markets andpagodas: these are the Intha, thechildrenof thelake,anethnicgroup that for centuries has in- habited this natural jewel of the Shan Plateau. Thecommunity’s earliest settlement on Inle Lakeis shrouded inmyth. The area, whichhas always beeninhabitedby the Shan, was likely occupiedby the Intha in theeigh- teenthcentur y, when they arrived from southern Myanmar to flee