Byzantine Beauties

Sisterly love is a bond that cannot break as it is born of blood and legacy. In the case of Zoe and Theodora though, it is a bond they attempted to sever through intrigue, lies and strategic alliances. 
Empress Irene in Basilica di Sofia
 Living on the public stage of politics thousands of years ago in the Byzantine era, the story of these sisters played out like a modern-day soap opera set in the Byzantine empire around 1000AD. Their lives began as any royal's would, living in the palace as heirs to titles and fortune. But all this would change when a power hungry uncle sent the girls to live hidden in a monastery so he could keep the throne for himself. 



Years later, the sisters emerged from their lives of confinement to re-enter the royal realm. However, Zoe had some plans of her own. Jealousy had taken root during their time in hiding dating back to their days as young princesses. Taking revenge, Zoe framed Theodora for an illegal conspiracy and sent her back to a monastery as punishment. 
Mosaic from St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral 
Left to rule as the Empress, Zoe's reign was marked with strategic marriages, love affairs and mysterious deaths. It wouldn't be until after a public uprising that her sister Theodora would be pulled from the shadows to rule alongside Zoe to help ensure stability. The sisters shared the throne in an environment of political upheaval, distrust and secrets. 
Mosaic of Justinian and Theodora
Though few artworks survived of the sisters, we can imagine them looking much like the mosaics and art from the reign of Justinian and Theodora, dating around the 565AD since Byzantine fashion was solidified during this period. Centuries later, elements of the era have found their way onto the couture runway of Guo Pei's Spring 2017 collection.
The Byzantine age was marked by religious changes, and thus religious symbolism often found its way into their wardrobes. Crosses were key symbols featured as accessories and the fabrics were often draped in ways that mirrored styles worn by religious figures within the church. The mosaics of the leaders often showcased a halo effect around the head, in addition to their crowns, demonstrating the union between church and state.
  
Empress Irene 
Like the medieval mosaics, the dresses from Guo Pei heavily features symbolic accessories with crosses and papal inspired designs. 
Byzantine fashion focused on dresses heavily encrusted with jewels. Women like Zoe and Theodora used silks arriving from the East, which were then stiffened with metallic embroidery and jewels. The use of heavy jewels and richly designed embroidery flattened the fabrics while also making the figures look like living mosaics. 
Detail of Theodora from mosaic with Justinian
With shimmering fabrics, twinkling jewels and and crowns fit for an Empress, the couture designs bring Byzantine history back to life for a modern era.  


Runway photos from Vogue.com
Read more about the sisters and the fashion history with these links.

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