A Passion for fabrics

Wasn’t Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault a psychiatrist? He who wrote about passion and textile: “We love to run our hand across fur; we would like silk to slide itself across the back of our hand. Fur calls for an active caress in its form: silk caresses with a uniform sweetness a skin that becomes passive; then it reveals, so to speak, a nervousness in its breaks and cries.”

To classify this specific research on the aphrodisiac virtues of silk, two neologisms appeared necessary to him: hyphephilia – the erotics of fabric – and aptophilia – ecstasy of the touch.

 The man (the fetishist?), who loved dearly “the cry of silk”, was able to identify with a maniacal precision the different points of a hem – “scallop, buttonhole, flange, blanket stick, tab, etc.”. Like some of his patients, seamstresses by profession, he was not content to merely enjoy fabrics, conceiving for himself draped figures manufactured at his request according to his own drawings.

Blind and arthritic, he killed himself before his mirror at the age of 62. His life was centered on the work of the gaze. Clinician, subtle and deft describer of visual hallucinations, teacher of draping at the Beaux-Arts of Paris, poet, drawer, and photographer, he left some 40,000 images, mostly of veiled Moroccan women whose clothing was itself the subject, perhaps escaping some of the ambient Orientalism of his period. His photographs were part of an ambitious study of draping techniques in traditional societies: “We want to be able to codify draping to the point where certain gestures are connected to words and can be identified, even without drawing, like a face.” But this publication was never realized, and this ensemble of photographs is today conserved at the museum quai Branly.

His psychiatric publications are fascinating. Some must-reads (or re-reads): “The Female Erotic Passion of Fabric” (1908-1910), “The Classification of Draped Suiting” (1928), “On Weaving for the Ill” (1929), “Notes on Chinese Weaving” (1932).

© Gaëtan Gatian de Clerambault, photographs, in Morocco recuperating from a war wound.