Gazar: A stiff silk fabric, sometimes described as four-ply silk organza. Rhymes with “bazaar.”
Gazar fabric was developed and named by Abraham Ltd., a Swiss company founded in 1878. In the 1940s, Gustav Zumsteg—who had started working at the company as an apprentice—became Abraham’s director. Zumsteg cultivated the stars of Paris haute couture, including the Spanish-born Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972). It was for Balenciaga that Abraham developed gazar, which the couturier transformed into dramatic sculptural designs like this one:
Balanciaga “cocoon” dress, 1967. The dress is silk crepe; the “chou” wrap—“chou” is French for “cabbage”—is silk gazar. The design demonstrates why Balenciaga was called “the Picasso of fashion.” Photo from Threads magazine.
Merriam-Webster online gives 1967 as the “first known use” of gazar, but doesn’t provide a citation or etymology. However, according to the official Balenciaga website, Abraham created the fabric in 1958, and Balenciaga was using it at least as early as 1962; see, for example, this gown.
The American Heritage Dictionary provides a definition (“a loosely woven silk with a crisp finish”) but no citations; it says the word is “probably from ultimately from Arabic qazz, raw silk; see gauze.” “Gauze” came into English from French in the 1560s; the Online Etymology Dictionary says it’s “conjectured” to come either from Arabic gazz (a differently transliterated qazz) or from Gaza, the Palestinian city that was once associated with gauze production.1
“Gazar” does not appear in the OED or in the US trademark database.2
I’m a fan of fashion and fabric history—at one time I sewed most of my wardrobe—and I’d heard of gazar fabric. But I hadn’t realized that it had been invented a mere half-century ago3 until I went to the opening last week of the magnificent “Balenciaga and Spain” exhibit at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Guest-curated by Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s European editor-at-large (and underwritten in large part by Google, which surprised me), the show includes 120 Balenciaga garments, hats, and headdresses presented in the context of Spanish cultural themes such as religion, flamenco, and the bullfight. The exhibition continues through July 4; here’s a review from Art Daily.
1 Many fabrics are named after their original production sites: denim (de Nîmes, France), calico (Calicut, India), cashmere (Kashmir, India/Pakistan), jersey (Isle of Jersey), etc.
2 For the record, according to Wookieepedia, the source for all things Star Wars, a gazar may also be a sentient arboreal creature native to Veron. In Egypt, Gazar is a “diversified lifestyle application” for mobile devices.
3 Silk fabric was originally developed in China around 2700 BCE and remained a closely guarded secret for 3,000 years.