On the edge of the Tibetan landscape lies the mountain, Yarlha Shampo, the second largest of the four great snow mountains of Tibet. As benefactors of mankind with their flowing rivers and fertile land, many Himalayan mountains were deified, and the old mountain god of Yarlha Shampo takes the form of a white yak (ཡར་ལྷ་ཤམ་པོ། yar-lha-sham-po) from whose nose and mouth snowstorms continuously blow. The white yak has extraordinary magical abilities, and soon became the paramount deity of Tibet.
On an especially bitter morning, a beam of chromatic light blazes through the sky, stretching from the peak of the mountain well into the clouds above, slicing the heavy fog like butter. The shaft of rainbow colours awakens Yarlha Shampo, and despite the raging blizzard, he begins his unsteady ascent to the summit to investigate.
As the great yak climbs, the wind whips up around him and he can see only white, his vision obscured by snow and fog. Abruptly, however, as Yarlha Shampo battles to set his first hoof atop the crown of the mountain, the blizzard ceases, the wind quiets, and the clouds dissipate. There, at the centre of the ethereal mountain plateau and laying very still, is a living being.
Yarlha Shampo approaches with care and gazes down at the new arrival. The being is diminutive in size and with many peculiarities, including webbed fingers, reversed eyelids, and a thin cord reaching from around his neck far up into the heavens. Despite these oddities, the yak senses a great presence and a feeling that a new era is dawning.
In the still, fresh air, Yarlha Shampo slowly turns to overlook the vast Yarlung Valley. He steps to the edge of the rocky plateau, and after one almighty intake of breath, he emits a signal across the kingdom below; A King has come.
The message is grasped by the eager wind and carried across all four corners of the land; It travels over lakes, sweeps through forests, and soars up mountains. The announcement reaches as far as the Mount Everest region, where it is heard by fellow mountain gods, The Five Sisters of Longevity (ཚེ་རིང་མཆེད་ལྔ། tshe-ring-mched-lnga). The sisters are delighted by the news and decide to send three of their precious companions with material and spiritual gifts for the celestial royal. They send good fortune, strength and gentleness, pertinent offerings for any ruler.
Nyatri Tsenpo (གཉའ་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ། gnya' khri btsan po, lit. '"Neck-Enthroned King"‘) was the first king of Tibet. He is said to have become a good King, and the Yarlung Valley became the centre of a thriving culture that would prosper until the 7th century CE. According to Tibetan mythology, the first Tibetan building, Yumbu Lhakhang Palace, was erected for the king. The year of his enthronement marks the first year of the Tibetan calendar, and today, Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is celebrated in his honour.
It is said that the first kings of Tibet were immortal and would be pulled up to heaven by the cord that had first deposited them on earth. This is what became of Nyatri Tsenpo when his reign was complete.
This collection is indebted to, and intended as a celebration of, the rich, multi-faceted and endlessly beautiful art and culture of Tibet. From stories of the mysterious kingdom of Zhangzhung (active from the Iron Age until the year 645), through animism, the Bon religion and ancient Buddhism, to the exquisite beliefs, tales, and creations of more modern times, I have been fortunate enough to study and discover just a little of the extraordinary creativity the culture of Tibet has to offer. I explored thousands of colourful, detailed mandalas and Thangka paintings, while also delving into the world of the deities and religions which inspired them. Every minute detail, gesture and composition within a Thangka holds a message and a meaning; a level to which I can only aspire to scratch the surface in my own works. I studied textiles and tiger rugs, architecture, sculpture, armour, and saddlery. I researched the traditional costume and jewellery of Tibet, hats, mechaks, ghau boxes and dzi beads, the materials used and the meanings behind them. I also explored animal symbolism within Tibetan culture, from ancient deities to the Jātaka stories. This collection is a culmination of my research combined with my own imagination, having been deeply and profoundly inspired by my studies.
It is a Tibetan custom to offer a khata (ཁ་བཏགས།) or ‘greeting scarf’ to friends, relatives or guests as a welcome gift or a wish of happiness.
‘Art finds its way to all surfaces of the Tibetan world … Tibetans create art to open windows from the coarse, ordinary world we know onto the extraordinary world of pure wisdom and compassion’ – Robert A. F. Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet.
This collection is indebted to the kindness and generosity of several members of the Tibetan community who kindly shared their knowledge, advice, and time with me.
Thupten Kelsang is a DPhil student at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford. His research and practice focus on creating sustainable and equitable relationships between the Tibetan community and museums; seeking to counter the acute absence of Tibetan voices in the field. Thupten has been a wonderful guide and mentor throughout my research and design process.
Namgyal L. Takla
Namgyal Lhamo Taklha has contributed greatly to the continued development of Tibetan society in exile through the various positions she has held. Amongst her many achievements, she has acted as translator and interpreter at the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and served on the Advisory Board of the central Tibetan Women’s Association. Mrs. Taklha is also a published author and Hollywood film consultant.
Tsultrim and Meghan Howard Masang
Tsultrim is an artist who holds a direct lineage to traditional Tibetan calligraphy and previously served as the main calligraphy teacher at D.K. Institute in Dehradun, India. He has written a textbook on Tibetan calligraphy and has taught around the world, from Toronto to Tokyo. I commissioned Tsultrim to create three beautiful Tibetan calligraphy artworks, one for each design in the collection. Meghan is currently a Ph.D. student in Buddhist Studies at UC Berkeley and was instrumental in facilitating the calligraphy exchange. Meghan also holds a B.A. in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies from Harvard University and has worked as a Tibetan translator and interpreter.
The Tibet Museum
The Tibet Museum in Dharamsala, India, kindly facilitated the acquisition of a rare publication, The Costumes and Jewellery of Tibet by Namgyal L. Taklha.
View the collection illustrations in progress, and see how the drawings transform into detailed and intricate scarf designs. Sabina creates a story for each collection, as shown below, which is then illustrated and narrated through her elaborate handiwork.
Welcome to our our Autumn/Winter 2023 campaign, A Tale of Tibet.
Shop the Collection
A range of beautiful fabrics are available for each design, from classic silk twill to our sumptuous signature wool and silk blend. Each piece is printed and hand finished by artisans in the UK.