De la Renta, who first used the fabric in 2005 - some made by Mirzaahmedov himself - features dresses and skirts made of ikats in his fall 2008 collection. "They are so unbelievably rich in color," he said. "Ikat is a very traditional fabric that works well for all seasons."
For Mirzaahmedov, whose family has designed and woven the fabric for nine generations, ikats span more than the seasons. They are the warp and weft of his life, San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The technique - in which thread is tie-dyed in preset patterns, creating figures that emerge as the cloth is woven - has been practiced for centuries, with regional variations, in Indonesia, Southeast Asia, China and India.
While the common term, "ikat" (E-kat), is Malay-Indonesian, the Uzbek term - abrband ("abr" = cloud, "band" = tying) - has its own poetry.
And the ikats of Central Asia, particularly those from Uzbekistan, a landlocked nation of 28 million people that borders Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, are considered the world’s finest. Particularly revered are silk velvet ikats used for long coats worn by the upper classes.
During the U.S.S.R’s 70-year rule, regional crafts in its 15 republics were largely suppressed. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Uzbek ikat has re-emerged as a cultural art form.
At the center of that renaissance is Mirzaahmedov, who hails from the Uzbek city of Margilan in the Fergana Valley, the top silk production center of Central Asia. In 2005, UNESCO awarded him an international crafts prize for reviving the art of velvet ikat.
Mirzaahmedov recently came to San Francisco to teach a master class. The three-day workshop, attended by a dozen Bay Area artists who spent nearly $500 each to learn this ancient art, was sponsored by Ocelot Clothing Studio on Harrison Street.
By his side was his friend and translator Raisa Gareeva, a former Intourist guide with her own cultural-travel company in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Sitting on the floor, the master weaver first looped lengths of pearly silk thread onto a 6-foot-square metal frame. Then he made black marks on the rows of thread, mapping from memory a pattern passed down through his father and grandfather.
At each mark, students tied the silk bundles, which were then dip-dyed in hot-water pigments - first yellow, then blue, then red.
When the silk had dried, students removed the ties, revealing new colors created by the layering of pigments - forest green, deep burgundy - as the unbound thread fell free. They had untied the cloud.
"Imagine the power of these colors worn against the tan of the steppes," said designer Angelina DeAntonis, owner of Ocelot and host of the workshop.
"From a mountaintop, you could see someone wearing his robes," she said, holding up the most spectacular of Mirzaahmedov’s Technicolor dreamcoats. The ikat pattern woven into the blood-red and ocher silk velvet depicted a stylized scorpion, a symbol intended to protect the wearer from the evil eye.
Central Asian textile arts got a boost in 1998 from the Silk Road Project, a series of international exhibitions and performances celebrating the arts and music of Central Asia, initiated by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. At the same time, the U.S. Agency for International Development had begun funding grants for Uzbek families engaged in weaving through an international nonprofit organization called Aid to Artisans. The Uzbek government also has supported the movement, turning a long-unused architectural wonder - the 16th century trading dome in the center of Bukhara - into a bazaar for craftspeople.
At the Mission District loft where the workshop was under way, a weaving demonstration was in process. With his students surrounding him, Mirzaahmedov sat on the built-in bench of the loom he designed, his feet dancing on the pedals, his head tilting side to side.
"He’s so in the process, so in the moment, " said DeAntonis of his non-Western pace. "The way he works is very methodical, but also organic," she said. "It has a beauty and a wholeness that is inspiring."
Meanwhile, Gareeva shared photographs of Mirzaahmedov - in suit and tie - giving a tour of the revived museum of Uzbek culture to President Islam Karimov, who has ruled since before independence. Perhaps the re-embracing of indigenous culture is a sign of civil society coming back to health. It all seems to fit under the umbrella term for Uzbek ikat - untying the cloud.
"When you untie the silk after dyeing it, it billows out," said DeAntonis, whose own designs incorporate natural dyes and ancient techniques. "But the term also describes the movement of the patterns of the fabric."
In Uzbek ikat, edges of color blur slightly.
"There’s energy there," DeAntonis said. "It feels like it’s alive. "
Yarn tie-dye (ikat): A weaving process in which thread or yarn is tied, according to a pattern, before it is dyed. The pattern emerges as the fabric is woven.
Hand tie-dye (bandhani): A patterning technique in which cloth is tied to resist pigment penetration before dying.
Batik: A "wax-resist" technique for creating patterns on woven cloth, in which melted wax is applied to cloth before it is dyed.