Saudi designer Arwa Al Banawi shares the collaborative process of bringing her dream wedding dress to life.
Arwa Al Banawi. Photo: Stavros Antypas
“Despite the fact that I am a proud Arab designer who designs for a contemporary urban luxury brand, when it came to designing my own wedding dress, the experience was different. I used to think that I would be one of those brides who wouldn’t take weddings too seriously, that I’d just do things spontaneously – but that was until I actually got engaged. It was then that I discovered a completely different side to myself! The emotional journey made me learn so much about myself and the kind of bride I really was: I wasn’t spontaneous at all. I realized that yes, the idea of stressing about a dress and the wedding may be a bit cliché, but it exists, and I certainly felt anxious. It’s a big deal, getting married, and what you wear is very personal. I wanted my dress to show people who I was. It can’t be done spontaneously. The wedding dress has to represent me and who I am. I have to feel myself in it. This is also one of the reasons I became a designer. Fashion is a mirror of society and a mirror of yourself, or who you aspire to be. Fashion is about feelings and a moment and memories.
I was planning to design my own dress, but honestly, I wouldn’t advise any bride to do that. Designing your wedding dress is a nerve-racking process. If I had a senior designer at my atelier who I could have worked with closely, and from whom I could have taken advice and had help, then I might have made my own dress. But I work alone, as the head designer of Arwa Al Banawi, and I couldn’t make up my mind. I was worried all the time. I wanted to wear something that would feel right. For me, it was more of a feeling than a specific look that I was going for. I started sketching and looking at vintage dresses. I looked around for inspiration – my mother; Audrey Hepburn. After a month, I still hadn’t come to a conclusion. I kept changing silhouettes and flitting between fabrics and embroideries.
Photo: Jessica Andreatta Studio
I then thought to myself, just take a look at wedding designers and see what’s out there. I kept going back and forth, fixating on one dress then another, until one day, I came across a dress on Pinterest that stayed in my mind for about a week. I saw something special in that dress. I did some research and found it was designed by Jessica Andreatta from Australian bridal and couture house J. Andreatta. It was 4am Saudi time. I called them right then and there! Jessica herself answered the phone. I told her about the dress I liked, my story, and that I’m a designer. We connected on that call and she agreed to make me the dress I first saw online – with a few personal adjustments, of course. Two weeks later, Jessica was working on my dress after I’d reviewed some changes.
The embroidery reading “The sun, the moon, the desert and the sea, sunrise, and sunset.” Photo: Jessica Andreatta Studio
I have lived, studied, and worked in different parts of the world, and I wanted my dress to be bold, eclectic, timeless, grounded and, most importantly, effortless. Jessica gave me just that. I envisioned an off-shoulder dress, as that was always my dream look. I wanted a balance between elegance and confidence. More so, I definitely wanted to add a touch of my culture to the dress; something that would reflect my artistic soul. I decided to express this through Arabic embroidery, which Jessica happily agreed to do and beautifully fit it into the overall dress. The embroidery on the veil was done by hand and the motifs are beautiful. There are so many details in the dress that it felt one-of-a-kind; like it came out of a modern, romantic love poem. The embroidery reads, “The sun, the moon, the desert and the sea, sunrise, and sunset.” It comes from a poem of mine that I used in my FW18 collection. It means that you don’t have to choose between the sun or the moon, the desert or the sea, the sunrise or the sunset, because when you fall in love, you balance each other; you are fire and water and your shared love is incredibly powerful. It’s an idea close to my heart.
The design journey for my dress was a crazy, fun one. Like everyone else, I was stuck at home as a result of Covid-19. We did most of it via FaceTime, including taking my measurements. I was OK doing it since I am a designer. Being able to take measurements helped make the process easier. It was an adventure, to say the least! It’s a wedding dress and anything could go wrong. Doing my dream dress over FaceTime was fun and daring and I’m glad I did it, even though my mother thought I was crazy.
I believe a woman should choose her dress. It could be her mom’s old dress, it could cost US $100, it could be an expensive designer dress – it doesn’t matter – as long as it represents her. I chose a designer who reflects my bridal taste: one-of-a-kind, romantic, and intricate in the details. A wedding dress should feel like you, because your wedding is about you, your story, and this new journey you’re embarking on.”
As told to Nadine Kahil
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Originally published in the December 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia