January 2018, Vogue Arabia. Photo: William Lords
As the fashion world continues to work towards sustainability, trying to help save the planet from the impending climate crisis, upcycling is the biggest trend of the season. It’s even resonating with haute couture, where the reuse and recycling of clothing and fabric is hardly expected. Dutch designer Ronald van der Kemp was one of the first to use repurposed fabrics and materials, with all his collections incorporating upcycling. He’s found a way to reuse old items to beautify and exalt, prompting other designers to rethink their creative process as well.
Multicolored Terry torchon in Marine Serre SS22 dresses and boots
Looking back, for FW21, the message was fabric reuse, vintage denim, and sustainable materials. For his Artisanal collection, Maison Margiela creative director John Galliano presented a patchwork gown made from vintage and antique Delft blue fabrics. In Schiaparelli’s signature surreal style, artistic director Daniel Roseberry transformed a pair of old jeans into a jacket embroidered with golden cone and shell-like forms, lips, ceramic eyes, and intricate patterns; the epitome of upcycling meeting the grandiose world of haute couture. Regenerating fabrics will become even more the norm for conscious designers. Case in point: Marine Serre SS22 featured 90% regenerated fabrics – terry torchon typically used for household chores and jewelry crafted from cutlery, glass, and stones, and leather and denim wear.
Arab designers are also taking adventures in upcycling seriously. There’s Iraqi London-based label Atelier Mundane, known for its wild prints and dynamic colors, who uses upcycled fabrics and vegan leather. Then there’s Paris-based BassCoutur, founded by Tunisian designer Riad Trabelsi, and which is made entirely out of deadstock clothing and fabrics as well as recycled and upcycled fabrics. The ready-to-wear label of Lebanese fashion designer Roni Helou, who is now based in Beirut and Doha, is defined by sustainability and activism. Helou often uses deadstock and locally sourced materials such as gauze, poplin, cotton knit, and denim to create his overcoats. “I prefer the words ‘conscious’ and ‘activist’ to define my brand rather than sustainable as it has been overused,” says Helou. “We only use deadstock, discarded, and vintage fabrics that are 10 years or older.” Helou often buys used fabrics from Creative Space Beirut, the public fashion school he attended in Lebanon, that have been donated by top designers like Donna Karan and Diane Von Furstenberg. “It’s not just fabrics, we are talking about zippers and buttons, too… everything that will be included in the creation of my garments.”
Patchwork embroidery with Elsa Schiaparelli’s original 1930s swatches from lesage + pearls + rhinestones + lurex thread + 3d printed golden ears, mouths, and noses
Dubai-based Palestinian designer Reema Al Banna is doing something similar with her brand Reemami. “I always make and print my own fabrics,” says Al-Banna. “Sometimes I order a bit more than I need and then the leftover fabrics I use for headpieces, hats, and caps. I try to recycle it into accessories.” For her next season, she plans to use a patchwork of her old fabrics and designs to create pants, shirts, and dresses. “I will also incorporate embroidery by Palestinian refugees,” she adds. “Whenever I cut my fabrics, I use a zero-waste strategy, so we don’t have too much left over.”
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Originally published in the November 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
January 2018, Vogue Arabia. Photo: William Lords
In the name of inclusivity, Dima Ayad asks regional designers to dress women of all sizes. Will they be up for the challenge?
From left: Lama Jouni, Reema Al Banna, Laura Leonide, Dima Ayad, and Mariam Yeya. Photographed by Rudolf Azzi for Vogue Arabia September 2021Dubai-based womenswear designer Dima Ayad tells a story many can relate to. Traveling abroad to attend a wedding, upon arrival she discovered that her bag had been lost along the way. She headed to the city to pick out a new dress, only to discover that women of all sizes were not all being catered to. Miserable, Ayad returned home, deciding to overlook the wedding altogether.
Dima Ayad and Laura Leonide wearing Dima Ayad. Photographed by Rudolf Azzi
“The lack of availability of clothes for an oversized person is frustrating,” Ayad says. “You go to the mall and find just one store that sells oversized clothes. But we each have a style that needs to be catered to.” Even exercise clothes are regularly off-limits. “If an oversized woman wants to exercise, she will not be able to find anything to wear, even something as simple as leggings. Some big brands are working on this, but barely.”
Laura Leonide and Lama Jouni wearing Lama Jouni. Photographed by Rudolf Azzi
Ayad is determined to redress the balance and her frustration is fuelling the launch of her new sportswear and leisure brand. Unflinching in her belief that all women deserve to wear exquisitely crafted clothes, she reached out to her peers and friends Reema Al Banna of Reemami, Lama Jouni, and Mariam Yeya of Mrs Keepa to join her on this journey towards inclusivity. While not everyone she approached could get involved, the ones who did, did so with gusto. “It’s not that designers are not keen, it’s all supply and demand,” remarks Egyptian-French designer Mariam Yeya of Mrs Keepa, a longtime friend of Ayad’s. “We launched a collection and we don’t provide size; most of the collection is on a preorder basis. People are free to order what they want. The biggest one I have received is a size 44. I don’t think that the designer should be blamed for not being inclusive, it’s also down to the buyers from big department stores. Most often they choose the sizes and collection and they rarely ask for bigger sizes.”
Laura Leonide wearing Lama Jouni. Photographed by Rudolf Azzi
Ayad explains, “I asked Mariam to be part of this journey with me, because she shares the same values in the fashion space as I do but also because when you see Mrs Keepa’s design aesthetic, you wouldn’t imagine it suiting larger-sized women.” Yeya agrees, “The brand’s aesthetics are very eclectic, avant garde, and with big silhouettes. I always say that there’s a thin line between something looking good on and it making the person look funny. I don’t do big sizes, not because I don’t want to include every shape, but because the brand DNA won’t look flattering. I go all out with my creativity, with print, drapery, and asymmetry, and everything has to fit properly.”
Laura Leonide and Mariam Yeya wearing Mrs Keepa. Photographed by Rudolf Azzi
Not unlike Mrs Keepa, at first glance, Lama Jouni may come across as a strange choice for this collaboration, since she’s known for her formfitting pieces. Jouni’s clients are often photographed flaunting muscle definition through her peek-a-boo clothes. “Body confidence with your curves is the right thing to do,” affirms Ayad. “I think it’s time that we show that anyone can wear Lama Jouni.” The Lebanese designer concurs. “I always admire women who know what they want and work toward that goal. I like to work with people who challenge me. Dima is one designer who inspires me so much.” Accustomed to creating for an athletically honed clientele, Jouni confesses that dressing larger silhouettes was a challenge. “I’m not shy to admit that my knowledge isn’t that strong when it comes to larger sizes. It was a great introduction to start thinking of women of all sizes, especially when my strength is in creating essential wear,” she says. Jouni’s piece is entirely her style. Designed for Ayad’s body, it’s form-fitted, a touch revealing in the right places, and incredibly flattering. The positioning of the straps is perhaps the only giveaway that this piece represents a departure from the norm. Vogue Arabia Fashion Prize winner Reema Al Banna, the designer behind Reemami, was particularly taken with the idea of creating a unique blazer featuring her signature prints. The jacket features a shoulder cut-out with trims along the sleeves; something that’s become a hallmark of Al Banna’s work. Tailored pants complete the look. The suit is a Reemami classic, but for a fuller frame, and it works perfectly.
Laura Leonide and Reema Al Banna wearing Reemami. Photographed by Rudolf Azzi
“Dressing Dima is amazing, as she embodies strength, confidence, and femininity,” says Al Banna. “I love and support the noise she’s creating around embracing and supporting all body types, which is also ingrained in Reemami.” Observing her flowing dress with white and green teardrop shapes that accentuate the form, designer Yeya proclaims, “I don’t believe in inclusive design. I believe that – individually – we all have different body types and the DNA of Mrs Keepa caters to that.” Ayad hopes that this coming together of some of the most talented designers in the Middle East will challenge conventions and assumptions, while also turning heads. The fashion industry has always catered to an ideal – and one that few women ever reach. Ayad and her collaborators are already thinking about dressing women of all sizes. The aim is that the pieces that emerge from this blending of talent will inspire others to continue to change how and for whom they design, offering all women an opportunity to dress themselves in a manner that reflects both body and spirit.
Laura Leonide wearing Reemami. Photographed by Rudolf Azzi
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Originally published in the September 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine JreissatiHair: Natalie CropperMakeup: Bethany Lea PentelowMakeup assistant: Kerris CharlesProduction: Ankita Chandra
While many women are working and lounging from home, they are finding a blossoming comfort in wearing the most feminine of silhouettes.
Life as we knew it was tossed out the window in 2020. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, away went dinner parties, art exhibitions, and extravagant fashion weeks. As lockdowns buckled most of the world down at home, ideas shifted with regards to how we should dress, beautify ourselves, and feel good when confined to home, seeing the same people, day in and day out. Life goes on, as does fashion. Adapting to the circumstances, the desire to dress-up persists – albeit with comfort.
Courtesy of Alessandra Rich
Along with stylish athleisure brands that are now stocked in every woman’s wardrobe, are also day dresses – the new loungewear. The trend took to the runways of SS21 in the form of slim dresses, often with pouf- sleeves and ethereal fabric, from Alessandra Rich, Coach, and Rodarte. They harkened back to the ultra-feminine, gracious glamour of the 1940s. These are accompanied by long, layered tunics at Fendi and Jil Sander, which can be easily worn at home or out in comfort. Middle Eastern designers similarly picked up on the trend, launching a host of dainty dresses for a wide variety of occasions. Flexibility and versatility are key these days.
Courtesy of Rodarte
At Reemami, Reema Al Banna devised several long dresses, some in tunic style and others with a tight bodice reflective of the Forties dress. These are decorated with the designer’s distinct artistic flair, with long, colorful lines and shapes and playful sketches. “While everyone is saying that leisurewear and activewear are taking over, I believe that dresses and skirts that make a woman feel good are still very much here and will never go out of fashion or be overlooked, even during these times,” comments Al Banna. “My collections continue to have easy-to-wear, comfortable dresses as well as fabulous dresses for all occasions. We will most likely use stretchy fabrics, like jersey material.”
Dubai-based Bouguessa’s SS21 collection includes long shirts in a variety of earthy hues, alongside button-down dresses. “They were designed with high comfort in mind; the material is natural fibers for the majority, allowing the clothes to be airy and easy,” says designer Faiza Bouguessa. “We want to focus on classic pieces with a longer life cycle, but at the core of this collection is the freshness of the material that brings this concept of day dresses and day wear as loungewear.” Lama Jouni, a Dubai-based, Lebanese designer, echoes the need for triumph but also glamour. Her latest designs include slim-fit halter dresses that are at once seductive and allow the wearer to move with ease. “As a designer I see the shift in the mentality of women when it comes to shopping; women want to feel comfortable, elegant, yet effortless and that’s what I want to offer with this line.” As Salim Cherfane, designer of Lebanese brand Jeux de Mains, known for its playful and disruptive designs, says, “We all need basics. We all need something to hold us together and make us feel comfortable with everything happening on the outside in this world.”
Courtesy of Reemami
The day dress trend whisks us back to another period of great cultural change: the Roaring Twenties, which followed the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918. Women were also theoretically granted the right to vote in the US in 1920. During this time, at the end of each day, women would hang up their house dresses and aprons and go out to run errands and visit friends. The dresses they donned were comfortable yet fancy with lusher materials. The cut and the fabric used differentiated a woman’s house dress from her day dress. The latter was made largely of casual jersey, wool, linen, knits, crepe, and rayon as well as silk, organdy, taffeta, and velvet. In essence, it helped mark a woman’s newfound political and cultural freedoms.
Saeedah Haque, a British-Bangladeshi designer known for her streetwear abayas, has similarly devised overlays and dresses that reflect our new era’s need for dressing with comfort and elegance. “Comfort is the greatest luxury and loungewear is the new power dressing,” she posits. “I love to disrupt the formal day dress and it is through challenging things that we can innovate. Comfort is a power unlike any other. I want us to wear that power and take it to the streets.”
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Originally published in the February 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia