Zeid Hijazi’s Fashion Reckoning | Savoir Flair
Arab Creatives
Zeid Hijazi’s Fashion Reckoning
article ZEID HIJAZI
by Grace Gordon 7-minute read August 25, 2022

Zeid Hijazi, FTA's 'Debut Talent' winner from 2020, is on the path to greatness, as evidenced by his incredible debut 'Kalt' collection.

article ZEID HIJAZI

I cannot describe the precise thrill of stumbling across a fashion designer whose work is so distinctive that your brain lights up right away with the thought, ‘This is special! I haven’t seen this before!’ It isn’t quantifiable or qualifiable; it’s instinct. After 17 years in the industry, this thrill has dwindled to an occasional drip. But I never stop searching for it. 

It was my dear friend Saif Hidayah who first introduced me to the work of Palestinian designer Zeid Hijazi when Saif guest wrote 14 Debut Designers Who Are Completely Redefining Arab Fashion for Savoir Flair. Intrigued I went looking for more of Zeid’s work online. I understood right away that he was a designer with something to say. From his education at Central Saint Martins to taking home the Fashion Trust Arabia ‘Debut Talent’ prize in 2020, Zeid has all the makings of a once-in-a-lifetime designer. 

Later, after Saif introduced me to Zeid’s work, Savoir Flair collaborated with Ilna Collective to shoot some of Zeid’s extraordinary pieces, alongside other inspiring regional talents. Along the way, Zeid and I became friends, and his energy, curiosity, and intelligence have been a breath of fresh air within an industry that sometimes felt stale and redundant.

I say all of this to say that I was waiting for his debut collection with bated breath. Zeid Hijazi’s ‘Kalt’ collection is simply marvelous. It brings questions of identity politics to the surface but refuses to give them a polite summary by which to understand them. It makes you ask questions. It sends you running toward your own research into the symbols behind his work. It builds an aura of mystery. Yet, at the same time his architectural, androgynous silhouettes are concretely high-fashion.

ZEID HIJAZI

Zeid was inspired to create ‘Kalt’ after watching the Tunisian film Bedwin Hackers, in which the titular character, Kalt, hacks television frequencies and broadcasts messages and symbology around freedom and equality for North Africans. The film prompted Zeid to think of how he could use Palestinian symbology – which is embedded in his culture’s traditional embroidery – to broadcast a message. “My work is drenched in symbolism at the moment,” Zeid said in an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair. “When I started designing this collection, Sheikh Jarrah, where my grandmother lives, was going through hell. I wanted to take Palestinian symbology like the Key of Hebron and the Moon of Palestine and use them as means of communication. Those are not symbols I created, but symbols my ancestors created.”

The pure and pastoral embroidery symbols seen in Zeid’s debut collection – The Key of Hebron, Cypress, and The Ears of Corn – were originally born as a way of expressing what Palestinian women saw in their daily environments. They were not yet tinged with the sorrow that was to come later during the Israeli occupation. Instead, they represented distinct villages and regions, with cross-stitched motifs representing a form of storytelling.

While much of the true meaning of these symbols has been lost to time, the idea of bringing them back through his collection bears an emotional quality. When the Nakba of 1948 occurred, Palestinian life changed dramatically. This could be seen in the disruption of traditional embroidery practices due to a lack of resources. Hardship drove Palestinian women to focus on survival rather than creation. Family heirlooms were sold to outsiders to put food on the table. Then came the refugee camps, which brought new influences from other cultures to the designs. The erasure of creative craftsmanship is often the consequence of occupation. Longstanding cultural identity disappears, subsumed under the rule of oppressors. Reclamation of this identity begins with the preservation of heritage craft.

Zeid’s symbology was brought to life by women in Beirut, Lebanon, and Amman, Jordan, who developed products like his ‘Moon of Palestine’ neckties. These were created with the Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps (INAASH) in Lebanon. Symbols were then modernized by placement and intent. Where these traditional symbols would have been embroidered onto the chest panels of thobes, or along the shoulders or cuffs and hems of skirts, Hijazi placed them down the front of pant legs, on neck-ties, and in the center of triangle-cut mini skirts.

ZEID HIJAZI

The intent of preserving his heritage became front and center in the collection. “I am always inspired by folklore and futurism,” Zeid said. “I want to merge futurism and folklore together, using architectural shapes – I wanted to be an architect ever since I was young – and traditional craftsmanship. I’m a hybrid of the past and the future. I'm attracted to both.” Futurism is felt particularly in the design of his ‘Kalt Coat’, with shoulders that jut upward like horns. The process of designing this complicated silhouette took eight different prototypes. Zeid laughs as he shares, “I have a friend who was building a house at the same time I started designing this coat. I finished making the coat at the same time she finished her house. That’s how long it took!” 

The reason for the laborious design process is that Zeid wanted the silhouette to appear to be severe, but that it would actually be soft and pliable to the touch, and most importantly, comfortable to wear. Inspired by Brutalist architecture, he achieved the design through pattern-making techniques and interior boning. “It’s not aggressive,” he described, “It’s soft and it’s playful. My nephews are in Jordan and when my sister tried the jacket on, they were like, ‘Oh my god, mom, you’re Batman!’”

I love that he mentioned the playful aspect of the collection because it may seem like the storytelling behind ‘Kalt’ is heavy, but Zeid was also intentional in weaving in escapism. He wants his designs to make you think, and maybe even inspire research into Palestine, but he also wants to let fashion be fashion. “I think it’s very healthy to look at the other side of things,” he says, “There's a lot of seriousness in this world. There are a lot of wars. There's a lot of hate, ego, manipulation, and exploitation. I’m at a point in my life where I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I also want this collection to be about escapism.”

ZEID HIJAZI

When Zeid was first starting out as a designer, he set his sights on a global audience. “I wanted to be in every single retailer, on every single website. But, then, when I finished this collection and women started coming into the studio to try it on, they were telling me, ‘We feel so good in your clothes’, and I realized that’s truly what I want. Not fame, not everyone talking about me. I want that feeling of making people happy.” 

He credits his success to his family, especially his mother and father who have championed him every step of the way, and to an art teacher he had growing up in Amman, Jordan. “She changed everything for me,” he said, “During a parent-teacher conference, she called my parents in and told me ‘your son has something’. She pushed me as an artist, even when I didn’t really know what I was doing or what I wanted. I owe her a lot.”

Sometimes the trappings of fashion can trip you up, especially when all eyes are on you when you win an industry accolade, as in the case of Zeid’s ‘Debut Talent’ award by Fashion Trust Arabia. But during our interview, he is radiant, self-aware, and brimming with peaceful, positive energy. After a roller-coaster ride over the past few years, he is settled, joyful. His eyes are on a different type of prize now, one that has to do with self-affirmation and finding his own path forward in fashion. For that reason, he doesn’t plan on abiding by the industry’s insane calendar but doing things at his own pace, releasing collections on an annual schedule, perhaps. Whatever he plans to do next, you can be sure, it will be thrilling.

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