These 10 Emerging Designers Are Much More Than Just “Arab”

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14 Debut Designers Who Are Completely Redefining Arab Fashion
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Nafsika Skourti Lana
Photo: Courtesy of Nafsika Skourti

This headline would probably have sounded catchier if it read, “10 Arab designers to have on your radar”. However, today I will be taking an active step towards dismantling a system which continues to operate in a way where Arab designers are only defined and marginalized by their ethnicity and/or origin. 

Are we proud to be Arab? Yes. Do we reference our culture through our work? Yes. Are we inspired by our culture? Yes. Is our identity more than just a headline or a hashtag? Yes. And today, we do exactly that.

Today, we recognize 10 designers, not just because they’re Arab, but because individually, they each have an authentic story to share — through their craftsmanship, unique designs, and accomplishments.

Nara Niro

Who? Designed by Nour Rahim
What? Luxury ready-to-wear
Where? London, UK

Nara Niro specializes in hand-embroidery and dyeing techniques with an emphasis on occasionwear, and seeks to create timeless and unique investment pieces. Each garment is mindfully produced – fusing art with fashion – and offers bold, authentic, and eclectic clientele a unique garment. This is done while ensuring the realm of craftsmanship remains alive. 

Each Nara Niro collection celebrates the female and tells a poetic story through clothes. The Spring/Summer 2020 collection was greatly influenced by Japan and particularly, the woodblock prints of the Edo period, as well as anime heroines, Akira Kurosawa‘s samurais, and the ethereal Japanese landscape. 

Rafa Homme

Who? Designed by Rafah Seoud 
What? Vegan and slow ready-to-wear
Where? Beirut, Lebanon

Rafa Homme is dedicated to raising awareness for a more conscious world, both locally and globally. The brand’s collections tackle social and environmental issues through storytelling, while merging an aesthetic that facilitates a transition between menswear and womenswear.

‘POLYDIPSIA SSY2K20’ illustrates the current state of the Earth and society. It highlights the impact of greed at the hands of capitalism, where individuals find themselves on a sick planet. Through the collection’s versatile pieces, Rafa Homme highlights a planet that is drying up and slowly dying – with elements inspired by dirt, topographic maps, and deflated objects.

Tania George

Who? Designed by Tania Haddad
What? Urban ready-to-wear
Where? Amman, Jordan

Tania George documents the old, the new, and the hidden gems you’d only know about if you grew up Arab. Inspired by brand founder Haddad’s childhood growing up in the 90s, the brand translates the peculiar interests and behaviors that often go unnoticed. The collection’s unique prints range from the excessively decorated pickup trucks and nostalgic snacks such as plastic-covered cotton candy to the Arabic alphabet board.

Tania George’s ‘The Alphabet Collection’ celebrates the Arabic language, its lettering, and the ways many Arabs have learned it growing up. The collection was inspired from Mohieddine Ellabbad‘s illustrations, and educational shows like Al-Manahil from Jordan TV in the 90s.

Death by Dolls

Who? Designed by Sara Al-Saud
What? Urban ready-to-wear
Where? California, USA

Death by Dolls is a brand that does not just break the rules, but also makes them. Inspired by her grandmother’s flamboyant wardrobe, Al-Saud’s designs focus on the empowerment of women, and the ability to express oneself, as well as embracing what makes each individual different. Al-Saud’s cosmopolitan upbringing has enabled her to develop a brand driven by unique street style, timelessness, drama, and appreciation for beauty.

Vibrant colors, intense textures, and anything that sparkles are part of the Death by Dolls aesthetic. Its collection, titled ‘Emergence’, is inspired by the difficult times the world is going through, and the importance of reminding ourselves that a rainbow will reign over us after every storm.

AKS the Label

Who? Designed by sisters Amna and Asma Khaled Saif
What? Contemporary ready-to-wear 
Where? Manama, Bahrain

AKS the Label is an ode to the French Art Deco era. From the era’s urban landscape to its architecture, AKS the Label highlights these details in each collection, through the construction or deconstruction of garments. The brand’s effortless and versatile pieces manage to communicate what it means to be minimal, yet chic.

AKS the Label’s Spring/Summer collection illustrates minimal luxury. The self-taught duo has managed to mix their two distinct personalities not only in their brand DNA, but also in their most recent collection, which features classic tailored pieces, infused with wrapped, knotted, and oversized elements inspired by streetwear.

Ilyes Ouali

Who? Designed by Ilyes Ouali 
What? Luxury evening-wear
Where? London, UK

Ilyes Ouali is a brand rooted in family values. Ouali’s mother runs the embroidery studio in Algeria managing samples and custom orders, while his sister manages fabric supply and production units globally – ensuring that everything is sourced through suppliers that offer ethical working conditions for female artisans.

The Ilyes Ouali Fall/Winter 2020 collection is a love letter to his mother. Inspired by her closet from the 70s, Ouali offers the modern woman a selection of contemporary and glamorous styles, through hints of 70s glamour twisted with Ouali’s signature cuts to mirror the woman of today.

Nafsika Skourti

Who? Designed by sisters Nafsika and Stephanie Skourti 
What? Contemporary luxury ready-to-wear
Where? Amman, Jordan

Nafsika Skourti embraces glamour and anti-glamour, driven by research, an eclectic mix of references, and textile development to narrate a bigger story. The brand perfectly weaves social and cultural observations, and the exploration of political histories, translating them into garments that are beautifully crafted and culturally relevant.

Nafsika Skourti’s Fall/Winter 2020 collection, titled ‘Memories of a Home I Never Lived In,’ is a love letter to Palestine. It is a personal invitation to the designers’ home and the sisters’ collective memories, shared by their mother and grandmother. Fall/Winter 2020 is nostalgic – it documents Palestine through the vast archives of photographs, maps, and letters, which have been preserved by The Palestinian Museum based in Birzeit, Palestine.

Born in Exile

Who? Designed by Ibrahim Shebani
What? Luxury ready-to-wear
Where? Carthage, Tunisia

The undiscovered beauty of Libya – with its rich culture, traditions, and folklore – is a throughline for the brand Born In Exile. Founded by a designer who was himself born in exile, the brand speaks to women with a strong sense of style and unparalleled aura. Embedded with the complex political history of Libya, Born in Exile’s collections tell the story of Shebani’s eternal muse.

The Born in Exile Fall/Winter 2019 collection, called ‘Modern Heritage,’ was inspired by the traditional Libyan horse track, and takes inspiration from fully embroidered leather saddles, the woven caparison, and more. Equestrian themes enabled Shebani to apply his inspiration on modern materials including denim, silk jacquard, and others, infusing them with traditional Libyan embroidery.

Abadia

What? Designed by Shahd AlShehail
What? Ethical luxury ready-to-wear
Where? Between Riyadh, KSA and Dubai, UAE

Abadia celebrates culture through timeless contemporary designs, focusing on preserving Arab craftsmanship and heritage, while ensuring pieces are sustainable and timeless. This is achieved through the brand’s work with over 40 female artisans across the Arab world, who use traditional techniques creating unique pieces ranging from embroidery to woven sadu

Abadia’s Fall/Winter 2020 collection signals to a generation of women who wear their strength through their style. AlShehail created the collection after being inspired by the birth of her first child. As such, the collection references the strength of the female body and its ability to hold contrasting abilities such as strength and vulnerability.

Emergency Room Beirut

Who? Designed by Eric Mathieu Ritter
What? Ethical and sustainable urban ready-to-wear
Where? Between Beirut and Tripoli, Lebanon

Emergency Room Beirut is a gender-bending brand that utilizes a sustainable and ethical commitment in the creation of its collections. It uses unique vintage materials and deadstock fabrics sourced from different towns across Lebanon to create one-off pieces. As such, the pieces are not only conscious and ethical, but are completely unique.

Emergency Room works with Tara W Kheit, an organization focused on empowering women through sewing, embroidering, and more. Its most recent collaboration with Baitna Fanar – which helps mentally challenged orphans – included pieces featuring drawings from the people at Baitna, which were embroidered by the women at Tara W Kheit.

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