Younger generations have new ways of looking at the world, and a fresh perspective to lend. In the Arab region, this “freshmen” class of new, emerging, and just-graduated fashion designers are setting the bar high for the future of fashion. Tackling themes like Arab Futurism, gender identity, modernism-versus-traditionalism, and the feeling of displacement that comes with being a third-culture kid, the creative output of this young Arab talent has witnessed thrilling developments.
The amplification of new voices amid the saturated fashion market is long overdue. For that reason, we are naming these 14 debut designers as the ones to watch.
Malik Thomas is a textile artist and the founder of eponymous gender-neutral label, Malik Thomas Studio . Recording reflections from his surroundings, he finds himself enamored by found objects – both tangible and the imagined that formed his mixed British-Iraqi upbringing. Using traditional fine-art processes, Thomas’s work expresses cultural nuances, highlighting the exploration of luxury, the ancient, the intimate, and the celebration of drawings.
Thomas’s debut collection is inspired by his mother’s family, who exist in heavy dusty photo albums stored in his grandmother’s personal archive in London. Working with Arab artisans, the garments are hand-screen printed, hand stitched, and finished with handmade ceramic buttons.
The collection draws inspiration from personal images ranging from the 1920s to the 80s, spanning from Baghdad and Beirut to London. “I immersed [my collection in] the intangibles, imagined from the interiors of my grandmother’s apartment long gone – their patterns, their artifacts, the guests [who visited], and the chatter,” Thomas describes.
Faris Bennani is a menswear student at Central Saint Martins in London. Bennani’s work is heavily inspired by his background. “With my dad being an interior designer/sculptor and my granddad a painter – and by watching the process of their work – I have always been attracted to raw colors and materials like metal, latex, plaster,” he explained.
Bennani’s work is an experimental journey, which displays elements that often transcend the realm of ‘clothing.’ This is seen in his chair prototype, inspired from a pair of denim trousers, but made using plaster. His bold aesthetic is a nod to empowerment, where denim is used as protective gear, highlighting how one can be protected through the simple act of dressing up.
“I think that it is essential, especially as a young designer, to address everyone — no matter their race or gender,” he says. “I believe that what I design is for everyone. It is for anyone to enjoy and be comfortable to wear or have.”
Zeid Hijazi is a student at Central Saint Martins in London and is the recipient of the Fashion Trust Arabia 2020 Debut talent prize. Hijazi is particularly inspired by his culture, Arab traditions, craftsmanship, and local artists. As such, his work references his past experience, while juxtaposing these stories against research from Lam Qua, Francis Bacon, and 1950s Christian Dior.
“The fact that I can change how you are represented through the medium of clothes is what makes me want to build my own world,” he explains. Hijazi desires to create a new realm representing Arab Futurism, which is set to launch early next year in collaboration with creatives from the underground creative scene.
Hijazi’s designs are alter-egoistic. Each project is constantly evolving and changing depending on his mood and emotions. “One day, these characters are power dressers drenched in sharp tailoring, and the next project, these characters might evolve and turn into pilgrims dressed in calligraphed foam made out of the 28 Arabic letters. To build these characters, I research important figures and muses like Leila Khaled for example,” he says.
Tamara Bastaki is the designer and founder of the ready-to-wear label OUTWORN, based in Kuwait. OUTWORN is a brand that best reflects who she truly is, defining her own cultural standards out loud — which may generally be viewed as “out” of the expected norms of the region. This is because, “I have never felt a sense of belonging due to my third-culture kid struggle with national and cultural identity,” she explains.
The brand focuses on using a combination of fabric scraps and deadstock samples, aiming to promote zero-waste. Materials sourced are upcycled or reworked into one-of-one pieces, giving old fabric new life.
“The word ‘out’ refers to the clothes that I have outworn. Over lockdown, I cleaned out my closet and used some of the outworn clothes I found to create my first-ever collection. I aim to create looks that are not expected, targeting people like me, who maybe can’t relate to the trends of the typical Khaleeji consumer,” she says. She hopes to celebrate diversity in fashion while simultaneously eliminating the fear of self-expression, complimenting an ethical business approach and strive for sustainability.
Dara Hamarneh is the designer and founder of eponymous accessories brand Dara Hamarneh. She creates cross-cultural leather accessories that stand the test of time. Hamarneh draws inspiration from traditional notions of luxury, reimagined for today.
Hamarneh wanted to create a timeless brand, while pushing for a slower, more educated approach to fashion, communicated in a contemporary way. With this in mind, her vision has been translated through modern updates to classic silhouettes, with the core principle of building something “clean and season-less”.
Her sculptural shapes and fresh colors have quickly become brand signatures, elevating “everyday wear”. The design process and careful details trace back to the brand’s core value of quality craftsmanship, combined with ease, wearability, and understated luxury. “I want to encourage people to make better decisions by providing them with something that is not only relevant, but something that will last,” she says.
RAKAN is a ready-to-wear label based in New York City, founded by Rakan Shams Aldeen. Inspired by his background in architecture, Aldeen reinterprets classic garments with a unique contemporary twist, using high-quality materials. After leaving his home country of Syria due to civil unrest, Aldeen has managed to build a name for himself abroad. He was a contestant on Bravo’s Project Runway and was awarded the Rising Star 2020 womenswear designer award by Fashion Group International in New York City.
His latest collection, ‘CAPSULE 20’, is an explosion of emotions and feelings from what our world is going through. Aldeen explains that the collection didn’t have a mood board; in fact, it was his pure expression of “anger towards a private life event.” His emotions were translated into airy, light silhouettes and big volumes using pleated fabrics and hand embellishments.
“The RAKAN woman is someone who is or wants to feel unique and/or powerful. We aim to highlight this woman by continually thinking outside of the box and through researching new volumes and ideas that make our pieces stand out,” Aldeen explains.
Fadi Zumot is an artist and designer and the founder of eponymous ready-to-wear brand, Fadi Zumot. His work investigates the social and cultural notions of expression and restriction in the Arab world. Zumot’s designs are non-conforming; they embrace the idea of individualism.
Zumot’s debut ready-to-wear collection, titled ‘MUTINY’, explores the concept of “how many more ways could we be wearing a garment if we didn’t have a silhouette to protect?” The collection is a call to consciousness in regards to our everyday act of dressing up.
The collection explores the familiar and unfamiliar, as acts of mutiny against conformity, disregarding the norm. Pieces are transitional and versatile, where a shirt takes its shape in different forms, whether it’s as a pair of pants, a skirt, a jacket, or a dress. “I would like people to connect through their unique selves (together), to find the courage to be who they are and express it through their clothing, not fear the change we manifest, to explore ways for a community to interact, embrace and enjoy movements and gestures and find new perspectives,” Zumot says.
Karma Malhas is a multidisciplinary designer and the founder of RUN NAKED. “I’ve always had a passion for our region’s love of body adornment, and I felt especially connected to Bedouin silver jewelry because of my Bedouin heritage,” Malhas explains. As such, she wanted to learn the craft and techniques used, as well as the symbolism behind the different patterns.
Malhas’ silver jewelry brand, RUN NAKED, came to life after five years of thorough research. “I wanted to develop my own design language and production process and I was able to do so after researching the history of the Arab region through the production process of historic tribes,” she says.
The name RUN NAKED is a term that best explains the designer’s life ethos. It is one’s ability to be free, exploring all forms of individual freedoms, and being able to do express those feelings through bodily adornment. The first collection was inspired by Tuareg bridal jewelry and Palestinian motifs.
5 In Your Eyes
5 In Your Eyes is a ready-to-wear label conceived in late 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon, by design duo Philippe El Riachi and Therese Raffoul. The brand is built upon Arab Futurist ideals. It primarily focuses on designing garments for an underrepresented demographic in a market that tends to focus on couture, which is inaccessible and often unaffordable to the general population.
The brand modernizes design techniques, utilizes technology within an Arab context, and paints an unabashed picture of the contemporary Arab world through a magical realist lens. 5 In Your Eyes contributes to the creation of a self-sustaining network of local makers, while narrating the social diversity and progression of a new generation.
Co-founded by designer Hanna Hazem, Ohanna was born in Alexandria, Egypt, paying tribute to thousands of years of human civilization. Inspired by the metamorphosis of Ancient Egyptian designs – from temple wall art to modern patterns and refined motifs, Hazem reimagines history through Ohanna’s contemporary garments, suiting every woman.
Ohanna celebrates celebrate uniqueness, diversity, and beauty through its detailed and versatile modern designs. The brand embraces skeptics as it offers the bold individual an opportunity to express distinction. This is embedded in the brand’s ethos, as Hazem explains, “it is founded in the very place that endured years and years of oppressive rulers and foreign conquerors, yet gave birth to some of the world’s brightest minds and history’s bravest figures.
Ohanna’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection, titled ‘SUN GEN’, is for every woman who aims to “freely express their distinctiveness and character. By giving every piece a dual feeling, we want every woman to have the ability to express any and all of her feelings.”
Nujoud Oweis is the designer and founder behind eponymous accessories line, Nujoud Oweis. Through her brand, she aims to preserve the “treasures” she picks up along shorelines of the Red Sea. From collecting crab shells and barnacles to studying possible treatment processes, Oweis transforms her finds into handbags – where leather and pearls are used in the process to introduce the juxtaposition of luxury and nature.
“When I find an object along any shoreline, I take it back and I dig deeper into its origins and how it was discovered. The immense appreciation towards nature and creating pieces of art from these natural discoveries is something I resonate dearly with,” she explains.
Through her brand, Oweis continues her storytelling of science and history through the form of art and design, while simultaneously preserving her childhood memories using the objects she collected throughout the years. She also wants to continue promoting a sustainable and ethical practice through her designs and brand, where preserved shoreline objects are always up-cycled.
Meera Adnan is a contemporary ready-to-wear label, based in Gaza, Palestine, founded by Meera Albaba. The brand launched in 2020 and is best described as one that is romantic and nostalgic, with a hint of edge and drama. Albaba’s work focuses on reclaiming narrative and is influenced by religious, political, and local references that tell personal stories from the “city under siege.”
Meera Adnan’s debut collection drew inspiration from the 1980s in Palestine, where men were more expressive in emotions and style, and women were more fierce, individualistic, and stylish. The collection is reminiscent of a more sentimental time when people found pleasure and fun even in the smallest details.
The brand is seen as a platform that amplifies Palestinian voices. Albaba aims to revive the local textile industry and build a platform for Palestinian creativity for a prosperous future Palestine. By collaborating with Gazan creatives in the diaspora, Albaba explains that she “wanted to highlight the sense of uncertainty, self-indulgence, and geographical restrictions during these times of lockdown that Gazans are used to, but now they share it with many parts of the world due to COVID-19”.
XIA The Label
XIA is a contemporary ready-to-wear label which launched in July of 2020 by Zainab Kisswani. The brand promotes sustainable and ethical practices through its work with local artisans and a season-less approach where each item is handmade. These factors are essential to the brand’s mission to continue producing at its own pace, promoting sustainable slow fashion and encouraging creativity.
Each XIA drop revolves around a particular theme. ‘111. XIA DROP ONE’ was inspired by nature, particularly the movements of ocean water: waves, tides, and ocean currents. “I started designing the first drop pre-COVID19 lockdown and wanted to shed light on water scarcity in the Middle East, yet [we are] constantly able to rebound from it, highlighting Arab resilience each and every time,” Kisswani explains. This is seen in the silhouettes of the garments, particularly in their fluidity, versatility, and strong allure.
The XIA woman is one who constantly challenges preconceived stereotypes and notions of women in the Arab world. “You can be dressed in XIA at work, yet be able to go to social gatherings in the same outfit. I wanted my pieces to be versatile, aiming to complement a woman’s professional and social life” she says.
Maya Chantout is a designer inspired by art, music, and poetry. She moved to Paris in 2012 from Syria to study at La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Upon graduating, she has managed to work for the likes of Hermès, Chloé, Celine under Hedi Slimane, and currently Mirae. In 2018, Maya was awarded the LVMH Prize in Paris.
Of her time working in Paris, Chantout says, “I was able to learn a lot from all the design teams, particularly the 3D designers, and the savoir-faire of the French ateliers who are very passionate about what they do and very happy to share their knowledge with me.”
“I am constructing the DNA and the main ideas and values I want my brand to stand for,” she shares. “I worked and designed my most recent collection while I was quarantined in Syria. During that time, I got to reconnect with my roots. I wanted to highlight the community by sharing their stories as well as empowering those I can through hand crafting and artisanal work.” The collection focuses on mixing contrasting references, where fabrics sourced from Paris were upcycled using deadstock Syrian traditional textiles that have been left post-war.