How Arab menswear designers have made their mark

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark
Anamolous was founded by Lebanese designer Rabih Rowell. Instagram/@anomalous.monism
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Updated 14 June 2021

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark
  • While menswear designers once seemed a rare breed in the Middle East, today the region’s talent is not only surviving but thriving

DUBAI: The question usually arrived in stages, often introducing itself by way of physical cues. The furrowed brow, a pause for thought, maybe a tilt of the head – for variety’s sake – and then: “So, just where are all the Middle East’s menswear designers?”

For many years, it seemed a valid point.

Scan any red carpet during an awards season and a female megastar dressed by an Arab designer is likely to be there. Beyonce wearing Zuhair Murad, Cardi B in Ashi Studio, Kendall Jenner in Elie Saab; womenswear designers in the region have been much sought after for decades.

2D2C2M is a Saudi co-ed streetwear label helmed by Ahmed Al-Wohaibi. Instagram/@2d2c2m

By and large, the answer to all of this was a numbers game. Women bought more, they wore more, and had more diverse tastes. Men would often wear the same work shirt for years and think nothing of it. So, more demand and more opportunities to be creative meant more womenswear designers.

But perhaps it was also a cultural question.

Keanoush Zargham, GQ Middle East’s style editor, said: “I think the debate around the lack of menswear designers wasn’t just restricted to our region.

“For years luxury menswear shows, globally, were mixed with womenswear because the men’s market was always so small. However, in the Arab world the issue ran a little deeper, with something of a stigma attached to the notion of a man designing fashion for a living. Thankfully, perspectives are changing.”

Founded by Moroccan-French Charaf Tajer, Casablanca is one of the buzziest brands at the moment. Instagram/@casablancabrand

Fashion is changing, culture is changing, so should the question be changing too? Never mind the lack of menswear designers, due to a global shift toward genderless collections, maybe soon menswear will become a thing of the past – just clothes made for us all to wear and enjoy.

Looking back, as the noughties came to an end, Saudi Arabia had a small, but burgeoning scene. There was the legendary Yahya Al-Bishri designing for royalty, and Hatem Alakeel doing all kinds of amazing things with thobes, but other than that there was little conversation.

“My work in menswear started from a personal requirement. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the market, so I decided to design it myself,” said Alakeel, who has just launched Authenticite, a Saudi-centric agency forging collaboration opportunities for up-and-coming authentic creatives in the region.

Hatem Alakeel is known for fusing international styles. Supplied

“But fashion remains a female-dominated ecosystem, especially in Saudi,” he added.

While it may be slow going in some Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets, the scales are undoubtedly tipping, and men have gradually become more adventurous in how they dress. Combine that with streetwear hype gripping a generation and the numbers have acted accordingly. Figures from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce show that menswear dominated the UAE apparel sector in 2018, amounting to $12.3 billion in sales.

As a further signal of shifting sands in the Middle East, this year has witnessed an industry milestone with the first ever Arab Fashion Week – Men’s (AFWM).

Zar Douz at the inaugural Arab Fashion Week Men’s. Supplied

A three-day showcase in January, AFWM highlighted the extent of menswear talent in the region, from classic to avant-garde to streetwear, all produced under coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic conditions and presented as a digital project. Organized by the Arab Fashion Council, its chief strategy officer, Mohammed Aqra, said it was a clear sign of an exciting market.

“For quite some time the MENA region wasn’t ready to accept an adventurous wardrobe for men. At the same time, consumer behavior in the region was very much driven by international brands.

“This recently has started to change thanks to an ever-growing fashion scene that has allowed the culture to be more accepting and resulted in a growing demand for unique menswear,” he added.

He noted Proud Angels, El-Salam, and Anomalous as examples of fledgling local brands to watch out for.

Anomalous is a brand to look out for. Instagram/@anomalous.monism

Perhaps more indicative of menswear’s rude health has been the decision by some womenswear designers to migrate their work to men. In 2016, the Lebanese fashion designer Nour Hage did exactly that, launching her Zero One collection. The idea was to take traditional Middle Eastern garb and make it feel contemporary and relevant.

Her move received some vindication two years later, when the Emmy-winning actor Riz Ahmed wore items from her collection in a shoot for British GQ.

Riz Ahmed wearing Zero One in British GQ. Instagram/@nourhage_

Aqra said: “The prognosis (for menswear) is very positive. Since the launch of the first AFWM, many Arab womenswear designers have also started to create menswear, or genderless, lines too. Brands such as Mrs Keepa, Amato Couture, and Michael Cinco in the UAE, and Kojak Studio in Egypt.”

It is true that there are an ever-increasing number of Middle Eastern brands creating genderless collections.

Zargham said: “Personally, I really love the Moroccan brand, Casablanca. It has an eccentric, softer interpretation of masculinity which can really work on both men and women.”

Casablanca has an eccentric, softer interpretation of masculinity which can really work on both men and women. Instagram/@casablancabrand

Then there are brands such as the Saudi-based 2D2C2M and the stylings of Palestinian label Trashy Clothing.

Trashy’s co-founder and co-creative director, Shukri Lawrence, said: “We believe whoever feels comfortable wearing any piece from our collection should have the freedom to choose.”

When it comes to what men wear on the red carpet, the lines of what is expected are already starting to blur, whether it be Michael B. Jordan in a Louis Vuitton harness at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, or Billy Porter decked out in a custom-made white suit – including train – by Ashi Studio for the Emmys.

The Saudi-based brand believes clothing has no gender. Instagram/@2d2c2m

“We’ve entered a new era in fashion where men are experimenting. Both men and women shouldn’t be restricted to wearing specific pieces. We believe clothing has no gender,” Lawrence added.

Gendered collections aside, there is another shift that feels prevalent right now in menswear and beyond: A desire to bring attention to the region and shine a light, not just on talent, but also the issues of its people.

While brands such as the Iraqi/Moroccan COR-Project highlight socio-political problems via a military aesthetic, Lebanese brand Emergency Room has been built around sustainable style and a fair industry ethos. For Trashy Clothing, somebody wearing its products is about existence itself.

Palestinian label Trashy Clothing was founded by Shukri Lawerence. Instagram/@trashyclothing

“As a Palestinian brand, having a celebrity wear our label means solidarity and awareness to our cause. Bringing the name of Palestine to the mainstream is important since our identity is under constant threat of erasure,” Lawrence said.

So, that age-old question about Arab menswear does not really seem to exist anymore. No more furrowed brows or considered pauses. The style question has become a fashion statement.

Menswear, womenswear, genderless collections. In 2021, it no longer really matters. The work by an array of Middle Eastern talent is speaking for itself.

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala
The menu for this year's Met Gala is a collective effort by10 New York-based chefs. Supplied
Updated 16 min 34 sec ago

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

DUBAI: For the first time, the Met Gala is introducing a sustainable plant-based menu for its annual event taking place this year on Sept. 13, 2021. 

Guests will be treated to a healthy dinner curated by a group of 10 notable New York-based chefs and Instagram influencers, handpicked by Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson and Bon Appétit.

Among the chefs selected is US-Ethiopian Fariyal Abdullahi and American-Iranian Nasim Alikhani.

Abdullahi is the culinary manager of R+D Kitchen in Dallas, while Alikhani spearheads a hot spot in Brooklyn, New York, called Sofreh.

They join other New York-based chefs, cookbook authors and culinary enthusiasts Emma Bengtsson, Lazarus Lynch, Junghyun Park, Erik Ramirez, Thomas Raquel, Sophia Roe, Simone Tong and Fabian von Hauske.

“I am honored to participate in an initiative that highlights the incredible work of these 10 New York chefs at the Met Gala,” said Samuelsson in a press release issued from the Met. 

“After a difficult two years for the restaurant industry, this will showcase the work and tell the stories of a dynamic group of chefs while presenting an exciting menu of delicious, plant-based dishes. The gala offers an incomparable opportunity for emerging talent to elevate their careers and share their perspectives and craft.”

In the weeks leading up to the gala, the 10 chefs will share plant-based recipes via Instagram Reels, powered by a partnership with the photo-sharing social media platform.

The Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala that celebrates New York’s the Costume Institute’s new exhibition on a changing theme. It typically occurs on the first Monday in May, however, due to COVID-19, it is set to take place as a smaller affair on Sept. 13.

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad
Bella Hadid is one of the most in-demand models in the world at the moment. File/ Getty Images
Updated 03 August 2021

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

DUBAI: Noughties fashion is back, and it doesn’t appear like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Whether it was Blumarine’s Paris Hilton-inspired Fall 2021 collection or the recent resurgence of Ed Hardy, the fabulously gaudy and over-the-top aesthetic of the 2000s in fashion is inescapable. Some of the decade’s most notorious brands have also made a return, including denim label Miss Sixty, which is now being fronted by Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid. 

This week, the brand unveiled its Fall 2021 campaign, which featured the 24-year-old catwalk star rocking a blond bob and striking various poses while wearing pieces from the label’s most recent collection, which included a long-sleeve striped T-shirt emblazoned with the brand's name on the bottom paired with form-hugging black pants and a silver chain belt.

Bella Hadid for Miss Sixty's Fall 2021 campaign. Instagram

The Miss Sixty brand was one of the top labels to define millennium-era style and was wildly popular in the 2000s, with celebrities including Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton and Hilary Duff rocking their low-rise jeans and statement belts.

After fading out of style in the last decade, the denim brand made a resurgence earlier this year, tapping Hadid to serve as the face of Miss Sixty last February.

Hadid announced the exciting news via Instagram earlier this year. 

“Just signed my newest contract as the face of @misssixty,” she wrote at the time. “I have so many vintage pieces that I have collected over the years and I can’t wait to pair it all with the new! This is a dream, I’m so excited to see what we do together in the future!”


A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Indeed, Hadid certainly is a fitting choice for the revival of Miss Sixty.

In addition to being one of the most in-demand models in the world, Hadid is also known for taking past, and often-times polarizing, fashion trends from the early 2000s and making them look fresh again.

From bedazzled cropped T-shirts and flared jeans to monogrammed baguette bags and newspaper boy caps, there’s almost no defining Y2K fashion trend that Hadid hasn’t rocked in weeks past. All that is really needed to complete her looks is a hot pink Motorola Razr or an iPod Nano.

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced
Winner of the 2020 Ithra Art Prize, “Rakhm” by Fahad Bin Naif. Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

DUBAI: The jury for the 4th edition of the Ithra Art Prize has been revealed.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has announced a panel of seven international art experts as the jury for the prize.

They are Abdullah K. Al-Turki, board member of the Ad-Diriyah Biennale Foundation; Dr. Ridha Moumni, historian of art and archaeology; Brahim Alaoui, former director of the museum of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and  Salwa Mikdadi, Director of Al-Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art (NYUAD).

They will be joined by Amal Khalaf, curator, artist and Director of Programs at Cubitt and Civic Curator at the Serpentine Galleries in London; Clare Davies, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museums and Exhibits at Ithra.

The jury are responsible for evaluating submissions for the contemporary art prize, which is open to artists from or based in the 22 Arab League countries, with the winner receiving a financial grant of up to $100,000 in commission of a singular work of art. 

Individual artists and collectives are invited to submit a proposal for the Ithra Art Prize by Aug. 13, 2021, with the winner being announced on Aug. 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, the winning piece will be unveiled at Ad-Diriyah Biennale, the Kingdom’s first biennale, scheduled to be held between Dec. 7 and March 7, 2022.

The winner will join the likes of UAE-based Saudi artist Ayman Zeidani, whose project “Meem” won the inaugural edition of the Ithra Art Prize in 2018, 2019 winner, Dania Al-Saleh and Fahad Bin Naif, who won the 2020 prize for his artwork “Rakhm.”

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood
Model Josephine Skriver has walked the runway for a variety of high-end labels. Instagram
Updated 02 August 2021

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

DUBAI: Victoria’s Secret model Josephine Skriver is the latest celebrity to be spotted toting a design by Dubai-based accessories label L’Afshar.

Each of L’Afshar’s covetable box bags and clutches are meticulously handcrafted by Esmod graduate Lilian L’Afshar in her Dubai-based studio. 

The label’s handmade lucite clutches are instantly recognizable by their unique, structured designs and use of marbled resin and intricate mirror-work.

The brand’s clutches have been sported by everyone from Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid to Beyonce and Alicia Keys.

The British-born Iranian designer founded her eponymous label in 2014.

She discovered her flair for bag design accidentally while making a last-minute black and red, transparent acrylic clutch for her graduation collection while studying at Esmod.


A post shared by L'AFSHAR (@lilianafshar)

Today, her mini-bags are a constant on international red carpets.

Skriver, 28, attended the 2021 Sports Illustrated issue release celebration at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, and for the occasion wore a metallic feather-trimmed mini dress, which she paired with L’Afshar’s Elle bag in silver mirror.

It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Danish model.

Shortly after the Sports Illustrated issue release event, Skriver touched down in Croatia with fellow models Shanina Shaik, Sara Sampaio, Lais Ribiero, Romee Strijd and Taylor Hill to celebrate close friend Jasmine Tookes’ upcoming marriage with Snapchat’s Juan David Borrero.

The stylish friend group attended the future bride’s bachelorette party this week in Hvar, an idyllic island in Croatia. 

Tookes and Borrero got engaged in September 2020 and are set to get married in Borrero’s home country of Ecuador, but due to COVID-19 the exact wedding date is yet to be announced.  

Tookes is set to tie the knot in a wedding gown by Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad. 


A post shared by Jasmine Tookes (@jastookes)

The model originally teased the news following Murad’s Fall 2021 couture show in Paris, where she was sat front row. “Ten years ago, I used to walk his couture shows and now I wear his dresses on almost every red carpet. Something even more special is coming very soon,” she wrote on Instagram.

More recently, the model revealed via Instagram that she got to “see and try on my finished wedding dress. It is beyond everything I ever imagined.” 

The Raas Balbek-born couturier simply commented with three red heart emojis.

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition
Ard El Ewa (2015/2016). Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

DUBAI: Two large, brightly colored textile-based sculptures hang like gigantic carpets. The only thing distinguishing them from what could be a meticulously woven rug is that various textiles are sewn together and supported by structures, like sails. These artworks by Cairo-based Ibrahim Ahmed are some of the main features in his first solo US museum show “It Will Always Come Back to You” at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The show features a thematic selection of Ahmed’s work from 2013 to 2020, produced using a variety of media, including primarily textile-based sculpture, painting and photo collage exploring issues related to migration, colonialism and the Global South — regions outside of Europe and North America that have historically been politically and culturally marginalized.

Only Dreamers Leave (2016). Supplied

Two works of art are the most expansive in the show: “Only Dreamers Leave” (2016) and “Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Embroidered onto the conglomeration of diverse textiles are gold patterns that refer to baroque and arabesque iron gates, symbols of wealth and power in Egypt. Staged in opposite areas of the exhibition, the works are in dialogue with each other while also relaying Ahmed’s missive for the exhibition: to explore the myths surrounding migration to the Global North and contemporary representations of the nation-state.

The artist himself is a product of such migration. Born in Kuwait in 1984 and of Egyptian heritage, Ahmed spent his childhood between Bahrain and Egypt, before moving to the US with his family at the age of 13. In 2014, he moved back to Cairo, where he currently lives and works in the informal working-class neighborhood of Ard El Lewa. 

Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Supplied

The first work visitors see is the multimedia “Does Anybody Leave Heaven,” located in the foyer of the museum and comprising a textile-based piece, video, sound and a series of photographs. It was inspired by Ahmed’s return from the US to Egypt in 2014. The work, in the form of an assemblage tapestry (32x10 feet), is made with textile found in Egyptian streets, such as bags, clothing and other items, which have then been printed onto the “flag” in addition to other miscellaneous elements from the US.

In the Ard El Lewa neighborhood, Ahmed lives among Egyptians who have not been able to travel outside of Egypt. “When I tell them I chose to leave the US, they always ask me: ‘Does anybody leave heaven?’” he told Arab News. “The piece looks at the US as an empire and a cultural soft power, which is reflected in the objects accumulated over a period of time in Egypt that have US flags on them.”

Displayed outside the museum is the artist’s 2016 installation “Only Dreamers Leave,” an installation made of 30 sails, first displayed in Dakar, Senegal in 2018 during the Biennale of Contemporary African Art. Incorporated into the sails are 30 flags representing countries — the 28 EU members in addition to Canada and the US. Through this work, Ahmed demonstrates how the fantasies and dreams the countries evoke lure migrants away from their communal homes to other nations. The sails are made from porous and heavy materials associated with domestic and manual labor —jobs that migrants usually obtain as soon as they arrive in their new land.

Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020). Supplied

The exhibition also includes a specially commissioned work for VCU titled “Nobody Knows Anything About Them” (2019). The largest of the chandelier series to date, it is also constructed from found materials. A common practice in Cairo, says Ahmed, is to store unused materials on rooftops, a habit driven by the uncertainty of the future. “People have a tendency to conserve things that would otherwise have been discarded,” he explained.

In another room, works from Ahmed’s masculinity project can be found. These include “Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020) and “Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020), works that move from the physicality of the artist’s body to incorporate social and historical frames of reference, largely through the use of archival family photos that span 50 years. The images, the majority of which were taken by Ahmed’s father, show cars, national monuments, military parades, and museums. The photographs date from the Nasser era and map the artist’s father’s trajectory from farm boy in the Nile Delta to banker in the US, Kuwait, Bahrain, and other locations throughout the north and south of Egypt that his many business trips took him to.

Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020). Supplied

“These works, like the title, aim to show how these macro-politics exist because we are all carrying these legacies with us,” he tells Arab News. “My practice has been to look at myself closely to manifest the discourses that I come across through my art. I am looking at this idea of falsified borders, past and present, and how they negate the idea of division because, in the end, everything in the world is very much interconnected.”

“Ibrahim Ahmed: It Will Always Come Back to You” runs until Nov. 28, 2021.