DUBAI: For thousands of years, the abaya has been a sartorial staple for women across the Middle East. The loose robe-like garment, which dates back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia, constitutes national dress in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, serving as a symbol of modesty.
Today, the abaya is a far cry from the plain black cloak of the past. With time, the floor-length robe has evolved into a fashion statement, with many different designs available. The new wave of garments, while engineered for modesty, feature contemporary elements like jewel-encrusted palm trees, black lace trim and embroidered hearts, and come in experimental and playful colors, silhouettes and fabrics that are anything but basic.
However, no matter how much it has evolved, the abaya remains the ultimate garment for women across the region. Read on for five contemporary abaya brands that need to be on your radar.
Designer Rawdha Thani’s abaya line, which means “my daughter” in Berber, is known for its beautiful contemporary and ethereal designs. The Emirati-Moroccan designer’s instantly recognizable label, launched during the pandemic, has gained recognition for its pastel palette, fringed sleeves and celestial-inspired embroidery. The collection of pistachio, lavender, mint, rainbow sorbet and canary-colored robes has practically revolutionized the concept of the abaya, spawning a number of copycats along the way. The brand recently introduced a line of colorful heart-embellished tote bags made out of shiny vegan leather, and a range of kaftans for Ramadan, which sold out before the designer even had a chance to shoot a look book.
Saudi designer Nora Aldamer launched Chador in 2013 after noticing increasing demand for traditional clothing with a modern twist. It was not long before the Parsons graduate’s label made a name for itself in Aldamer’s hometown of Riyadh. With its tailored, trench-inspired abayas in non-traditional hues, the brand found great success with Saudi women seeking something to fulfil their contemporary taste while remaining conservative and sticking to their roots.
This handmade abaya label was founded by Emirati electrical engineer-turned-fashion-designer Al Anood Al-Mansoori. Inspired by the movement of birds, Al-Mansoori has churned out a lineup of on-trend abaya designs for the holy season that will ensure you are the best dressed person at any sahoor gathering. Standout designs include a graphic printed chiffon abaya that comes with a matching dress and opera gloves that can also be worn on their own. In addition to a Ramadan collection, Wings features an expansive lineup of edgy and contemporary designs that includes an exquisite black overlay embroidered with a giant bird on the back, and creations that merge the trenchcoat with the traditional abaya, and can easily double as outerwear.
If you feel like you have been seeing Kamin’s abayas everywhere, well, it is because you have. Our Instagram feeds have been flooded with pictures of regional it-girls smiling and posing in an array of chic pieces named after traditional Arabic female names from the Dubai-based brand. Everyone from Riyadh-based Nia Amroun to Emirati blogger Nouf Al-Tamimi have been spotted wearing the label’s super-affordable tailored sets and satin kaftans. For Eid, the brand has whipped up a new festive collection of overlays with matching sheilas in a muted color palette of grey, ivory, blush and black. But those who wish to get their hands on the coveted new collection may want to act fast — two of the designs are already sold out.
The Cap Project
Founded in 2017 by an anonymous local design duo hailing from the UAE, the rising brand is coveted for its modern take on the Emirati woman’s sartorial staple by way of deconstructed tailoring, oversized silhouettes and a vibrant color palette, making it anything but the traditional black abaya. The brand earned its name from the duo’s sustainable business model that entails producing limited pieces for purchase. Once an item is out of stock, even if there’s a demand, the designers will not produce more. “We just want girls to feel like they have something exclusive and that’s just for them,” explained the designers.