In our effort to continue supporting designers from the MENA region and in honor of the holy month of Ramadan, we asked FTA Prize 2021’s four finalists in the ready-to-wear category to rethink the traditional abaya in a contemporary manner that reflects their design ethos. Take a look at their creations, and understand the inspiration behind their work.
Iraqi designer Zaid Affas reimagines the abaya as a contemporary fashion statement. “In keeping with my personal aesthetic, I wanted this abaya to be graphic and architecturally modern, yet very practical and timeless with purpose to every aspect of the design. It’s engineered with three prominent zippers that allow the wearer to adjust the sleeve openings and have dramatic side slits if desired, plus the center front zipper as closer/opening. Also it has large front pockets and head covering, so really it’s an abstract hybrid cross between a hooded abaya, trench and a cape or poncho.” When asked if he could dress one fashion icon in his abaya, Affas said: “Definitely my very good friend and client Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz. In fact, she already wants to order one!”
For Maram Aboul Enein, the abaya is a symbolic piece of clothing that reflects cultural traditions. But the Egyptian designer also believes the abaya could become a powerful tool for self-expression. “I wanted to create a piece that reflects the current vision of the brand while honoring that ‘otherworldly’ spirit that has become synonymous with our identity. The inspiration was really this idea that spirituality can be perceived as something liberating and vibrant instead of dogmatic and restrictive. I tried to bring out that feeling through the sketch, while staying true to the essence of the brand through details like the celestial artwork, which we recreate each season.” She would love to see Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz wear her abaya design. “I met her while working on my first Paris Fashion Week internship when I was 19. She immediately struck me with her charisma, style and fearlessness. In that moment she completely challenged my perspective on modest dressing, and this abaya design pushes the same buttons.”
While sketching her abaya, Lebanese designer Cynthia Merhej wanted to create something that reflects the MENA’s region fashion-forward women. “I started doing research on abayas, and I quickly realized that they all looked the same and were quite boring – and to me this doesn’t reflect the super-fashionable women we have in the region. So I decided to do something fabulous that I could imagine them wearing to a great event. I definitely think that there is room for abayas to become fashion statements. It’s a traditional garment, but all garments are in a way, and we wouldn’t have had some amazing fashion moments if designers didn’t try to take those traditions and question their meaning and rework them in a fresh way. That’s how we move things into the future.” The one style icon she would like to see in her abaya is HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. “I have always found her to be one of the chicest women on the planet, so it would be incredible to dress her.”
Lebanese designer Lama Jouni took a look back at her childhood in Saudi Arabia when sketching her abaya. “The vision behind this look is that I believe modesty should not be restricted to an abaya. I grew up in Jeddah, and me and the women around me always preferred to style jackets with pants or skirts to mimic the abaya look, and that’s where my inspiration came from. I always thought that abayas are more of a fashion statement.” And who would she love to dress in her bespoke abaya? “HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.”