Firas Zedan is a 21 year old, Palestinian designer born and raised in Kuwait. He moved to New York City in 2018 to attend Parsons School of Design. In 2021, Zedan was awarded the CFDA / Coach design scholarship support the final year of his studies and his thesis collection, which helped him to build the foundation for his own independent, eponymous brand, Firas Zedan.

“The brand I am building is under my own name, this is because most of the work is autobiographical in nature, drawing inspiration from the culture I grew up in, my childhood, and personal experiences in navigating through the world,” he explains. His background, research methodology and perspective on fashion sets his work apart. Fashion, to Zedan, is a medium of storytelling, sharing a perspective on the Arab world that is not so constricted by conventional luxury and the beauty that many aspire to achieve within the industry. “I start my concepts with a feeling I want to achieve. I find that there are only a handful of designers, especially in the MENA region, that aspire to that. I am multidisciplinary in nature, working in many mediums to feed into a concept, primarily in painting, film and sculpture,” he adds.

Zedan takes inspiration from beauty growing from pain and destruction, something he labels as “a catharsis of emotion. I think about what emotionally impacts me and try to translate it on the surface of the body,” he explains.

Post-human theory

Immersive, unnerving, and dramatic are the three words Zedan uses to describe his brand. “I think that these three words are quintessential to my brand, I want most people who interact with my work to face a layer of discomfort and be drawn into this satisfying horror,” referencing the juxtaposition of beauty and terror found in his work. Zedan seeks to cultivate a community of consumers that are not afraid to confront the emotion that carries within certain narratives, and that includes those who aspire to make a statement irrespective of the social and environmental implications.

Zedan’s graduate collection, titled Zwara, (‘family gathering’ in Arabic) is the creative building block of the universe he hopes to dive into, his view of a post human Arabia. “I drew a lot of inspiration from cultural roles within the Arab family structure, relics and traditions that I connect with home, and my personal emotions relating to this space. As with a lot of immigrants, for Palestinians, especially at my age, it feels as though home is always in transit, never stationary. The fear of losing this identity that I grew up so close to as I transition into the Western world to pursue my career as a designer becomes more and more dire, so this collection is definitely an homage to this history, showing both the pain and beauty that comes from reminiscing about home, creating a bridge between my younger and current self.”

His work is heavily influenced by Post Human theory and existential dread, where horror and beauty co-exist. “We are at a pivotal point in human history with the human transition into technology, a world on the edge of socio-political and environmental collapse and I aim to convey such emotions through this fictional world I am building.”

Elitism in the MENA region

By drawing inspiration from new technological movements and more abstract philosophies, Zedan engages with fashion in a conceptual way. His collection, titled Transhumanism, debuted in 2020 and references the human transition into technology. “I created six completely digital looks, experimenting with digital mediums such as Clo3D. A piece of software that can also aid the fashion industry in cutting costs and waste in sample making and production, [and that can be] manipulated to create pieces far from reality.”

While there are great young designers emerging from the MENA region, Zedan believes that the era of a contemporary Arab fashion that questions society and that will slowly get away from the materialistic luxury we are taught to crave is still in its infancy. “We are finally given the platforms and space to experiment, provoke and start conversations both in and out of the MENA region and we can all do a better job of bringing up serious conversations that are overlooked through our work. Fashion is a language that can do so,” he argues.

As a Palestinian, he often found himself being overlooked when he tried to work in the Western World, but this happened in the MENA region, too. “There is an issue in the MENA region in regards to class and wealth that we turn a blind eye to, the reality is that the Arab world nurtures the talent that originates from their own wealthy network, overlooking talent at times, with a few token exemptions. We haven’t even identified elitism in the region as an issue,” he explains.

As for the future, this is only the beginning for Zedan. By focusing on storytelling through the medium of fashion, he hopes to find a balance between conceptual and commercial design, to not only grow his business and to work with philanthropic entities to support marginalized communities, but to also instigate conversations about our Arab identity that are uncomfortable and that have been neglected for the longest time.