If summer was an outfit, it would definitely be a kaftan. You can literally adopt this silhouette for everything, from sleeping in to walking down the aisle (Elizabeth Taylor wore a multi-colored kaftan dress the second time she married Richard Burton, and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja slipped into a full embroidered kaftan as her after-reception attire at her wedding).
Kaftan, which means “a covering garment”, has been traced back to the Mesopotamian era and the word itself has Persian roots. It has been a popular garment in this region for centuries. Originally, this unisex robe had a narrow cut, a deep neckline, was floor-length and often worn with sash. The beautiful billowing kaftans, the ones you might have seen on the Netflix show Halston, which celebrated the life of one of America’s most defining designers, are a more modern take on this dress, which is steeped into the cultural heritage of this region. In fact, they derive their inspiration from different silhouettes from this part of the world and there is a strong nod to the Moroccan Djellabas or Levantine Abayas in the Western take on kaftans.
While these boho chic silhouettes went global during the Swinging 60s and the Hippie movement of the 70s, it is well-known that in this region there is nothing more versatile and yearly round suitable than the kaftan. Lebanese designer Sandra Mansour, who believes in replicating winning styles injected with a cool vibe, couldn’t agree more: “The kaftan has transcended its cultural roots to become an essential piece of any wardrobe, especially during the post-COVID-19 period. Prolonged time spent at home due to lockdown prompted an emerging need for comfort among fashion customers. This comfortable look is seamlessly complemented with an air of elevated elegance, making the kaftan a true must-have for modern times.”
Kaftans are deeply-rooted in this region, so no one makes them better than Arab designers. And here is FTA-Pulse’s Top 5 of our favorite kaftans, designed by 5 of these Arab talents.
1/ Sandra Mansour’s Ruched Cuffed Crepe Kaftan with Cut-Outs Around the Hem
If you have to add only one kaftan to your collection this summer, this one has to be it. Effortless and elegant with slits around the hemline, Swarovski buttons on its cuffed sleeves, and a rushed boatneck neckline, Mansour knows how to balance flair with finesse. In ivory, a young new-age bride could wear this on her big day, and so could a grown-up woman for a special night out. The essence of kaftan is versatility and this piece embodies that vibe. “It can be worn for various occasions, depending on how you upscale or downscale it using shoes and accessories. With endless possibilities and variations ranging from seasonal patterns to embroidery, the kaftan does not only serve as an essential Ramadan wardrobe staple, but it also works well for a wide range of events.” This piece from her Libre collection draws from previous collections, explains the designer. “I chose to revisit this timeless piece by drawing inspiration from previous collections and delving deeper into my cultural heritage, both of which helped me blend the naturally elegant aspect of kaftans with the dreamy aesthetic signature of my brand.” By upcycling and repurposing fabrics for this collection, there is an authentic seasonless sensibility to Mansour’s kaftans.
2/ Amal Al Mulla’s Aimee Drape Kaftan in Pink
Bahraini Amal Al Mulla is known for fusing beauty with ease. This slim fit silk kaftan with its draped effect and abstract orange stitch design around the neckline has an almost Grecian feel. Elegant enough for a dinner party, all you would need is a pair of statement earrings and some heeled sandals to complete the look. According to the designer, “this is one of our best sellers. Tailored in a beautiful soft luscious silk blend fabric, it’s definitely a favorite because of its functionality and how easy it is to wear. Yet it has a very elegant modern feminine feel to it.”
3/ Bouguessa’s Tri-Color Kaftan
A more relaxed take on the kaftan hails from Dubai-based Bouguessa which is a modern Arab brand known for its sartorial detailing. Founded by the very stylish French Algerian designer Faiza Bouguessa, this loose color blocked ankle length kaftan is a daytime piece you could live in this summer- whether you are in the city or in a resort. The designer says: “This design was inspired by the artwork I paint in my free time. I tried to translate the contemporary art onto this kaftan and added some minimal details to it.” Its adjustable sleeves and side pockets lend it a feel of laid-back luxury.
4/ SemSem’s Swarovski Crystal Embellished Plisse Satin Maxi Kaftan Dress
SemSem is a fashion label founded by Egyptian Abeer Al Otaiba. As the wife of the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States, she has a “West meets Middle East” approach to design. As the designer says, “this season, I was deeply inspired by the unwavering strength of women. Now more than ever, women are juggling it all: teachers, cooks, caregivers, and more. The shared challenges we faced over the past year reminds me of our resilience, and that we should feel beautiful in all the different hats we wear. I especially love the airy pleated kaftan in saturated navy. It’s soft, comfortable, and effortlessly glamorous.” The midnight blue is a reminder of beautiful summer nights, and the Swarovski buttons look like bright stars sparkling in the night. The use of pleats on this kaftan is “pleasing,” and it also gives it a certain jet set allure. It also fits all body types.
5/ 1309’s Easy Fit Kaftan
A kaftan with a subtle striped design in neutral color is sophisticated yet has a free spirit. The Qatar-based label is all about modern Arab silhouettes. Its founder, Ghada Al Subaey, says: “My biggest inspiration is the 70’s because all the high-end designers would travel to Morocco and Arabia and design beautiful kaftans. It was an outfit worn by all the socialites.” For 1309, kaftans are a permanent part of her collections as they are perfect to wear all year long, as the weather in this region allows it. With her conscious approach to fashion, Al Subaey prefers natural fabrics and colors in keeping with her conscious approach to fashion. This one is perfect for a street style picture. You only need to add some platform sneakers and you would be all set to run around the city in style.