“Throughout history, the Middle East has always been the center of the world, and I am honored to be part of this community and to have found a place that I belong to. I’m proud to be an Arab and to celebrate Arab fashion. Winning this prize would allow me to fulfill a long time dream to design a collection in the MENA region, and continue on my ultimate mission of empowering women, using fashion as a means of self expression.”
Those were the words of Mohamed Benchellal when Pulse asked him how he feels and what’s next, right after winning the Fashion Trust Arabia Prize for the Evening Wear Category last week, on the 3rd of November. The Amsterdam-based Moroccan designer is now more than ready to spread his (large) wings all over the fashion planet.
Pulse talks to… Mohamed Benchellal
What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?
I dream of a world where women could wear whatever makes them feel good on whatever occasion. Dress up for your dinner for one.
What creation of yours are you most proud of?
I am always proud of my newest creations, as they encapsulate the spirit of all my previous work and represent my current state of mind.
What was your worst fashion faux-pas in your own work?
I see my pieces as my children. I love them all equally. There are no mistakes in the family!
If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
There is nothing more timeless than the button-up shirt. I could wear one every day, and they are always featured in my collections, constantly reinterpreted and celebrated.
Who do you dream of dressing?
Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. She has been an inspiration to me since the beginning of my fashion career.
When was the last time you pulled an all-nighter?
Some of my favorite moments are the late nights I spend at my atelier, just before completing each collection. This is when the magic happens!
Name five people, dead or alive, that you’d like to invite to a private dinner party at your house.
I would invite 5 inspiring women: my mother, Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Um Kulthum and Amal Clooney. They represent compassion, philanthropy, style, talent and elegance.
What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?
Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with beauty. It is the backbone of my production methods. From the very beginning, I have been using industry leftovers, dead stock and existing materials.
What would the title of your Netflix documentary be?
“More Than Meets the Eye”
Describe the MENA region in 3 words.
Mystery. Hospitality. Elegance.
How is “Young, Arab and Proud” translated in your work?
My latest collection connects with my Moroccan roots, emulating a fresh and contemporary take on many classic garments such as the Kaftan. Through the use of color and volume, my garments strive to empower the women who wear them.
What is the Arab DNA made of?
Arab DNA is a pride in heritage and a layering of beauty as there is always more than meets the eye.
What is the most common misconception about being an Arab?
That women are repressed. In fact, in my experience, women are highly celebrated and are my source of inspiration.
If you could travel in time to meet any Arab icon, who would it be, and why?
Um Kulthum, because her glamour and music inspired generations, and her songs act as a binding force between diverse Arab countries.
Is there anything you would change about designing in the region?
I love to design jackets! A little problem when you design for the MENA region where it is often extremely hot!
How is the gender-neutral trend translated in MENA fashion?
Gender Neutral is not a theme which I focus on per se. My work is about celebrating feminine beauty. Crossovers come naturally, for example when I dressed Billy Porter at the premiere of Cinderella earlier this year.
What is one Arab tradition you would want to change, and what is the one you adore?
Arab hospitality is a tradition I adore; its warmth, generosity and care. On the flip side, there can also be unnecessary waste.
What is the Arab dish you could eat every day?
My favorite dish is always out of my mother’s kitchen. She deserves a Michelin star!
What is your favorite Arabic song, that is often stuck on repeat on your playlist?
While finishing off my latest collection I hadUm Kalthum’s ‘Alf Lila wa Lila’stuck on repeat.
Um Kulthum or Fairuz?
I grew up with the music of Um Kulthum, and I remember her music from my father’s vinyl collection.
What is the one city in the MENA region you could live in forever, and why?
I feel like a modern day nomad, always moving around for inspiration. There is an endless list of places on my bucket list to discover, for example the expansive desert of Algeria.