Doha Designers

Delicate embroideries, richly crafted fabrics and timeless yet contemporary designs are all elements of a fabulous up and coming Doha label, Duo. With designs that are both simple and cosmopolitan, two Qatari cousins are propelling their haute couture line into the international fashion world.

A close look at the detailing in Duo’s first couture gown, completed nearly one year ago (from Duo’s Instagram @duoqtr)

A close look at the detailing in Duo’s first couture gown, completed nearly one year ago (from Duo’s Instagram @duoqtr)

By founding their own luxury brand, Fatma Al-Misned, 23, and Amna Al-Misned, 21, manage to showcase their custom-made classic designs with a modern and laidback twist. They are definitely not alone in jumping into the big, competitive and crowded world of fashion; many young Qatari women are taking their chances and following their sartorial flair. Inspired by their own Gulf Arab culture, as well as by Western designs, these women are creating a unique hybrid style in the hopes of leaving their mark on the daring and gutsy realm of fashion that, they hope, moves beyond the Gulf region.

Fatma is a journalism graduate with skills in public relations from Northwestern University in Qatar, and Amna is a fashion design student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, as well as the designer of her very own abaya line, Terzi. The duo found in each other a common ambition to start a fashion line that taps into the skills they each gained while studying at university.

An abaya from Terzi’s 2013 Eid collection (photographed by Abeer Sama)

An abaya from Terzi’s 2013 Eid collection (photographed by Abeer Sama)

“We usually ask one another for advice on what to wear, and we realized that we complete each other’s style,” said Amna. “So rather than start separate brands as we originally planned, we decided to work together.”

It has been two years since the partners showcased their stunning designs in their first fashion show at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Student Center in Doha’s Education City, where their closest friends, family members and fans came to show their support. Duo’s sponsors –– 51 East, The Planner and the Vanity Room, which is co-owned by Fatma and Amna’s relative –– also came on the scene. The models made their way down the runway to a lively crowd, which included fashion bloggers who flew in from all over the Gulf just to get a close look at their original style.

These young designers are not the only relatives with a shared passion for fashion. The Kayys is a five-year-old brand created by three Qatari sisters, Hend, Ghada and Maha al-Subaey. The brand was recently given the Arab Woman Award 2013 for the “Young Designer” category. Inspired by “Baba Kayy,” their nickname for their father, Middle East meets West in the brand’s two annual limited edition collections: Haute Couture and Ramadan.

“Citrine Blossom” from The Kayy’s 2013 Ramadan collection (from The Kayy’s Instagram @thekayys)

“Citrine Blossom” from The Kayy’s 2013 Ramadan collection (from The Kayy’s Instagram @thekayys)

“In our Ramadan collection, we focus most on traditional clothing,” Ghada said. “So we use a lot of kaftans, bright colors and intricate floral and Islamic patterns. Our haute couture collection, on the other hand, features more contemporary wear. Our customers are primarily Qatari at this time, so in the future, we want to reach more demographics by creating more modern and cross-seasonal clothing.”

A piece from The Kayy’s couture collection (from The Kayy’s instagram @thekayys)

A piece from The Kayy’s couture collection (from The Kayy’s instagram @thekayys)

Most of these designers’ customers are either from Qatar or other Gulf countries, who commonly wear abayas in public. This creates a culture of private fashion where women wear the latest trends in an exclusively female environment, while their dress remains conservative in public.

A piece from Duo’s fashion show in 2011 (photographed by AlReem Kafoud)

A piece from Duo’s fashion show in 2011 (photographed by AlReem Kafoud)

“The more revealing clothing in our line is not a problem for our customers, because they just wear it to private celebrations, like weddings and engagements,” said Amna. “Sometimes they will wear it under their abaya, just for their selves.”

Arab designers commonly use kaftans, as the billowing light fabric is famously used in Ramadan jalabiyas. Since Qatari female designers often face the challenge of trying to stay true to their roots while also appealing to a wide audience, kaftans are a reliable motif in their designs.

The Nine Collection, founded by Qatari friends Saida Alkhulaifi and Anfal Alkandari, may seem conventional at first glance, but definitely does not shy away from integrating new and bold styles. Traditional Arabic kaftans and textiles are completely reinvented in their conservative yet fresh Ramadan looks, which is what makes this brand such a breath of fresh air.

Their business model does not include a walk-in boutique. Instead, their patrons call, email, Whatsapp, Instagram or even Kik to make an appointment or purchase. The designers of Duo and The Kayys also take to their mobile phones to sell their designs, as they are both new brands and paying rent for a boutique would severely cut into their profit.

A kaftan piece from The Nine Collection’s 2013 Ramadan line which uses traditional vibrant colors and the geometric Islamic pattern, but with a modern shape and styling (from the Nine Collection’s Instagram @nine_collection)

A kaftan piece from The Nine Collection’s 2013 Ramadan line which uses traditional vibrant colors and the geometric Islamic pattern, but with a modern shape and styling (from the Nine Collection’s Instagram @nine_collection)

When Saida started the brand in 2011, it was called Vintage Kaftan and featured only one Ramadan collection per year. But all this changed recently when they decided to revamp their brand by producing seasonal lines and casual wear, and changing their name to “The Nine Collection.”

“We are currently working on a t-shirt collection, which is very different from what’s typically available in the regional market,” said Anfal. “Because our vision states that we will stay true to our heritage, the t-shirts incorporate Arabic comics and calligraphy.”

A Vimto-themed tee from the 2013 Ramadan collection (from the Nine Collection’s Instagram @nine_collection)

A Vimto-themed tee from the 2013 Ramadan collection (from the Nine Collection’s Instagram @nine_collection)

Even though females make up 35 percent of the economy in Qatar, according to the Qatar International Business Women Association, these women are trying to make the most out of what they have now and are optimistic about the future.

“I definitely believe that women will become fully accepted and merged into Qatar’s economy,” said Anfal. “Women are becoming very independent and creative in this country. For example, we just produced our first original textile with our own design printed on it, and it is just the first of many.”

Bloggers and designers who have visited Qatar for boutique openings and fashion shows have often shared the same opinion as Anfal about women in the region, and leave with a changed perspective on the fashion scene.

Ascia Al-Faraj, a popular Kuwaiti-American fashion blogger and turban designer, came to Doha in November for a new branch opening called Impression Boutique. “I had a lovely time meeting the ladies of Qatar,” said Al-Faraj on her Instagram account. “They have such great souls and the skills to match.”

Ascia Al-Faraj at Impression Boutique’s second branch opening (from Ascia’s Instagram @ascia_akf)

Ascia Al-Faraj at Impression Boutique’s second branch opening (from Ascia’s Instagram @ascia_akf)

Even though many of these women are starting small, they have faith that their big dreams could one day become a reality.

“We are a new brand, but we have high hopes for ourselves and for other Qatari female designers,” said Fatma. “We can’t wait to show everyone what we have in store.”

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Bossypants by Tina Fey: Book Review

Almost every actor and actress has that defining role in their career with which they are forever associated. Elijah Wood as Frodo, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, and, of course, Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen. For Tina Fey, it was her Sarah Palin impersonation on Saturday Night Live, where she nailed her folksy Minnesota accent and God-given talent to talk about everything but the topic.

To most viewers, that’s all the sketch was: a funny imitation of a politician, not unlike anything else out there on the Internet. But, according to Fey, the sketch was actually about Sarah Palin’s and Hillary Clinton’s joint efforts to speak out against sexism in politics. “You all watched a sketch about feminism and you didn’t even know it because of all the jokes,” Fey writes. “It’s like when Jessica Seinfeld puts spinach in kids’ brownies. Suckers!”

This can be said about the nature of her book, Bossypants, where Fey talks about an array of matters such as women’s body images, parenting and gender discrimination, all while keeping it light, conversational and sarcastic. And if the jokes aren’t enough to keep the reader interested in such heavy topics, the text is full of visual breaks like photographs from her past, hand-drawn charts, edited script from her hit television show, 30 Rock, and a mother’s prayer for her daughter written in the style of the Bible. “When she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends. For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.”

One of the book’s funniest chapters, “Dear Internet,” consists of five hateful comments written about the comedian on gossip blogs and discussion forums, which she takes the time to personally address. One comment, for example, accuses Tina Fey of being celebrated merely because she’s a female comedian, to which Fey sarcastically writes, “Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long. Just last night there was a story on my local news about a ‘missing girl,’ and they must have dedicated seven or eight minutes to ‘where she was last seen’ and ‘how she might have been abducted by a family friend,’ and I thought, ‘What is this, the News for Chicks?’”

Female comedians tend to face a lot of criticism, as comedy is still a male-dominated field and women are often stereotyped to be less funny than men or not funny at all. Fey addresses this by giving an example of a past incident when Amy Poehler made vulgar jokes in the SNL writers’ room and Jimmy Fallon told her to stop because he did not like it. She went on to the topic of sexism in comedy and stated that women like her could not care less whether some people do not like their comedy. “It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good,” she writes. “I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”

In this day and age, it is difficult to write books that keep people absorbed. Attention spans are getting shorter as people become accustomed to 140-character tweets and six-second Vines, and it seems like Fey knows this and does her best to cater to her modern audience. But the style becomes repetitive at some points in the book, where almost every other paragraph is an anecdote from her past that ends in a one-liner. While she succeeds in keeping the mood light, a variation in her style of comedy would have been better.

Overall, Fey succeeds in clearly communicating her main message: she is the “Bossypants” from the title. She is intelligent and funny, not afraid to acknowledge her flaws and make fun of herself for them, and most importantly, she worked hard to become the person she is today. From Sarah Palin and Liz Lemon to being a mother, she is the woman in charge.

The QELA Experience

Crocodile skin jacket by QELA

Crocodile skin, classic cut, classy look; but it’s going to cost you. This expertly tailored genuine leather jacket is 420,000 QR and can be found at QELA, Qatar Luxury Group’s first homegrown high fashion brand, which launched its first boutique in the Pearl in October.

This pricey new company has ambitious plans to expand to international fashion hot spots like Paris and New York, and possibly even Milan, Los Angeles, London, Singapore and Hong Kong. No small feat. But QELA has the daunting challenge of competing with established name brands that have been favorites for decades. And so the question comes up: why would patrons of high fashion splurge on a QELA product, yet unknown, when they could spend the same amount or less on a famous brand that immediately communicates a certain status. After all, most of QELA’s products are crafted in Doha with the exception of their shoes, which are made in Italy. This starkly contrasts with most other high quality fashion products, most of which are touted for their fine Italian craftsmanship.

The average QELA bag costs about 8,400 QR, according to Caroline Guillone, the marketing manager of Qatar Luxury Group. That’s more expensive than some bags from established stores in the Pearl like Chloé, Mulberry and L.K. Bennett.

“We are still a new boutique, so we are not trying to compete with major brands in terms of sales or profits yet,” said Guillone. “We are currently trying to create products that are well-made and stylish yet discreet, much like Hermès.”

Many are skeptical of whether QELA will ever actually reach the status of the big brands they set out to match.

“We’ll see how [QELA] positions themselves, but they do not have the aura of an Hermès or a Louis Vuitton,” according to a Huffington Post article from 2012. “There is a probationary period in which a brand transitions from new to trendy to luxury.”

QELA does not consider its Doha-made products a disadvantage; rather they pride themselves on it, as it makes their designs stand out. The subtle Arabic touches add a soft and authentic quality because they are created right here at home. In fact, the brand name is inspired by the phrase al ‘ain al kaheela, or “the eye lined with Arabian kohl,” which rings true to the company’s Arabic roots.

There are two main Arabic motifs of the brand. First, there is the mashrabiya pattern, which can be seen in some of their designs as well as the interior of the store. The pattern is most known for its presence in Islamic architecture. The second motif is modesty, as the clothing is conservative and not as revealing as some international high fashion lines.

Leather bag behind a mashrabiya at the QELA boutique

Leather bag behind a mashrabiya at the QELA boutique

These motifs were developed throughout a long and difficult branding process, which was so detailed that it even came down to choosing a scent for the interior of the store to represent the brand’s key messages, according to Zeena Kanaan, a senior consultant at Forbes Associates, who worked exclusively with QELA throughout the public relations and branding process. “QELA-scented candles” were also given out at the boutique launch, added Kanaan.

“We really had to get to the core of what we wanted the brand to be known for,” said Kanaan. “The main message is that QELA is made for the sophisticated individual, one who is cultured and independent, one who is known for their remarkable taste in fashion and art.”

It seems that the brand has succeeded in communicating its subdued minimalist style, according to some of the boutique’s visitors.

“The brand’s image is very clear,” said Aisha Al-Mesned, co-owner of The Vanity Room in the Pearl. “I recently went to QELA’s boutique and it was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had before. The clothes are classy and modern, with an Arabesque twist.”

QELA's fireplace

QELA’s fireplace

Fine jewelry

Pink gold with amethyst, citrine, smoky quartz and brown diamonds

When a customer climbs the spiral staircase, past the fireplace and fine gold jewelry is a couture room where QELA allows its customers to search through a small cabinet and dresser full of fabrics, leather samples, color choices and metals, so that people can customize their very own bags and designs, according to Al-Mesned. Although she did not end up buying anything from QELA because of the steep prices, she noted that their products are high quality and require a person with “a certain kind of elegance and deep knowledge of fashion to understand why they cost so much.”

Fabric samples

Fabric samples

Leathers and metals

Leathers and metals

If a customer wants to see how a dress looks, the store has a model who can try on outfits in the fitting room, according to Karine Wehbe, the senior brand ambassador at QELA.

This painting of a unique shopping experience helps to understand why the brand is so expensive even though it is not yet well established. People hand-pick a durable product and pay top dollar for it because it is meant to last long enough to pass down to their children and grandchildren, so it is seen as an investment in family tradition, which is something that Qatar is constantly trying to preserve.

It is not necessarily a bad thing to charge so much, said Al-Mesned, because it sets the standard and reputation of the brand, which is more important in the beginning stages than making money. It lets people know that this is a serious couture brand with big goals.

According to Guillone, QELA is doing well financially considering that they just opened two months ago and that they only have one boutique for the time being. They are still in the starting stages, so they are not really expected to be making profits yet like their more established neighbors in the Pearl.

Wehbe added that QELA did not make any sales in their first two opening days. “Our first sale was on the third day, and we have gradually been making sales since.”

Those who do end up buying something from QELA seem to be confident that they are walking away with a quality product.

“I decided to buy a mini leather cardholder for 1,580 QR when the boutique first launched and I’m so happy with it,” said Fahad Al-Hedfa, a Qatari communication executive at MMG Publicis Qatar, as well as a huge fan of QELA. “The more I use it, the more I see its beauty.”

But, of course, beauty is subjective, especially in the competitive fashion world.

Even though Al-Mesned enjoyed the QELA experience, she was not impressed with the bags and shoes, which she felt were not nearly as impressive as the clothing. “The couture line was so special, but the bags and shoes didn’t have that same unique Arabic feel that I loved in the clothing. It was too classic and typical for me.”

Calfskin sandals with silver-plated asymmetrical rings

Calfskin sandals with silver-plated asymmetrical rings

Leather goods are actually QELA’s specialty, and their primary aim is not to create trendy bags. The focus is on quality and timelessness, and on creating a product that, again, can be passed through generations, said Kanaan.

So where will QELA be by the time the next generation comes along? This seems to be the question on people’s minds, especially those who want to see where the young brand will go.

“As a public relations professional as well as someone who is familiar with QELA, I think they have already left a footprint in Qatar,” said Kanaan. “For it to build a reputation and grow will take a bit more time.”

In Al-Mesned’s experience, brands like QELA tend to succeed in reverse. “What I mean by this is that they first become known internationally and then locally. This is mainly because only about 10 percent of the population in Qatar can afford to spend like this, and not everyone from this percentage will be convinced that it is nice or worth it,” Al-Mesned explains. “This is why it has to gain popularity internationally, so people at home will see its value.”

QELA hopes to wow everyone by making history, said Guillone. “We aim to become a trusted and popular brand, both in Qatar and beyond.”