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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.”