We look at Middle Eastern dress with Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel
Time Out Dubai staff
Bohemian Thobe, above
To the untrained eye, regional men’s fashion – the ‘dishdasha’ – is pretty limited. But, as with so many facets of local culture, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover there’s more to traditional menswear than you might expect. First, there’s a common misconception that Middle Eastern men’s traditional attire is dictated by religion. ‘Khanduras or dishdashas are not worn by Arabic men for religious reasons, but simply through tradition,’ explains Moaz Khan of Dubai’s Eton Institute. Second, the term ‘dishdasha’ is a little misleading. According to Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel, dishdasha is the name attributed to the Kuwaiti national dress. ‘These usually have a structured double collar and are similar to Bahraini khanduras [which also have a collar],’ he explains.
The Qatari khandura has collars and cuffs, while the Omani khandura, also called the ‘Arabi khandura’, doesn’t have either, but can be identified by the small tassel falling from the neck and the embroidery on the sleeves and neck. Similarly, the Emirati khandura is also collarless and generally loose-fitting.
But it’s the popularity of the Saudi Arabian thobe, a sleeker, more fitted garment, that has spread across the GCC and become the garment of choice for many discerning local gentlemen in the region. ‘Especially in Saudi, it’s no longer acceptable [in some circles] to have a regular thobe,’ continues Hatem. ‘You need to have a designer thobe with specific colours and fabrics. Darker coloured thobes, such as blue and brown, are generally worn in winter and made from heavier fabrics. The colour [for more fashionable Arab gentlemen] also depends on what collection you’re wearing. For example, I make thobes in black and dark blue.’
Hatem’s label, Toby, is sold in Saks Fifth Avenue in BurJuman and Galeries Lafayette in The Dubai Mall. It offers both traditional and more contemporary lines, with designs varying from opulent emerald high-collared thobes and body-hugging numbers complete with pocket squares, to more innovative half thobe, half trouser suits. Hatem cites ‘music, art, family and architecture’ as his inspirations, but ultimately he believes his innovative take on traditional attire encapsulates the mindset of the modern Middle Eastern gentlemen – pushing boundaries and expressing themselves through what they wear and how they look.