The abaya innovators

Nyree Barrett learns about the heritage and future of abayas

Reem and Hind Beljafla
Reem and Hind Beljafla
Lamya Abedin
Lamya Abedin
Das Collection

This on-trend design house is run by sisters Reem and Hind Beljafla.
The designs: ‘We follow trends. You can travel worldwide and think, Wow, I can buy this designer bag because I already have an abaya to match. We design for modern Arab women who want to look stylish, yet still be conservative.’
Their dream client: ‘We’d love to dress Queen Rania of Jordan or Sheikha Mozah of Qatar – they are both modern and conservative yet stylish, and they are involved in charity work. They represent the modern Muslim woman.’
Their innovations: ‘Last season we presented the tuxedo abaya (right) as a concept, but it soon became our most-requested item, so it shows that Arab women are open to change.’
Their abayas aren’t for everyday wear: ‘A lot of people misunderstand what we do. They say, “Oh, it’s a shame, it’s too colourful, too transparent, too tight.” But they need to realise that those pieces are meant for special occasions that are ladies only. We would definitely wear a loose abaya for our daily routine – we would never wear a tight or sheer design to the shopping mall or cinema.’
Cross-cultural appeal: ‘A huge percentage of people buying our abayas are not from the UAE: about 20 per cent of our customers are non-Arabs. They make us proud because they respect what we do.’
A historical fact: ‘You know the cloak with gold trim that men wear – the bisht? This is how the abaya started, during our great-grandmother’s generation. When she was moving from house to house, she would put her husband’s bisht over her ears, neck and body.’
Das Boutique, Villa 16, Umm Al Sheif Road, Jumeirah 3, (800 4327)

The Queen of Spades

Emirati designer Lamya Abedin aims to make the elegant national dress more convenient for modern women.
Making the abaya practical: ‘I’m a mum, a businesswoman and a traveller, and there should be an abaya for every circumstance. I designed a two-piece abaya so you can wear it as a skirt or a top with leggings. I also designed a pantaloon abaya that’s like a jumpsuit – it’s good for camping with the family or walking around Safa Park – and an abaya that’s reversible: there’s a casual abaya on one side and a formal one on the other. I like my pieces to be used for more than one reason.
‘I make one-of-a-kind pieces. Our local community is very small – everyone knows each other – and my clients feel confident when wearing my designs because they know no one else will be wearing them.’
Colours and fabrics: ‘I’ve created a blue and a dark green abaya – no bright colours yet, but I’m trying. We know the abaya as black, but there’s no official statement saying it has to be, so I’ll experiment. Traditionally, silk and wool were used, but I’m trying cotton, knits, jacquard and velvet. For summer I use very light satins and crepes. In summer, black is not a good idea – it can make you feel hotter.’
International interest:
The abaya is known as being very elegant – even John Galliano and Temperley have released abaya collections. I’m also teaming up with French perfumier Christian David to launch an organic perfume here, called Vamp á New York. The perfume has launched in several countries, and in each they’ve teamed up with a designer – in Tokyo, it was Marc Jacobs.’
Queen of Spades and Vamp á New York are available at Galeries Lafayette, The Dubai Mall, (04 339 9933)

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