BEIRUT: Ethnic beach bohemian. That is how Amal Azhari describes her collections of designer abaya, sheer silk robes that bridge the perceived gap between conservative and contemporary fashion.
Azhari has unveiled her full summer collection, a lineup of loose sheaths covered in graphic art that mix themes from the designer’s many travels. Abstract and literal, her ethnic motifs include geometric tribal swirls, the drawing of a thin African woman wearing thick gold necklaces and an oversized headdress, rich gold embroidery and patterns reminiscent of Japanese shibori.
“Every country that I visit I get an idea,” Azhari told to The Daily Star in an earlier interview about her work. “I mix my ideas and mix them with the cultures that I see and then I choose very strong colors.”
Abayas are traditional women’s robes, typically worn over the clothing and associated with conservative dress because they conceal the shape of the body. Azhari’s concept blends the traditional cut, a large square of fabric often with a trim-lined V-neck, and trendy motifs and colors.
The ethnic patterns used in her new collection contrasted with modern typography, translucent lace trim and blown-up graphics of modern women. These colorful images are drawn in-house by a team of graphic designers and then sent outside Lebanon for production, she said.
She likes to include accessories and unique embellishments in each of her collections, she said. This collection was no exception as she sent her models down the runway in floppy, colorful toques.
In a recent post on her Facebook page, Azhari mused that textiles are evolving, living things, an idea easily visualized as her abaya billowed and fluttered down the runway to their own whims. Referencing that movement, Azhari titled the new collection “wind.”
Contemporary abaya – often referred to as caftan in fashion jargon – are inherently summer frocks. These Middle East-inspired cover-ups have become a global trend at posh beach resorts. In the business for around six years, Azhari has found markets for her quirky creations in Brazil, Miami, Los Angeles, Monaco, Corsica and Saint Tropez.
And her biggest markets are in the Gulf, where women pair the colorful sheer abaya over opaque lining. Ramadan has fallen in the summer over the past five years, making her abaya popular for fancy iftars, she said.
It was her love of the beach, she explained, that led her to design her own abaya.
“They are strong colors for people who love to be on the beach,” she said. “My style is a little bit bohemian. It’s not something that sticks on the body. It’s great on the boat, a beach party, any occasion.”