Alya taps conservative luxury in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Sparkling with Swarovski crystals or cut into well-defined, architectural shapes, the clothes from Beirut’s diverse design scene rarely cater to its more conservative set. This is the niche that Alya, a new concept luxury brand, aims to fill. Its founder, Rula Alami, has launched the brand’s first collection of conservative designer clothing at the Mark Hachem Gallery in Beirut’s Downtown.

“These women search for things to piece together. They suffer to find something, especially for summer or eveningwear,” Alami told The Daily Star.

Alya harnesses Beirut’s wealth of fashion designers, whose usual work features skimpier elements such as short skirts and sheer fabrics, to make clothing fitting with requirements of conservative Islamic dress. By using their characteristic design language, the resulting pieces are meant to be modest versions of their looks.

Take a skirt by Hussein Bazaza, who incorporated colorful lace applique into his ready-to-wear collection “Nothing” for design incubator the Starch Foundation. Where he used that lace overlaid on slim-fitting column dresses cut above the knee in his usual collection, in his work for Alya he incorporated that signature detail at the waist of a floor-length skirt paired with a silky long-sleeved blouse.

In some cases, that reinterpretation of designers’ work produced strikingly contemporary garments. Another piece by Bazaza consisted of a long-sleeve shirtdress with asymmetrical button rows snaking around the sides. Like a men’s button-up turned on its head, the piece is conceptual clothing that still maintains its modesty.

Other pieces incorporated traditional motifs with a modern twist. Decorating a plain, cream-colored hijab, for example, was a typical Palestinian embroidery pattern updated with modern colors: scarlet and sherbet orange. The embroidery was done by Palestinian refugees working with the association INAASH, which provides them with work making traditional crafts.

Alya also commissioned work by fashion and jewelry designer Rayya Morcos, whose flair for volume came through in wide, gaucho-style pants. Her distinct architectural cuts were found on long-sleeve dresses in cobalt and emerald.

Right now, Alami is looking for small ateliers in the country with which she can work on basic in-house designs. At the exhibit, she showcased designs and special crafts, like delicate lace-lined prayer shawls and rows of silk headscarves.

The market worldwide for conservative luxury is rapidly expanding and this has led a number of major international designers to turn to conservative shopping capitals like Dubai or Malaysia for new customers.

Alami carried out a market study as part of a master’s degree in business that showed that Lebanon’s conservative luxury market is quite small. To make up for that, she’s selling her wares online. The site,, launched Friday.

“Our value is to provide them with a total look.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 10, 2014, on page 2.




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