De.fash.struction: A Show-Stopper in Sharjah, UAE

- By Sophie Arni

De.fash.struction was curated by Khulood Thani, an established Emirati fashion designer, head of eponymous brand Bint Thani and first Emirati to receive her degree from the well-guarded French authority on fashion education, ESMOD Paris. The exhibition was on the level of high contemporary design: intelligent, well-researched, well-crafted garments and accessories all using elements of the UAE's landscape and history for their inspiration.

Contemporary Art in the UAE might be on its rise, but arguably, the design (and especially fashion design) scene seems to be better established.

Contemporary Art in the UAE might be on its rise, but arguably, the design (and especially fashion design) scene seems to be better established. Fashion is part of this country's identity: really rare are the countries today which still hold unto national dress codes. For any formal or public appearance, Emirati men wear Kundoora, floor-lengths full sleeves white tunics and women, Abaya, elegant black gowns with a Sheila to cover their hair. Kundooras might be quite standardized, but the diversity in Abaya designs is exciting. Different materials are used: from silk to wool, from lace to chiffon. Not all abayas are all black. In fact, most have color variations. Grey, beige, dark maroon, even white and navy blue are common fabric colors used nowadays for the 'fashionable abayas'. Trends of Chinoiserie inspiration or Aladdin bagginess have hit the abaya designs.

Designers and artists from the UAE, the greater Gulf, and Eastern Europe were invited to spend a residency in Sharjah to develop their final works. The idea was to deconstruct the original designs of traditional dress or to play with some natural elements of the UAE landscapes (pearls, palm tree leaves) and reconstruct them into a new product. An absolute gem of a piece: the Taba bracelet. Artist Nadine Kanso was inspired by the heritage of pearling in the UAE. Made of gold, Emirati natural pearls and nose clips pearl divers used to wear to go deep into salty seawater, this dainty looking bracelet carries a history of 7000 years of economic activity and hard physical labor.

This red cloth is adorned with Maria Theresa Thaler coin (the most widely used coin of history for trading), used extensively since the 18th century in the Gulf region. Indeed, pre-oil Gulf was already a global hub of commerce: the ones of trading pearls. Rice, silk and other goods were imported into the UAE in exchange for pearls. Here, the artist takes the most common casual piece of clothing for Emirati women before the abaya came into vogue for everyday wear: the jalabiyah. Available in a wide array of colors and materials, this square piece of cloth is then deconstructed from its original function by adding the foreign coin as a symbol of monetary value put on the harsh everyday life of Emirati pearling society.

The Bisht, the classic ceremonial cape is here completely deconstructed from its function and presented as an object of wonder and vision. Its round shape is iconic. This is pure innovation. A wonderful take on design that the artist, Ahmed Alanzi, argues 'releases tensions between his love for western fashion and his pride in Emirati identity' (quote from exhibition brochure).

Fardan recognizes the importance of pearls for the Gulf as an economic and cultural tool that enables migration of families to the coastal lines of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Fatema Fardan, first Emirati to showcase at New York Fashion Week, takes also the inspiration for the long and rich history of pearling in the UAE. As an activity of physical endurance for men and of careful counting and emotional support from women, the art of fishing, refining, packaging and selling pearls was one that the UAE history is based on. Fardan recognizes the importance of pearls for the Gulf as an economic and cultural tool that enables migration of families to the coastal lines of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. She deconstructs garments worn by pearl divers and makes it a layered piece - reconstructed into the shape of the modern-day Kandoora.

Mladenovic (Serbian designer living in Dubai) was inspired by the palm tree as a symbol of wealth and water abundance in the UAE. The designer noted: "in fashion, the focus is mainly on how to put different materials together to create one piece, but this project comes to an interesting challenge as it aims to do the complete opposite and deconstruct (arguably, destroy?) the whole process of clean tailoring.”

All in all, a wonderful show, filled with witty and extraordinary well-crafted pieces. An art-meets-fashion exhibition is always fun. It's even better when it happens in Sharjah, UAE. Fashion was the best medium chosen to celebrate Emirati culture in intelligible ways.

DE.FASH.STRUCTION, OCTOBER 7 - DECEMBER 26, 2015 1971 SPACE, SHARJAH, UAE

All images are taken by Sophie Arni at the exhibition.

Defashstruction, Sharjah, opening night, October 7th, 2015.

#unitedarabemirates #middleeast

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