A glimpse at the explosion of color and graphics in the gallery above and one can see that Bahraini fashion designer Lulwa Al Amin is an artist unto herself. We caught up with Al Amin during Paris Fashion Week, where she showed her Fall 2014 collection at Le Meurice hotel. In a conversation with Style.com/Arabia, she divulges her strength in textiles, her detailed process, and the importance of learning how to listen.
ON PAVING HER ROAD TO CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS
Growing up in Bahrain, I started to notice fashion at a very young age while at school. I loved art classes; it felt very natural for me to pick up a paintbrush or do crafts. When I was about 9 years old, I saw a stack of my mom’s Vogue magazines and started sketching. From that point on, I knew that I wanted to be in fashion. At school, I was the only girl in class who would collect Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar; actually, I still have the collection to this day. From those magazines, I learned that the best designers graduated from Central Saint Martins. When the time came, I applied to the school and was accepted, and in 2004, I moved to London.
ON THE ALLURE OF THE DETAILS
I come from a very artistic family: both my mom and sister are interior designers, my aunt is an artist, and my uncle is a poet. My mother taught me a lot of inside information on how things are made. Mom used to sew her own clothes and she would take me to the old souk in Bahrain where we have a large fabric market. She introduced me to the best tailor she knew and the markets where they sold beautiful fabrics from France and Switzerland. She introduced me to the process of making clothes.
When I was 13, I started going to the market to get my own fabrics and sew my own clothes. I’m not a good sewer but as I love doing things by hand, I learned embroidery. I took up a course at a local crafts center in Bahrain and I learned the nakada embroidery technique—an old technique whereby gold wires are used. This is a lost technique and only a few people in Bahrain know how to do it. One day, my aunt showed me a box with some fabrics that my great-grandmother used to make and I saw that she also did these embroideries! This technique was inherited from India when there used to be trade with Bahrain. It is only used for special garments, like wedding veils.
ON HER PROCESS
I was really strong in textiles and I ended up doing my whole university course on textiles for fashion. Basically, this involves creating prints and knits and embroideries and the process of learning how to embellish a dress or a garment. This led to what I do today.
When you see a dress with an image, you may think it is simply imprinted, but for me to get that image—well, there is a whole process involved. I spend a month in the studio painting, like an artist; then, I become a graphic designer; then, I do my silhouettes; and finally, I combine it all. I test it and make sure I find the perfect positioning for the drawing on a dress. It takes me six months to produce a sample collection. This month, I am in the process of doing the artwork for Spring/Summer ‘15 and I think I need roughly three more weeks to do my paintings and then they will be digitalized.
ON THE INFLUENCES BEHIND HER FALL 2014 COLLECTION
Growing up in the 80s, we would watch The Bold and the Beautiful, Miami Vice…and these are TV shows that influenced this collection. Those, and the Memphis Milano movement from the 80s and post-modernist design. I always like a bit of nostalgia in my work and I wouldn’t be able to create my collections without looking at cultural references from the past.
ON LEARNING THE BUSINESS OF FASHION
I am a very creative person and I’ve never had any interest in business. In college, I was not taught the business side of fashion and after graduating, I went on to make a lot of mistakes. I spent money on things I shouldn’t have. But in the past four years, little by little, I taught myself, and now I know that even if you have a good product, it ultimately means nothing without good PR and good sales.
ON LEARNING HOW TO LISTEN
Don’t start this business unless you want it badly; but if it is something that you have always wanted, then do it. Once you are in fashion, my best advice is to listen. Listen to customers, buyers, and press; and above all, don’t take things personally. I’ve developed my line in part due to the advice I’ve received. I’ve also learned to take critical comments positively. Keep your personal touch, but also keep an open mind. Learn to let other people in.
As told to Caterina Minthe