Entrepreneur extraordinaire Maha Abdul Rasheed talks to Style.com/Arabia about running two unique concept stores, Zoo and Bambah, her Egyptian style icons, and her path to launching her debut collection.
THE EARLY YEARS: EGYPTIAN STYLE ICONS WHO FORMED HER TASTE FOR ‘50s FASHION
As a child growing up in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and then Dubai, where I have lived for the past 18 years, fashion was always a hobby. I would never leave the house without having my hair done or wearing matching clothes. One of my favorite pastimes was looking at old Egyptian movies for the style of Soad Hosny, Mariam Fakhr Eddine, and Sabah (when she was younger). Early on, I became especially fond of ‘50s styles, which represent an era of elegance that we don’t see nowadays. In the ‘50s, women paid attention to details, like pearls, gloves, shoes, and hats, while the clothes, including nipped waists and circle skirts, really flattered women’s figures.
ON LAUNCHING HER CONCEPT STORES, BAMBAH AND ZOO
I’ve always had an intense love for vintage. I’m a collector and whenever I travel abroad, I always pick up a few trinkets here and there. Even if it doesn’t fit, if it looks good, it has to be a part of my collection. Around three years ago, I launched Bambah (along with my brother Hussein) in a villa on Jumeirah Beach Road, which we completely transformed into a boutique that features 1930s-80s fashions from brands like Nina Ricci, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Lanvin. It’s been open for three and a half years now and it’s won numerous awards, and I was also awarded the Emirates Woman of the Year Award (2011).
Meanwhile, Zoo is a “menagerie of eccentricity” with funky home decoration, quirky gifts, art, books, and tech toys. Both stores aim to increase the boutique scene in Dubai.
ON HER DEBUT CLOTHING LABEL, BAMBAH
I got inspired to start my own collection after working so closely with vintage clients. The Middle East feels tiny: you go to a party and you can see three other people wearing the same outfit. That’s why my vintage clothes have been so successful—they’re one of a kind. I wanted to have the same principle applied to my own line. When I was initially planning the strategy, I decided to only produce six to eight pieces of each of the 35 designs in various sizes.
ON FINDING THE RIGHT DESIGN FORMULA
The whole process took me around 11 months and there was a lot of trial and error because it was my first collection. I’m very keen on quality fabrics and good tailoring so I traveled to Spain, Egypt, and India to source the materials and ended up choosing silk organza, which is very lightweight and flowy. I then decided on a custom-made print because silk organza generally only comes in white, off-white, and black.
I’m also really fascinated by the orchid flower—it’s so elegant and it just puts me in a good mood. I hand-painted an orchid and then had one of my friends, who is a designer, integrate it into a print. I then found a factory in India where I could custom make my own fabric.
All the pieces of this collection are handmade in my studio and my favorite pieces include the orchid princess gown (36 hours to make and almost 40 yards of fabric), the black bow tube, the black and white big polka dot top (because I have a never ending love for polka dots), the lace peplum dress, and the cherries pouch bag.
ON THE MEANING OF BAMBAH
“Bambah” stands for pink. It was a term used in the 1940s in Egyptian dramas and was first sung in a song by Soad Hosny, “Life is Very Bambah,” meaning “life is joyful.”
As told to Caterina Minthe