When Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel speaks, it’s not uncommon for him to easily maneuver between English, French, and Arabic. Alakeel may be based in Jeddah, but he is curious about the world, cosmopolitan in his ways, and his voice fills with laughter when discussing Arab stereotypes. “To begin with, we’re not all racing down Sloane Street in Lamborghinis,” he says, referring to the fleet of supercars flown to London and shown off by their rich Arab owners following the summer solstice. “And in Saudi, women are not walking around in head-to-toe black, either.” I ask Alakeel if perhaps the notion of what an abaya is, is changing? “Absolutely it is,” he answers. “And by the way, this is not an abaya line,” explains Alakeel, referring to his debut womenswear line, Toby Femme. “This is style,” he states. “These are clothes any woman with style will be drawn to, whether she is in Jeddah, Paris, or London, and is Arab, Swedish, or Italian.”
Indeed, anyone perusing the linen and cotton overlays with clean lines in mustard yellow, powder pink, and eggshell blue will be hard-pressed to pigeonhole the clothes as an ethnic or Islamic dress. Rather, the collection, embellished with striking heron embroideries (Alakeel confesses an unreserved appreciation for Japanese culture—particularly kimono art), embraces a streamlined, clean-cut elegant aesthetic that evokes a chic and timeless way of dressing independent of any religious connotations. Don these clothes and the only statement you’ll make is the one about your chic sense of style.
See the entire Toby Femme debut womenswear collection campaign in the gallery above.