As a multidisciplinary global shaper dedicated to the creativity of cultural diplomacy, I tend to work as a constantly traveling independent think tank, influencing and impacting lives through the arts, design, dialogue, brand-building, and crucial cultural exchange – undeniable key markers for better human understanding. Specifically, I feel it’s imperative to bring attention to the overlooked localities of the world, and their lesser-known potential.
Five years ago, I came across the fascinating works of a Paris-based Sudanese designer called Abdel El Tayeb. Or rather, El Tayeb’s fascinating works came across me. El Tayeb was certainly one of those thrills, and as a fellow human from Sudan, whose East African foundation was nurtured in Europe and glazed by Arabia, our shared appreciation for this identity myriad was eerily similar. Half a decade later, and after introducing the newly graduated El Tayeb to Qatar’s Fashion Trust Arabia (an initiative that provides financial and mentorship support), where he won in the category of debut talent, the rest of the fashion world soon recognized what I saw: A master in the making.
Born in Bordeaux, France to Sudanese parents, El Tayeb first learned about fashion from television. During his childhood holidays, he would take part in arts and crafts classes, which saw his interest in handicrafts, painting, and architecture bloom. A graduate of textile design at Olivier de Serres in Paris and with post-graduate studies in styling and fashion creation from the Ecole Nationale supérieure des arts visuels de la cambre in Brussels, El Tayeb served as an assistant designer at Isabel Marant, Balmain shoes, Cédric Charlier, and the artisanal collection at Maison Margiela. He effected embroidery and lace at the haute couture house Franck Sorbier and studied the development of product at Ann Demeulemeester. Today, it comes as no surprise that Bottega Veneta’s former creative director, Daniel Lee, snapped him up prior to him even completing his studies.
If many are quickly mesmerized by El Tayeb’s talent, for one, his attention to detail is testament to the unique craft applied to every single creation within his label El Tayeb Nation – the basketry, the tailoring, the whimsical storytelling, blaring through every meticulously sourced piece of multitextured fabric. “I grew up with a number of cultural layers,” the designer explains. “These layers are clear in my designs. I also wanted to speak to all of us who carry these layers of coming from more than one world, and create a nation of our own.” He adds, “This graduate collection, which is now officially my debut, is a lot like the national holiday of El Tayeb Nation, or like the arrivals at the opening of the Olympic Games, where we see national teams parading in highly tailored and embroidered uniforms, with a majesty in ceremonial clothing that I find stunning.”
This sense of dignity and majestic allure in presentation is an approach embedded within the Sudanese code of pride. One that El Tayeb has made a distinct effort to translate through means of traditional craftsmanship from his homeland, and his ultimate Sudanese muse: his beloved mother. “I was always obsessed with her style choices and her gold accessories, there was so much color, glow, and vibrancy,” he shares. “There is a boldness to her grace, and, like all Sudanese women, she carries this with both strength and softness. We would walk the streets of Paris when I was a child and my mother would always be the one standing out. Even amid so many people, I only remember seeing her, watching her, in all her colorful glory. She’s my icon.”
Another inspiration is, of course, Sudan’s national dress. “Known as the toub, it is wrapped around the woman’s body in a way that transfixes me; this is the core of my stylistic inspiration,” El Tayeb says. His trompe l’oeil gloves allude to Sudan’s ancient traditions of henna and other sacred bodily markings. “Around the arm of the glove you’ll find my embroidered signature. The El Tayeb national stamp, if you like. Our Sudanese basketry replaces embroidery with gold thread too, and the basket motifs run through my collection with cutting and ornamental play. It’s from the volume of this round basket that I composed my archetypal body. I was also inspired by Alberto Giacometti’s Spoon Woman. The sculptural is therefore present, with a notion of fertility… Of a mother country that transmits its culture to the child.”
El Tayeb (and his nation) has arrived into the colloquial games of international fashion. To parade the lines of multi-identity. To rambunctiously celebrate the complexities of diversity and inclusivity. To combine ancestral heritage with an ever-changing contemporary world, and with a talent that is sure to be remembered. As for his ultimate ambition, the lover of slow fashion wants to give back, contributing to Sudan’s development and economy with a production studio that aims to create jobs for more of the country’s artisans.
Originally published in the January 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Photography: Hassan Hajjaj
Makeup: Emmanuelle Geoffrey for Dior Beauty
Hair: Abed Almostafa at Tony Sawaya Salon
Creative direction: Manuel Arnaut
Production: Ankita Chandra
Production assistant: Naheed Ifteqar
With a special thank you to M7, Qatar