The climax of the 2020 Vogue Fashion Prize, powered by NEOM is drawing near – and these 10 Middle Eastern designers are so close they can almost taste it. Having been shortlisted by the Vogue Fashion Prize jury, the designers have been hard at work in their ateliers preparing to present their final entries and await the announcement of the jury’s selection.
The final winner of the Vogue Fashion Prize, powered by NEOM, will receive financial grants, retail opportunities, press coverage, marketing and mentorship – an endowment worth nearly US $500,000. So how have the 10 finalists coped with the prestige and pressure of being shortlisted for this immense award? Speaking from the fashion coalface, they tell all about their creative process and what this prize means to them.
“I’m honored and grateful that the jury has given me this opportunity. Just being able to have the platform to share my story is a win for me. To connect to an audience that I couldn’t reach by myself is a big chance to get to know myself and learn from this experience.
I’m working towards something new and different for me, to challenge myself and get out of the box. What inspires me is the problem-solving goal. The prize isn’t just about creating beauty but also protecting the beauty of our planet and society. It’s been challenging and exciting, and now it’s time to compress my ideas into reality. I want to enjoy this time, let go, and be present.”
“Being part of one of the biggest global fashion prizes in the industry is a great honor and it’s a privilege to be among so many talented finalists. At first I was in disbelief! And for my work to be reviewed by this incredible panel of judges is crazy. I am thrilled to have a light on my work, giving my brand credibility and exposure.
We have a strong focus on sustainability and this year’s Vogue Fashion Prize powered by NEOM totally aligns with our vision. This is an exciting time! For us it’s not just about creating more products to sell. Being a small brand, we don’t follow seasonal cycles; rather, we focus on creativity and creating sustainably.”
Mohamed Benchellal: Benchellal
“After seeing an inspiring interview with Abdulaziz Alsanousi about the 3,500-year-old valley heritage location at NEOM, I decided to pay a visit to the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, to view its archaeological collections. I’m basing my research on artifacts from different civilizations.
I’m always drawn to this world of elegance and beauty and timelessness – throughout life, how the woman is portrayed in an iconic way. I think that women want to be seen in a beautiful and elegant way, and I can give them that.”
“It has been a very tough year on all of us, and on business owners especially. So to have been able to overcome the challenges of 2020 and to be rewarded in this incredibly gratifying way is something that I will never forget.
The concept of sustainability being at the core of the competition has made this challenge extremely exciting – the earth colors, vast spaces, mountainous textures, and minimal details. I hope to translate into my designs the idea that NEOM will amalgamate a futuristic aesthetic with conserving nature. My designs are very much representative of that mixture of concepts. I’m also keeping sustainability and post-pandemic jewelry trends, including futuristic and sophisticated volumes, comfort, and timelessness, at the core of my designs.”
Ibrahim Shebani: Born In Exile
“For me the Vogue Fashion Prize isn’t just a challenge, it’s a learning curve. I’m learning so much about sustainability and ethical fashion through the research we are doing, as well as about the whole project of NEOM. I come from an architectural background, and to see a project like this is inspiring and has given us so many ideas. We are working around the clock and we are really excited.
Being shortlisted was an ignition – all the hard work has paid off and now we have the opportunity to win this. The timing is very tight but we are working hard to win it and we are very excited, humbled and honored to be among the top 10 designers from the MENA region.”
Eric Mathieu Ritter: Emergency Room
“The Vogue Fashion Prize is a key moment for Emergency Room – our work is validated by experts. Somehow just being here and still being active after the year we have had, especially in Beirut, is an achievement. Some designers left, some won’t rebuild their shops, some moved completely online. It’s not just the blast, it’s the whole year. Living through something so massive makes you appreciate every part of life and be present because you’re lucky to be doing what you’re doing.
I was on a video call with my team when I found out we were shortlisted, and I just lost it for a moment! We have developed and built a business that’s really disruptive, but to be recognized as being worthy of being in this competition tells me that we are relevant and we are going in the right direction. It’s comforting to know that.”
Harith Hashim: Harithand
“I’d never participated in any competition before, but my good friend, the designer Nicolas Jebran, called me and said, ‘You need to do this competition and you should win this!’ When I found out I was a finalist, the first thing I did was call him.
Design-wise I’m just following my instincts. If you already know my brand, I want you to be able to recognize it and say, ‘This is Harithand.’ At the same time, I want to show what sustainability means to me. It’s not always about using recycled fabric – it’s also about designing something that is timeless. My main target is creating clothes that a woman will never get bored of. Impeccable tailoring is also a form of sustainability; investing in pieces you will wear forever. Fall in love with them, celebrate in them, and build unforgettable memories in them.”
“I feel ready to take my brand to the next level, and being shortlisted for the Vogue Fashion Prize will only get me closer to my goal, so I was super excited and happy when I found out. I want to submit something that is forward, coherent, and bold.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia and seeing the direction it’s taking towards the future is very inspiring to me. I always saw its beauty and NEOM is shedding more light on it. I feel like it relates to my brand with the steps it’s taking towards sustainability and innovation. As a designer I believe evolution is the way to success. The theme I am following is earthy tones with pastels and bold silhouettes yet still keeping it comfortable.”
Siham & Sarah Albinali: Lurline
“We are greatly inspired by the entire NEOM initiative. It is so progressive yet focuses on preservation at the same time, which is something we appreciate. We particularly took to the wonderful landscapes presented to us in the challenge and that is something we are looking forward to exploring in our designs.
It feels surreal to be part of the Vogue Fashion Prize! We are so thankful and grateful to Vogue Arabia and NEOM for this wonderful opportunity to showcase what Lurline is about. We are trying not to overthink the challenges and just enjoy the entire process. It is truly exciting.”
“This competition is a fresh and exciting experience that came after some rough times. It’s challenging, but it’s taking me back to my university days when we used to work until the early hours on projects and I was squeezing my mind for pure experimental creativity.
The source of inspiration from NEOM is very interesting and innovative, but I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I’ve been looking at the heritage of the Tabuk area of Saudi Arabia, the native people and the way they used to dress, transporting it to a new dimension in the future. I’m trying to keep the Ilyes Ouali woman in mind while still imagining her in a new lifestyle that is more responsible and technological.”