“Sustainability is a core value of the Benchellal brand,” starts its founder and designer, Mohamed Benchellal. He considers the challenges sourcing deadstock fabrics – filtering out the damaged parts, determining self-taught techniques of fabric manipulation, and economical cutting, to which patterns produce the least waste – what makes his everyday process so interesting. “This latest collection is no exception,” he continues. SS21 features couture-like separates and dresses that have all been made from leftover or discarded textiles. In fact, instead of creating a physical archival inventory at his Amsterdam atelier, he takes his previous-season garments and deconstructs them, to reassemble them for the new season. Such focus on living in the present is practically unheard of, especially for an industry that proclaims to be forward-facing and yet consistently revisits styles of decades past.
“As a designer, you are always pushing boundaries. In the realm of evening wear, it can be a fine line between the magical and the ridiculous,” tells Benchellal. While focusing on the here and now, he reveals that his guiding light is a return to “timelessness.” Offering women statement garments – a reinterpretation of the kandora mixed with classic button-up shirt elements; voluminous translations of the scent of oud and the bakhoor smoke; lotus and Arabian jasmine-inspired petal-like volumes; or a tuxedo blazer over a floor-length dress in gold hand-painted canvas with wrapped sash around the hips – the Fashion Prize winner makes, for the first time, a direct link with the MENA heritage and his clothes.
The Moroccan designer, who grew up in the Netherlands, always searched for a way to reference his fascination with the region in his fashion. His recent stay in Dubai for the Fashion Prize ceremony offered him the boost to finally create a collection inspired by the landscapes, women, and colors of the region. Nomadic cobalt blue and saffron orange are added to his classic palette of black, white, and red, while his reinterpretation of the kandora, along with his signature volumes and draping, are a further nod to Arab women, whom he hopes will feel as though they are wearing armor in his clothes, giving confidence and a feeling of invincibility.
“Real glamour is about translating the feeling of ultimate freedom into a garment, it’s not about money,” he states. “It’s also about the opportunity to realize my goals by pursuing a career in fashion with the full support of my family along the way.” Even when a curfew was introduced in Amsterdam, he would work alone at his atelier, sleeping alongside his sewing machine until he was permitted to venture outside again. “Especially now, when life has slowed down and seems rather unexciting, it is fashion like this – a hopeful alternative to ordinary life – that can keep us striving towards a better future.”
Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia