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Saudi Designer Hatem Alakeel on Dressing the Arab Woman

Hatem Alakeel

Toby Femme Woman Papillon Collection for Fall 2017. Courtesy of Hatem Alakeel

Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel has a unique talent when it comes to creating traditional Middle Eastern garments with a universal appeal and contemporary twist. His expansive list of clientele, which includes Snoop Dog, Sheikh Majed Al Sabah, and Christian Louboutin, is testament to his all-encompassing appeal. Following the fresh launch of the Toby Femme Woman collection, titled ‘Papillon’ for Fall 2017, Alakeel’s speaks to about hope, Arab culture, and a few of his favorite things.

Which aspect of Arab culture are you most proud of?
“We all embrace our cultures and it’s still a way of life. One must not forget that we can still move forward while still holding on to our cultures and traditions. Moving forward is a crucial aspect. I also appreciate our sense of family and nostalgia.”

Can you name an artist or a designer who inspires you, and why?
Zaha Hadid, Zaha Hadid, and Zaha Hadid. She has single handedly changed the perception of Arabs and women before any of us and she was a superb architect whose landmarks will remain for centuries for us to admire. It’s all about leaving a legacy.”

Hatem Alakeel

Toby Femme Woman Papillon Collection for Fall 2017. Courtesy of Hatem Alakeel

Can you name two Arab stars who you would like to dress in the future. 
“Any Arab woman who is proud of her heritage and has her own sense of style to me is a star.”

What kind of music do you listen to when you work?
“Sade, Amy Winhouse, or Coldplay.” (Alakeel’s favorite track features in the Vogue Arabia playlist)

What trend has caught your eye this season?
“I never follow trends unless it’s with fabrics. However, I was extremely impressed with Jacquemus‘s latest collection.”

What is your signature that can be found on each one of your design?
“Architectural design with minimal sleek lines.”

How did butterflies inspire you, and how do they represent the Toby Femme Woman? 
“I’m always fascinated with the metamorphosis of how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. How it has to struggle and go through a dark period and different stages to reach such beauty. The Toby Femme Woman is beautiful but her style and beauty is earned by her individuality like a butterfly.”

Hatem Alakeel

Toby Femme Woman Papillon Collection for Fall 2017. Courtesy of Hatem Alakeel

What is coming up in the future for your brand?
“For Toby Femme to explore additional markets in addition to the Middle East. I hope to continue this amazing journey and to develop and grow more as an artist alongside my brand and achieved more  diversification.”

What is your core goal as a designer?
“I hope that my biggest achievement is to change perception and bring variety to tradition. To show that our culture can hold its own with any international brand on the global fashion or cultural landscape. As designers we are also ambassadors to our cultures. My mission had always been to shed positive light on our heritage.”

The Toby Femme Woman ‘Papillon’ Fall 2017 collection is available at the Toby Boutique in Jeddah, Homegrown in Kuwait, Cities Boutique in the Dubai Mall, the Cities Boutique Galleria Mall in Dubai, and online at

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