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Emirati Designer Ahmed Alkhyeli Knows What Women Want

Ahmed AlKhyeli, Khyeli, Vogue Arabia, November 2018

Portrait of Khyeli designer Ahmed Alkhyeli for Vogue Arabia. Courtesy of Khyeli


“It’s so exhausting. I’m dead,” Ahmed Alkhyeli laughs. The 29-year-old budding Emirati fashion designer is in Abu Dhabi completing two weeks of intensive military training. It’s a yearly refresher following the 12-month-long obligatory military service he realized in 2016. His call to duty may have stalled the launch of his label, Khyeli, but he has since traded in his combat boots for the whimsical world of couture. With his home base now in Knightsbridge, London, in a few short years he has opened a showroom in Cavendish Square and a studio north of Nottingham.

Originally printed in the November 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.

“I knew I wanted a central space, near luxury shoppers,” says Alkhyeli of his showroom that serves his largely Gulf-based clientele. “And this space offers the room to really see the clothes. I always imagine women rushing by in their dresses. My clients are constantly on the move.”

Ahmed AlKhyeli, Khyeli, Vogue Arabia, November 2018

Khyeli Spring 2018. Courtesy of Khyeli

Made with taffeta and crisp dupion, Khyeli couture is voluminous and extravagant. “I love a big, massive gown, but I want it to look effortless,” he remarks. “I’m not into much ornamentation.” While the three collections under his belt have featured sculptural forms, he is now discovering softer fabrics that connect him to the romance of the past that women of today will be drawn to – without nostalgia. Women like Nadine Labaki, Angelina Jolie, and Oprah Winfrey.

“These are women who are focused,” he says. “Take Nadine – she is on a whole other level. I have so much respect for her. She does amazing things, but discreetly; she’s not screaming for attention. She gets it because she is phenomenal at what she does.” His clients wear pieces that complement them, he continues. “These women know what good construction is, what good fabric is, and they like to present themselves in the best way possible. They are the ladies I aspire for my couture to serve.”

Ahmed AlKhyeli, Khyeli, Vogue Arabia, November 2018

Portrait of Khyeli designer Ahmed Alkhyeli for Vogue Arabia. Image courtesy of Khyeli

A trained architect, Alkhyeli recalls that as a child he had a natural knack for sketching. “I always used to draw. From coloring books and Disney characters I moved on to sketching things in magazines.” As a student, he would be sent to the supervisor for drawing in class. “He was Lebanese and he would never punish me. Instead, he would tell me about Elie Saab and encourage me to do fashion design. At the time, I thought he was crazy,” he laughs. Finally, one summer, Alkhyeli signed up for a course at the Istituto Marangoni in Paris. “I quickly realized that no other career path would satisfy me,” he recalls, adding, “Without a fashion degree, I couldn’t intern at an established maison, so I decided to launch my own label.”

Ahmed AlKhyeli, Khyeli, Vogue Arabia, November 2018

Khyeli Spring 2019. Courtesy of Khyeli

Alkhyeli is cognizant of the pressures on designers today and notes a shift in storied houses’ collections. He comments that designers are stepping away from extravagance in favor of clothes that are relatable. He expresses admiration for the couture process at Chanel. “Regardless of whether I love the dresses or not, there is so much detail, craftsmanship, and so many interesting materials being used,” he says. As for his professional growth, he notes, “I know that a brand’s biggest asset is image and reputation. That comes first for me. When that is established, I want to expand the company and its lines – branch out to footwear and then ready-to-wear.”

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