Mariam Al-Sibai is a brand you should add to your watch list. The British-born designer infuses her Syrian heritage into conservative but universally-appealing collections. Al-Sibai has just released her debut collection, titled ‘Timeless’. As a fresh fashion graduate, she wasted no time transitioning from classroom to the cutting world of the fashion industry, immediately launching her label online.
What’s more, the savvy designer knows how to get noticed, even during peak hours of high fashion traffic. Vogue Arabia’s street style photographer, Valentina Frugiuele, captured Riyadh-based model Aliya Bidawara en route to shoot for Al-Sibai’s first capsule collection on the streets of NYC during fashion month wearing the brand’s ‘Dancing in Mustard’ coat. The photograph – a moment of style spontaneity – made its way into the street style portfolio curated by Vogue.me.
Vogue.me talks to Al-Sibai about her breakout brand and the story behind the photo that brought her label into the Vogue spotlight.
Tell us about the story behind Vogue Arabia’s street style photograph of Bidawara wearing the ‘Dancing in Mustard’ coat.
“I met Aliya Bidawara through a mutual friend of ours who studies with her at Columbia Univeristy. Aliya is originally from Burkina Faso but grew up in Riyadh, before moving to study at university in New York. She is not a signed model but I felt, through meeting her, that her look and aura was perfect for the shoot we had planned. When she came in for the fitting on the morning of our shoot, I fell in love with Aliya’s resonant beauty and calm energy. The shoot took place on the busy streets of New York during Fashion Week and, to no surprise, Aliya was turning heads everywhere.”
Would you describe yourself as a modest wear designer?
“Though I personally dress modestly through my choice to wear the hijab, I wouldn’t describe myself as a modest wear designer, as this refers to a particular genre of fashion. My brand appeals to a much wider audience. I’m uncomfortable with a label that boxes me in, I want the freedom to develop clothes that I love and suit my style. It will be modest friendly, but should not be categorized as ‘modest wear.'”
Why did you choose to start you brand with an outerwear collection?
“I purposely launched the brand in Fall 2017 because it’s my favourite seasons to dress for. Coats and jackets have always been an obsession of mine, and they are the items I would invest in most. In designing my first capsule collection, I naturally found myself geared towards crafting outwear through my sketches, ideas, and fabric sourcing, which helped to confirm the decision for our debut. Quality outerwear is classic and long lasting. In winter, I dress simply but always make sure to wear a statement coat.”
What’s missing from the industry at the moment?
“Fashion today is fast-paced and constantly changing. My aim is to be timeless and classic, not trend specific, yet suited for the modern woman. My designs are unique to my personal taste and a reflection of the way I like to dress, which I believe is missing from the fashion scene.”
“Dressing to me is an art, and being a woman who wears a hijab, I am proud to bring something new to the table”
“I like to step out of the box, with oversized fits, exaggerated sleeves, raw edged finishes and the addition of hoods.”
How do you show your Syrian heritage in your designs?
“Being Syrian is huge part of my identity and is without doubt embedded in my work. However, I am also British and believe that both cultures have subtly paved the way I create. Our ‘Ali Baba trousers’ – part of our capsule collection – are directly influenced and inspired by the traditional Shirwal as worn by village farmers in Syria. However, we have refined the trousers to a silhouette that makes it more current. We work to collaborate with artisans around the world to produce limited edition pieces. I am working on our first collaboration with our brand art director, Esme Al-Sibai, as part of our ‘Syrian Heritage Collection’. We are creating a belt bag by working with Syrian craftsmen using the traditional Damascene craft of ancient teak wood and mother of pearl materials that are typically used in furniture.”
How would you define your designs?
“My designs are moved and inspired by the arts and diversity in culture. I want my pieces to be timeless and not limited to a specific trend. They are designed to maintain longevity in the wardrobe, something that fast fashion lacks. I dress in a way to reflect my mood that allows for variation and authenticity. Therefore, my collection has a mix of cosy and chic wear. We focus on craftsmanship, meaning our garments are limited, not mass produced.”
What is the story behind you debut collection?
“My first collection is called ‘Timeless’, which is a theme that I intend to carry throughout my brand. I am fascinated by the notion of time through a range of means; the time spent creating the garments, hand-draping, and sewing each of our pieces juxtaposed with our choice of brand, models who vary in age, conveying the story of ‘time’ as the core of our debut collection.”
Name the brands that inspire you.
“It is difficult to name three when I am inspired by the work of so many designers, as each has certain qualities, styles, and tastes that I admire. But if I had to, I would say Yohji Yamamoto, Rosie Assoulin, and Acne Studios.”
Where do you see your Mariam Al-Sibai label in five years?
“My intention is to retain the concepts and foundations that exist at the core of my brand, maintaining the authenticity and passion that sparked the birth of my designs. I would like to remain limited but present in selected boutiques that resemble our brand aesthetic. I would like to see our collaborations expand further, delving into furniture and ceramics etc, allowing us to dip our toes into all of the things that inspire us.”
Mariam Al Sibai is available via its online store, www.mariamalsibai.com and can be followed on Instagram @mariamalsibai