When you hear the word Palestine, a plethora of images appears in your mind’s eye. The territory and her people continue to suffer and endure unspeakable indignities on a daily basis; such scenes leave little room for hope. And yet amid the pain sits a remarkable creative community of designers. They celebrate Palestinian culture as they bring fashion to life; fashion that stands for a spirit of perseverance and determination.
This new wave of creativity is gaining traction on the international stage, with public figures such as US politician Rashida Tlaib wearing a Palestinian gown as she was sworn into Congress, and Queen Rania of Jordan wearing a blue kaftan with Palestinian embroidery from Dar Noora. Oscar-nominated film director Farah Nabulsi and model sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid are also known for wearing Palestinian brands or wrapping a keffiyeh around themselves to underline their cultural background and draw attention to Palestine and her people. The upsurge in the popularity of Palestinian design is often not just about the fashion, it’s grounded in the desire to make a statement. Here, Vogue Arabia speaks to Palestinian designers about their work and the challenges they face.
Living under occupation, Hind Hilal has fought to create her eponymous contemporary ready-to-wear collection. Hilal studied architectural design upon discovering that there were no degrees in fashion offered in Palestine, however, she quickly decided to follow her dreams and create her first lines. Hilal’s pieces speak to strength and femininity and create a balance between structure and fluidity through form, flow, layers, and volume. Each piece is designed and made following eco-friendly practices and ethical approaches. Delays imposed by checkpoints, a lack of resources, and competition with Israeli brands for workers are at the root of countless problems, but Hilal’s brand continues to grow. “To be creative while living under occupation is an everyday challenge. Having so little to create something authentic and loud enough to reach further has become my way of resisting and existing as Palestinian and as a designer, despite all limitations,” says Hilal.
Noora Khalifeh created Dar Noora to combine her passions for contemporary fashion and traditional Palestinian tatreez, a centuries-old form of embroidery. Inspired by Khalifeh’s father’s souvenir shop in the Old City of Al-Quds, Dar Noora is testament to the sights, sounds, and experiences its creator reveled in as a child. Dar Noora is a modern take on classic design and Khalifeh works with local women – “the ones who work across Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, who carry out the needlework, and without whom Dar Noora would be incomplete.” The use of tatreez in her designs hints at further possibilities. “There is a rich opportunity to open and expand a uniquely Palestinian fashion industry,” she says. “It would counter the typically foreign-imposed model of economic development and empowerment with an organic, home-grown alternative, that stands to create jobs in which Palestinians would take great pride.”
The child of Palestinian immigrants to the US, New York-based Suzy Tamimi has long been drawn to Palestinian textiles. “I have always felt a deep connection to my Palestinian roots. Palestine has always lived in my heart, it feels like home,” she says. Her latest collection fuses traditional fabrics and design elements with contemporary concepts to create practical, streamlined athletic gear. Tamimi’s use of tatreez is purposeful. “I choose tatreez as my weapon to bring about awareness and share the beauty of Palestine,” she shares. “Tatreez in itself is proof of our existence, especially the old, tattered pieces that I’ve collected – they serve as Palestinian artifacts. We have been constantly trying to defend our existence and this is a beautiful reminder that we existed – and still do,” she says. She regards each design as a small victory: bringing traditional elements into a contemporary space ensures the continuation of Palestinian heritage and helps to tell the story of Palestine.
Trashy Clothing is a ready-to-wear Palestinian fashion label created by Shukri Lawrence and Omar Braika and was named to symbolize having to start from “ground zero.” Operating out of Palestine and Jordan, the brand works hard to reduce waste, maximize efficiency, and overcome obstacles. “We sample our collections digitally before going into production; we’re able to see the way the garments would move digitally and reduce sampling fabric waste at the same time,” Braika shares. “With all the restrictions around us as Palestinians, we’ve used the internet to our benefit since we launched.” Their pieces speak to both beauty and pain, and symbolize Palestinians’ ability to overcome hardship. With references to workwear, clubwear, sportswear, Arab pop icons, and eveningwear, each collection presents a theme and topic with the spirit of anti-fashion. With its unique blend of political satire, kitsch, culture, and humor, the brand seeks to present an enduring take on Arab and Palestinian identity by playing with the idea of what is considered “cheap” or “trashy” in today’s society.
Originally published in the September 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Sharon Rose, Mauricio Quezada
Hair and makeup: Lara Hodaly, Hany Ardat
Photography assistant: Majdy AB