Mother and daughter design duo Shaikha Alanoud Alattiya and Shaikha Shaikha Al-Thani are reflecting on their brand’s beginnings. Tiiya was launched in 2015, following the success of their ready-to-wear label Noblesse Oblige, which was founded in 2006 as the first “made in Qatar” brand whose product was something other than oil and gas. “At the time, we were informed by the Ministry of Trade that they only have import licenses and had to produce the export license especially for us,” recalls Alattiya. Today, the Doha-based atelier has six permanent petites mains who craft the garments, creating two collections per year in accordance with the couture fashion calendar.
The labor of love derives from the duo’s shared passion for ethnography and anthropology – the study of cultural attire, motifs, and references that can be found in archival imagery and from nature. “It’s not just designing, it’s the entire process of being inspired together. We spend so much time discussing form, cut, embellishment, and vision for each collection – from the imagining and planning of the gowns to the presentation and right up to the photoshoots,” comments Alattiya. “We are also both the stylists and creative directors of our shoots, while Shaikha takes the photographs.” Their bond thrives outside the atelier, too. Alattiya describes “tafakur,” a discipline of contemplation and seeing magnificence and grandeur through the beauty of creation. “We can lose ourselves for hours watching documentaries on history, culture, and nature; in fact, we plan our vacations around the discovery of these passions,” they comment, adding that they intend to travel to Alaska, Tanzania, Italy, Portugal, and Korea, once global travel restrictions lift.
For the two women, fashion has long been a family affair. Alattiya shares how being born into traditions of cultural etiquette whereby social practices involve receiving guests – “wearing beautifully embellished gowns, first traditional, and then contemporary, as a staple amid women of society” – shaped her mindset. Alattiya’s early childhood recollection starts with her paternal grandmother, Shaikha Fatima bint Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, whose father, HH Sheikh Abdullah, was Qatar’s second Emir. Her grandmother’s trousseau featured a collection of silk thoube nashels of different colors. They were commissioned for her in India in the late Thirties and early Forties. Alattiya now owns the last of the trousseau collection, a purple royal thoube, which is on loan to the National Museum of Qatar. Another woman whose style served as inspiration is Alattiya’s mother, Kuwaiti Sharifa Al Sayer, of who she shares, “She was well-traveled, well-read, and cultured, and was one of the first women in the Gulf to wear Dior when it was sold in the Al Jameel stores – the Harrods of Kuwait – during the Fifties through to the Seventies.”
Alattiya’s parents lived in Iran during the reign of the shah, with her father as one of Qatar’s first ambassadors. “In Iran, my mother had to present herself and the shared culture of my father by wearing our thoube nashels at formal events. By then, this cultural garment had evolved into intricately beaded renditions that were still commissioned in India, which until today remains the heart of haute hand-embroidery. However, to cater to my mother’s discerning tastes, my father arranged two visits to Paris annually so she could attend the couture shows.” Growing up among her mother’s couture collection, including Balenciaga, Givenchy, Torrente, Jacques Fath, and her favorite Dior, Alattiya would often open the clothing linings to discover the secrets of their construction. Her mother nurtured her interest in fashion, suggesting she commission her own designs. “In the late 90s and early 2000s, my aesthetic sensibilities stopped wandering,” she recalls. “I settled on Gianfranco Ferré as my all-time favorite at that time. While living in London, I sent him some of my sketches and he responded by asking me to join his atelier. Sadly, I could not, due to personal reasons.” Her daughter Shaikha was born that year in 2000. “She has since grown to become my protégée and co-designer and often exceeds me with her designer talent and eye for detail, coupled with her wonderful ability to amalgamate my thoughts into something unexpected,” beams Alattiya of her child. “It’s as though I see the fine details and she creates the frame to encapsulate them within.”
The latest collection, photographed exclusively for Vogue Arabia by Al-Thani, features gowns and ensembles resembling Asian-inspired porcelain vases. While comprising few colors – blue, white, red, and gold brocade – it invites the eye to admire the craftsmanship of the silhouettes. These remain lightweight due to the use of silk gazar, Mikado, and vintage Japanese obi textiles. “The motifs created in fine hand-embroidery are inspired by blue and white pottery and the celebration of connecting cultures through the shared legacy on a journey through the Silk Road,” say the designers. “The origin of this decorative style is thought to be Iraq, where artisans in Basra imitated imported white Chinese stoneware with their white pottery and added their own decorative motifs in blue glazes,” says Alattiya. This decorative style evolved into foliage sprawling across the object. Blue and white decoration first became widely used in Chinese porcelain in the 14th century when the cobalt pigment for the blue began to be imported from Persia.
Alattiya graduated with a postgraduate degree in museum studies from University College London and worked at Qatar Museums, and her expertise lies in the study of intangible cultural heritage, which is the predominant form of the region’s cultural history. Al-Thani, currently a student of filmmaking at Northwestern University in Qatar, considers that today, film and media are the language of the masses. “Media is the lingua franca that unites the entire world through ideas, thoughts, and trends. At the risk of autochthonous voices being lost in translation, I think it’s imperative that each culture finds its voice within the language and dialogue of the media.” As luck would have it, couture can do that too.
Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia