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How Hatem Alakeel Elevates Traditional Dress Codes

Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel––who has dressed the likes of Christian Louboutin, Barbie (yes, really), and Snoop Dogg––has moved far and fast in the eight years since he launched the Toby by Hatem Alakeel fashion house.

In its 2008 Dubai Fashion Week debut, the brand rocketed onto the fashion radar, and word went beyond the region. Within twelve months, Alakeel opened his first boutique, Louboutin cherry-picked one of his shirts amongst a bevy of leading brands for his portrait photograph, and his premier avant-garde-inspired menswear line was bought in its entirety by Sheikh Majed Al Sabah. That’s quite a year. The designer has carved out a niche aesthetic that seamlessly combines traditional garments with in-built, modern versatility. “Simplicity is the hardest [aspect] to achieve,” says Alakeel, who takes inspiration from Carolina Herrera’s deconstruction of the classic shirt, and Yves Saint Laurent’s interpretations of the suit.

Toby by Hatem Alakeel’s brand DNA is ever present throughout its new womenswear offering, the Fleur de Lis collection. Expect the on-point garment anatomy, intricate embroidery, and elementary sequence of thobes, but in an unexpected color palette––emerald green, jewel-tone purple, and midnight blue hues are not the typical summery, pastel tones Alakeel works with. “It’s a departure for me, but I like to push myself,” Alakeel tells Vogue Arabia. “The high collars are a Western influence within the traditional thobe garment,” he adds. He was schooled in Switzerland, called London home during his youth, and travelled extensively through America whilst always returning to his homeland of Saudi Arabia. “It comes naturally to balance tradition in my designs,” he reflects. “I have an obligation to my culture.” Yes, the designer is westernised in his aesthetic, but, as he emphasizes, “I am in tune with my roots.”

Hatem Alakeel. Courtesy of Toby by Hatem Alakeel

Hatem Alakeel. Courtesy of Toby by Hatem Alakeel

As the Spring 2017 runway collections demonstrate, the tectonic fashion plates are certainly moving. After all, globalization is a two-way street. Major Western fashion houses such as Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, and Alberta Ferretti have dropped hemlines to the floor, favoring longer sleeves. Rather than witnessing a big divide between East and West, Alakeel’s outlook is refreshing. “A designer is a designer,” he says. He reflects that the Middle Eastern fashion scene is “missing emerging designers––authority, individuality, and confidence.” And pointedly, he believes there is a need for “more Elie Saabs” on the global stage, too.

Alakeel’s alchemy of menswear, womenswear, and children’s lines goes full circle for world citizens. For his Fleur de Lis collection, the thobe has been made relevant and can be worn in a sartorial blend of jeans and heels or formal dress codes primed for Riyadh or New York.

The Fleur de Lis collection is available from Toby boutique in Jeddah, HomeGrown in Jeddah, THOUQ boutique in Riyadh, and O Concept in Dubai, or online.

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