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This FTA Prize Winning Designer’s Wedding Celebrated Sudanese Customs and Traditions

A celebration of age-old traditions, this Sudanese wedding was a dream come true for Eilaf Osman. 

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

As the winner of the 2022 Fashion Trust Arabia Prize in the accessories category, Eilaf Osman loves few things more than her work. Serendipitously, it was an urgent trip for her luxury handbag brand, Eilaf, that brought the Sudan-born designer face-to-face with her future husband: geophysics engineer Saddam Mahamat Moussa Hileo.

“I went to Chad after the current war in Sudan destroyed the supply chain for my brand’s popular DOM Basket Bag,” the creative tells Vogue Arabia in a post-wedding interview. “The bag features a rare basket weaving technique indigenous to the Brno Tribe of Darfur, and unfortunately most of the weavers I worked with were displaced for months. I decided to fly over to help them move across the border, resettle in N’Djamena, and continue basket weaving.”

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

There, during a visit with her mother’s friend, Eilaf found a love like no other. “On my first day visiting them, I saw Saddam for a few seconds as he brought in a cake with a picture of me on it as a welcome gift, but he quickly had to go out after. Over the next few weeks, we would lock eyes in passing, but he was always too busy going out on field work, and I was too busy with my main mission, which was resettling the weavers from Sudan.”

Finally, a common wedding brought the two together. “We ended up laughing the night away at the back of the banquet hall, and he asked me out the next day. A series of cosmic events happened that brought us closer — on our first date, we had to camp outside the gates of my hotel until past midnight, since the President of the country was visiting and no guests were allowed. That night, we talked about everything while sitting under the stars on the banks of the Chari River. We both still feel goosebumps when we think about our meeting… It was not hard to fall in love quickly when we so deeply believed that the universe brought us together.”

The proposal

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Four weeks later, Eilaf and Saddam were ready to take the plunge. “Our love affair moved quickly — we ended up getting engaged one month after meeting!” she recalls. “The night before I was supposed to travel back to the US to present at NYFW, he proposed with a 21 carat gold ring with small semi-circles running across the top of the band. He had it designed with semi-circles similar to the sketches I make of my basket discs. We later added a three carat diamond ring with a delicate band of tiny diamonds around it to complete the wedding ring set!”

The wedding prep

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

For their wedding, Eilaf and Saddam wanted a location where they could bring all their loved ones together to recreate a sense of home. “Since there was an active war happening in Sudan, we knew from the beginning that we would not be able to have the wedding in Sudan, and most of our extended families would not be able to attend,” she explains. So, the couple decided to host their wedding at the One & Only Palm Jumeirah, Dubai — “somewhere we could have an intimate ceremony, blend Sudanese cultures with the setting beautifully, and do an outdoor wedding reminiscent of the vibrant ones we grew up attending in Sudanese villages.” The property’s Andalusian and Arabian architecture lent itself perfectly for the ceremony, and with the efforts of the hotel’s event planning team, Michelin star chef Yanick Allano, and decorating partner My Lovely Wedding, every detail came to life beautifully, from the Sudan-inspired dishes, to the decor featuring a range of red roses, fragrant candles, and hints of gold.

A white wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

The wedding festivities kicked off with a white wedding ceremony, for which the bride wore a romantic lace-detailed Justin Alexander Signature Collection gown, while the groom opted for a classic Tom Ford tuxedo. And then, it was time for the traditional Sudanese ceremony, also known as the Jirtig, to take over.

Inside the Jirtig ceremony

“The Jirtig is an ancient Sudanese and Nubian ritual at the end of the wedding ceremony that is meant to bring good omens and bless the couple with a happy and prosperous married life,” says Eilaf. “We were clothed in red, gold, and white robes to evoke Meriotic coronation robes. Each piece of clothing, and every accessory we were anointed in holds precious Sudanese symbolism.”

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

For the Jirtig, Eilaf wore a vibrant red toub that was custom-made in Saudi Arabia by a Sudanese toub designer. On her head sat a stunning gold headpiece made entirely of 18 carat gold coins, while Saddam wore his white and red surratti with wedding rosary beads called Sibha Yusr, which have been in his family for generations. “When entering the Jirtig ceremony, I was veiled in the Garmasis cloth to protect me from evil spirits.” As the couple sat together on a red velvet seat, the closest women in their families tied beaded bracelets around their wrists before perfuming them with traditional powders and oils and having them take sips of milk from each other’s glasses.

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

While the Jirtig ceremony itself held several layers of meaning, it was a secret pre-ceremony event that Eilaf holds closest to her heart. While changing into her toub, the bride gifted each of her closest friends a custom hand-embroidered brooch depicting a mountain landscape, made by FTA winner Fatma Mostafa. “I shared a speech about each and every one of them, and how they helped me get over the mountains in my life to get to this special day.”

The celebrity performance

What’s a wedding without music? To light up their first few moments as newlyweds, Eilaf and Saddam roped in none other than Sudanese Afrobeat musician Eman El Shareef, an artist whose work evokes many special memories for the bride. “Having Eman at the wedding was like having a slice of Sudan at the wedding, and brought back so many nostalgic memories of summers in Sudan during this difficult time away from our country. She brought so much amazing energy to the wedding party and Sudanese Jirtig ceremony! Over the past few years, I’ve found myself blasting her songs on road trips with my little sister, while doing makeup with my cousins in Sudan during electricity outages, and most fondly, while dancing with my husband’s sisters during my time in N’Djamena.”

The most special moments

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Looking back, weddings can seem like a busy blur for many, but Eilaf Osman has her key memories at the tips of her fingers. “My favorite part of my wedding day was rushing from cutting the cake to running to the changing room with my groom and my best friends to change into the Jirtig outfits. It felt like the perfect little breather in between to laugh and celebrate before the big Jirtig ceremony. Also, the last moment as we left the ceremony, the wedding guests surprised us by lighting up sparklers for our farewell walk down the aisle.”

Now, as the couple unwind in Dubai, they share some of their favorite pictures from an unforgettable celebration of their love. Start scrolling.

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

Sudanese wedding

Photo: Anastasia Panjinskaya

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