Clothes designers across the Middle East are increasingly using Arabic calligraphy in their designs – which some see as a way to keep their language and culture in fashion.
Arabic letters inscribed on shirts, scarves, handbags, necklaces and bracelets are worn today by many, in a practice linked with preserving local culture.
Nur Amer, a Palestinian residing in Dubai, told Al Arabiya News it is “incredibly important” to wear clothes that “maintain our culture.”
“It’s fun to reinforce our identities in the things we wear,” Amer said. “I do think that this part of our culture, this beautiful artistic art, which was used to design so many things in the past, should [be] modernized and used in the things we wear today.”
The right script
Lebanese designer Rima Karimeh Suruta, owner of the Dubai-based accessories shop “Ash,” sees rising demand for fashion items emblazoned with Arabic script.
“We started seeing that there is an emerging trend with things that have Arabic calligraphy,” she told Al Arabiya News. “Two years ago, it was the Chinese calligraphy. Now it’s the Arabic.”
Suruta said calligraphy attracts Arab and non-Arab shoppers, adding that it is a way to introduce Arabic to foreigners. “Many of our non-Arab customers like to buy accessories with Arabic calligraphy as souvenirs... they also insist on understanding the letters they are wearing.”
Amer, who is also thinking of opening a shop to sell accessories decorated with Arabic calligraphy, said she was encouraged by demand for such items.
“It’s human nature to feel a part of something and we seem to really love sharing this Arab identity of calligraphy,” she said.
“Not only is Arabic calligraphy beautiful, but in a day and age where either you’re dressed in traditional things or modern brands, it’s great to find something in between.”
Known for its beauty and complexity, Arabic remains one of the world’s oldest and most unique languages.
It is spoken by more than 300 million inhabitants in Asia and Africa, covering a region stretching from the Arabian Peninsula to North Africa.
Yet the written and spoken form of Arabic travels beyond the Middle East and North Africa. Arabic letters are also used in languages such as Persian, Urdu and Kurdish.
But as the Arab world opened up to immigration, some say the influence of foreign cultures has had an impact on the Arab identity and language.
This has inspired many to design, sell and purchase fashion products decorated with Arabic script, considering it a tool to preserve the language.
Taking designs incorporating Arabic to a new level, Noon T-Shirt stores located in Dubai and Jeddah have been selling tops that display Arabic letters, words and proverbs, but in a more modern manner.
Ahmad al-Sayed, a shopkeeper of the store’s branch in Dubai, said the creators of Noon T-shirts aimed for designs that reflect Arabic in a new way.
“We want to express our Arabic language to everyone,” al-Sayed told Al Arabiya News.
Highlighting the foreign influence on Arab culture, especially the Western influence, al-Sayed emphasized the need to reflect the uniqueness of the Arab identity.
“We can do too many things similar to Westerners, speak their language, or what they wear, but Arabs have a unique taste and a complex identity that deserves to be reflected,” he explained.
“We want to express ourselves and be proud of who we are.”
Al-Sayed said many non-Arabs love to buy their shirts and are interested to know what the Arabic script means.
The shirts on display at the store grab customers’ attention with designs including words covering the subjects of love, peace, Arabic poetry and proverbs.
Humor also plays a part, with some slogans making puns on popular global brands. One design, for example, played on the “Hello Kitty” brand with the words “Hala Kitty”, using the Arabic word for “hello.”SHOW MORE