Beirut designers make fashion statement with abayas

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Beirut designers are updating the traditional abaya for a more modern look.

The abaya, a traditional Islamic garment usually worn over clothes, still remains popular among women in Lebanon despite the introduction of Western fashion at the turn of the 20th century.

Artisanat Waked is one design house which continues to specialize in abayas, reported Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star Lebanon reported this week. Unlike the black, head to toe coverings often seen in the Gulf, the Lebanese designs use traditional colorful fabrics and embroidery.

Nadine Waked testifies to the continued popularity of the garment.

“Brides love them ... for the honeymoon. Women like to wear them in the evening when they have guests. Some wear it over a swimsuit for the beach. It’s sheer, so you can also just wear it around the house,” she told the Daily Star.

A growing demand both in Lebanon and in the West, where the garment is usually referred to as a caftan, has pushed local abaya makers to modernize their craft.

Artisanat Waked was started thirty five years ago selling abayas, tablecloths and shawls. Now Nadine and Rola Waked, daughters of the original owner, have rebranded the company with the slogan “Feel history in a trendy way.”

“We as young people want to further the fashion trends, but we cannot forget the importance of this kind of craft,” Waked said.

Their products mix traditional crafts and dress, using motifs and patterns from all corners of the Middle East. They modify some of the styles for the modern customer with shorter skirts and sleeves, modern prints, lighter fabrics and a brighter color palette.

Another designer, Khozama Naamani Dbaybo, also combines traditional and modern motifs. A chartreuse abaya with an open pink floral jacket was inspired by a Turkish TV series dubbed in Arabic, while her best-selling abaya features the hand of Fatima in jeweled studs.

The abaya, better known as the caftan in its Western modifications, has become a staple garment for some Western designers.

A recent design by Oscar de la Renta which cost $1,500 dollars recently sold out on high-end online retailed Net-a-Porter.

This international interest in traditional dress means Artisanat Waked and other abaya designers have been able to break into international markets.

Their designs are sold in Myknonos, Singapore, France and Romania, as well as in other Arab countries like Kuwait.

Nadine Waked sees their designs as a bridge between Western fashion and conservative Islamic dress.

“In Saudi Arabia, they go to many big occasions like the suhoor or the iftar (meals during Ramadan) and sometimes in Dubai they go on their boats or to the beach wearing my caftan with a slip underneath to make it more conservative,” she told the newspaper.

“In Europe or in Brazil, the women wear it to the beach or over their bathing suits with no slip.”

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