It gives us great pleasure to introduce our guest writer, Alex Aubry, who interviews Bahrain's young fashion designer, Lulwa Al Amin, for Overdressed's Talents of Arabia segment.
Aubry is a Chicago-based writer, educator, curator and fashion/cultural historian. Aubry's work has appeared in various publications including Unfair Magazine, Muraqqa, BROWNBOOK, Aramco World and Dia Magazine. He has also been the Editor at Large for Dia, a London-based publication geared towards the Middle East and its Diaspora. He is currently the online-editor for the D'NA website.
Alex Aubry: Who inspired you early on?
Lulwa Al Amin: My mother has exquisite taste and she nurtured my early curiosity for fashion, while introducing me to the design process. Once, for my aunt’s wedding, she designed matching dresses for my cousin and I. They had a black bodice paired with a beautiful checkered black and white skirt. She even created a sequined hair band to go with it. I became fascinated by the whole process, as I watched her select fabrics and explain her design to the tailor.
Every time there was a wedding, I would look through my mom’s fashion magazines and sketch out a dress for myself. She would then take me to the souk to find the best fabrics. From that moment, I wanted to become a fashion designer.
AA: Why did you choose to study textile design at London’s Central St. Martins?
LA: I grew up reading Vogue and Harpers & Queen, and most of the designers I admired in their pages were graduates of Central St. Martins. I knew instinctively I had to go there, and I was determined to get in. I began early by taking summer courses at the University of the Arts to develop my skills, and when the time came to apply to college Central St. Martins was my one and only choice.
I have so many fond memories of my five years there, especially the long hours I spent looking through books and vintage Vogues at St. Martin’s library on Charing Cross Road. I'm also grateful that I got to study at the historic Southampton row building while undertaking my BA course, which is no longer home to the College.
I had initially decided to concentrate on womenswear, but my professors noticed my strength in textile design and encouraged me to pursue it together with my other design courses. Today I’m happy I took that path, because I now begin each of my collections by designing the textiles which have become a part of my signature.
Lulwa's office (L) and making her own patterns with oil paint (R)
AA: Did you learn any important lessons while working at Matthew Williamson?
LA: I learnt a tremendous amount during the short period I interned at the label in the summer of 2008. It was my first experience working in a fashion house, and I learnt how a label is managed from the design to the sample making and PR. You learn that time is everything in the fashion industry, or opportunities will pass you by. I’ve carried those lessons I’ve learnt at Matthew Williamson with me to my own business today.
AA: Why did you decide to set up your label in London?
LA: After studying in London for five years, I wasn’t ready to come back to Bahrain, so I spent a year working as a freelance designer. During that time I interned with Emilia Wickstead and at Browns. Those experiences gave me the confidence to launch my own label. The London fashion industry is highly competitive and challenging, especially for young designers who have to compete with so many great talents. But I wanted the challenge, as showing in London provides an international platform for my work.
As a city, London has always inspired me. It’s a bustling place with a lot going on, yet you can still find tranquility in the most random places. I’m inspired by its rooftops and chimneys (Mary Poppins was my favorite movie growing up), and I like nothing more than to sketch at my desk while watching the world go by from my window. One particularly inspiring place is a house on Folgate Street created by Dennis Severs, which takes you on a magical journey to 18th Century London. I can’t explain why, but I keep going back to this house for inspiration.
AA: Do you work in Bahrain as well?
LA: While I consider London my home town and chose to base my label there, I love no place more than Bahrain, and it’s where I feel the most serene. That is why I chose to spend time there while working on production. The pace of life in Bahrain is less frenetic than London, where you always have to keep up with deadlines.
AA: Do you travel for inspiration?
LA: My parents saw travel as an opportunity to learn about different cultures, and they instilled in me this curiosity about the world from an early age. Today when I travel, I soak up my surroundings, the art, food, people and language of the places I visit. My collections are inspired by places that have touched me such as Paris, London, Bahrain, Los Angeles and Forte Dei Marmi.
AA: What are some of the challenges facing young Bahraini designers?
LA: I think Bahrain has a lot of talent, but there isn’t a viable fashion industry to sustain them yet. By “fashion industry,” I’m not only referring to designers and retailers, but the know-how to produce collections, as well as PR and media support. We need to create a competitive landscape for designers here so that they can thrive. We also need to support and encourage individuals who want to pursue art and design as a career, rather than simply a hobby. With so many talented Bahraini designers, bloggers and even photographers, there is an opportunity to show the world that Bahrain can be a creative hub.
Items featured in this post are from Lulwa Al Amin's spring summer collection some of which are stocked at DNA Riyadh
Photography by @PlhongFlores
Photography by @PlhongFlores