Mixing tradition and trends

Anu Prabhakar
Filed on April 9, 2010

From working with her mother — her first model of sorts — to dressing up ramp models who graced the coveted runways of Rome Fashion Week, Emirati fashion designer Amal Murad has certainly come a long way. What began as a hobby pursued at the insistence of friends and family quickly became Murad’s key to the world of top-class fashion.

Apart from participating at several fashion shows in the region, Murad’s collection of exquisite and intricately designed abayas, named REDAA (an Arabic word that means ‘decency in an elegant way’), was showcased at the Rome Fashion Week on February 3, 2010 — the fanciest feather in Murad’s cap.

Amal Murad was born a fashion designer. “My father was a painter and my mother was a good tailor. She loved to do crochet work and used to make several dresses for us with matching hats! I inherited the talent from them.”

“I started designing clothes for my younger sisters even before I turned 15,” recalls Murad. “I was called the family stylist!” Her innate interest in fashion quickly developed into a serious hobby, as Murad began to save her pocket money in order to buy fashion magazines and catalogues, that would keep her updated about the latest fashion trends and in tune with what was in vogue.

Her first chance to be a serious fashion designer came when her mother asked her to design a gown for her for a party. “My mother trusted in me then. She took me to the tailor and I explained to him clearly what I had in mind. I still remember the dress. It was blue in colour with butterflies.” However, Murad proceeded to study Maths at Ajman University — and not fashion. “I never thought that I would ever take it up as a career! In December 2005, my friends and family encouraged me to make abayas for them, which led to REDAA being formed. In 2006, for the first time, I exhibited my collection at The Bridal Show in Abu Dhabi. This show opened my eyes to a new world.” Murad’s collection of abayas stood apart from the rest. “With the Muslim community extending in countries like France and UK, I get a lot of orders from those places, and from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and many others.” Murad’s clientele includes women of all age groups — be it personal clients or media personalities like MBC TV reporter Lujain Omran and Nayla Al Kajah, a UAE filmmaker.

Youngsters love freedom — a point that Murad keeps in mind while designing abayas for them. “They (abayas) must be practical and must allow the wearer to move freely. You have to keep in mind the age of the wearer — she is at a stage where she is not a kid, but not a woman either. I stick to modern outlines and make them look feminine at the same time. I also use funky colours — like this S/S season, the ‘in’ colours are hot pink, pinky orange, dirt yellow and so on. Sometimes clients may want their abaya to match a shoe or a bag, so I keep those aspects in mind as well.”

The abaya has changed over the years, says Murad. “Abayas five to six years before were usually a classic line of jilabiyas, with works concentrating only on the sleeves. But now, with designers from small shops imitating the designs of high-end designers, the market has changed a lot.”

At Rome Fashion Week, Murad became the first designer to showcase 15 pieces of abayas on a ramp (as against a boutique). She also used the opportunity to make a serious fashion statement. “My show had the message that being decent does not mean not being stylish and trendy. The ramp models were completely covered and they looked elegant, attractive and beautiful.”

“The people there were amazed by the collection of abayas. Everyone there told me that they do have haute coutre, but it’s usually done in the western way. They observed that within our culture and tradition, I managed to do something trendy.”

When asked about future plans, Murad says that she prefers to move ahead one step at a time. “I work from home. I’ve been working on men’s classic collection of kandooras, and a sporty collection, for three years. But I have not launched it yet in the market as I don’t want people in the market to get confused.”

Apart from working towards becoming a name to reckon with in the fashion world, Murad is also a mother to four children. “Initially I did find it difficult to juggle the two but my husband supports me a lot. I believe in spending quality time with my children, even if it’s only for half an hour. As I travel a lot, my children have become more responsible and independent.”

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