Toby or not to be
Saudi Arabian designer Hatem Alakeel tells us it is more important to be a trend setter than to follow a seasonal style as he brings his new collection to the city
THE MIDDLE EAST is probably among the few regions in the world where local youngsters take pride in being seen in their national dress. And while the kandoura in all its simplicity, might not seem like the kind of garment one could get creative with, Saudi Arabian designer Hatem Alakeel has managed to infuse it with a distinctive style while at the same retaining its inherent elegance. Even the name of his collection ‘Toby’ is a unique blend of the traditional and the modern, standing as it does for ‘My kandoura’ or ‘Thoby’ as they say in Saudi Arabia. “I took out the H to give it a trendier and more familiar identity which at the same time incorporates a western sound. The whole concept of East meets West through tradition is represented in the name Toby,” explains Alakeel.
And while many consider him a trendsetter in this field, Alakeel is clearly not interested in any tags. “I don’t encourage people to follow trends,” the designer asserts. “I encourage them to become their own trend setters. I think it’s great that people are embracing their rich culture and traditions. It’s a sign of confidence, self-assurance and pride. Although I have spent a great deal of my life in Europe and the States I have always taken enormous pride in my roots and it’s fulfilling to know that Toby is playing an active part in this respect.” With Ramadan around the corner the designer promises to bring out more collections for his loyal customers to indulge their Toby mania with some much needed retail therapy.
We spoke to the talented designer ahead of the launch of his latest spring-summer 2010 collection at Boutique One at The Walk in JBR.
What does your new collection comprise of?
My new collection is more varied but much more personalised than before. The Emirati style kandouras and my new Professional Line are perfectly suited for the serious businessmen that always wear thobes and kandouras to work. There is a very corporate, board room and classic side to Toby that is reflected in this season’s new collection in addition to my avant garde designs which my Tobyista fashionista following have come to expect.
You recently launched a kid’s collection – how has the response been to it?
The wonderful thing about working with kids is that their parents translate their design ideals through their children. Kids can get away with many styles as they are exploring their own personal look. I love seeing young fashionistas selecting their own designs, knowing exactly what they want and the look they want to project. My nephew Salman is the prime example of this. He is completely sure and certain of his style. He will no doubt be a future leader and trendsetter. The TJ Toby Junior Line is a celebration of youth, growing up and of life.
Which celebrity best represents your style ethos in the region?
Each and every single Toby client is a celebrity in my eyes. I have been truly blessed that there are so many wonderful people wearing Toby by Hatem Alakeel because they love the designs. They are true Tobyistas!
What fashion trends do you foresee for the region?
I foresee fewer trends and more personal fashion statements. I feel that people want to make their mark through the way they dress by creating their own trends to express themselves. That said, I also feel that comfort, practicality, finishing and quality will become king. We have thankfully moved away from constricted 17th and 18th century western attire
The new Toby collection, priced from Dhs600 onwards, is available at the Designer Haven, Boutique One
Alakeel refers to the recently deceased British designer Alexander McQueen as his fashion icon. “He was a true genius. His work and fashion legacy will live on for many decades to come. His design ethos was really admirable as he truly went to the core of what his heart told him to. People who follow their passions, and never compromise on their artistic values, ideals and integrity are the people I most admire and draw inspiration from.”
Another feather in Alakeel’s cap is the fact that French shoe designer Christian Louboutin chose to debut his women’s and men’s shoe collection for the first time in the Middle East at the Saudi designer’s Dubai Fashion Week show last year. “He is a true master of design and completely unrivalled in his field. Christian is a wonderful gentleman, great friend and a supportive mentor as well,” says Alakeel.