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Being a Tobyista fashionista

Raziqueh Hussain
Filed on July 9, 2010

“I use the thobe as a canvas,” says Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel, whose brainchild and signature collection is called ‘Toby’, the men’s line and ‘Hatem’, his new women’s line. “Of course the execution of the thobe must be such that the ensemble must look elegant and in sync within my style concept,” he adds.

Alakeel pays homage to Andy Warhol by adapting the Campbell soup into his thobes and Rene Magritte has been an instrumental artist who has inspired him to think that art can also be fashion. “Anything ordinary can also become extraordinary,” he says, philosophically. “Art is a form of expression that can be seen by other individuals. It is being able to project and make other people understand through your own interpretations. Art is, however, subjective,” he’s quick to add.

Alakeel has designed Emirati style kandouras and has launched the new professional line which is perfectly suited for businessmen who always wear thobes and kandouras to work. “There is a very corporate, boardroom 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,” he says. Prices for each piece start from 600 Riyals.

He has kandouras designed with Obama pictures and football themes. The word Toby means ‘My dishdasha’ in Arabic and Alakeel says he deliberately used it for his designs. “Toby does mean ‘my kandoura’ or how we say it in Saudi Arabia: ‘thoby’ or ‘my thobe’. I took out the H to give it a younger, trendier and more familiar identity which at the same time incorporates a western sound. The whole concept of East meets West reiterating style through tradition is represented in the name Toby,” he explains.

So who is that one person he would like to dress up in the region? “First of all, each and every Toby client is a celebrity in my eyes. I have been truly blessed that there are so many people who love the designs. They all tell me how great they feel when they wear Toby and of the endless compliments they get from friends and strangers alike on their outfits. They are true Tobyistas!”

He has also launched a kid’s collection with his nephew being his inspiration. “The wonderful thing about working with kids is that their parents translate their design ideals though 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,” he says.

With Ramadan around the corner, Alakeel plans to bring out more designs specifically for the season. “I owe it to my very loyal customers that come in every Ramadan to indulge their Toby mania in some much needed retail therapy,” he says.

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