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Qasimi Nicole Maria Winkler Anna Pesonen
Qasimi SS16Photography Nicole Maria Winkler, fashion Anna Pesonen

The Emirati designer challenging ideas of the Arab world

Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi explores notions of Middle East meets West in clothes inspired by young Muslims in east London

Fashion and politics have long shared a kinship. In the last year, we’ve seen a multitude of designers grapple with a variety of political issues in their work: Pyer Moss confronted police brutality and racism, Walter Van Beirendonck responded to terrorism and countless others rallied against social constructions of gender. Similarly, Vivienne Westwood has initiated a call to arms against everything from climate change to media propaganda.

Another designer who is succeeding in marrying fashion and politics is Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi of Qasimi – the menswear label that quietly relaunched in London in January following a hiatus after six seasons showing in Paris. A graduate of both Central Saint Martins and the Architectural Association, Qasimi is originally from Sharjah (considered to offset Dubai as the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates). Since launching his label, he’s garnered praise for his elegant collections that sensitively explore the volatile relationship between the Middle East and the West.

For his SS16 collection, the designer sought to question perceptions of the Arab world circulated in mainstream media. This collection – seen here on model Charlie Radford, photographed by Nicole Marie Winkler – was provocatively titled ‘False Flags’, “a term used to describe covert operations that deceive”, Qasimi explains. No doubt, the concept behind the clothes was weighty, but it was deftly translated into a strikingly minimal and light collection, where the political messages lay in the very fabric of the clothes. Notably, Qasimi chose poplin and voile cottons for his Middle Eastern-inspired shirting due to their translucent quality suited to layering, which point to “ideas of clouding the truth”. Meanwhile, bomber jackets with faintly distorted stripes nodded to “news being manipulated in the media”.

Crucially, just like his recent AW16 collection, False Flags is wearable and this stems from Qasimi’s references, which largely came from the street. “The main inspirations came from photographs I found of young Muslims in Whitechapel and Bethnal Green mixing traditional dress with sportswear,” he explains. Drawn to this idiosyncratic style of living in a multicultural city, Qasimi reinvents hybrid codes of dressing. And true to character, his AW16 collection turned to Yemeni immigrants working in British shipyards for sartorial inspiration. As he suggests, both collections “develop a very singular voice at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, but also play on modern perceptions and heritage.” 

“The main inspirations came from photographs I found of young Muslims in Whitechapel and Bethnal Green mixing traditional dress with sportswear” – Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi

It’s easy to understand why someone who grew up between such contrasting places (his home of Sharjah and second home London) would approach fashion like a cultural sponge. What he’s demonstrated with his relaunched label is the ability to distil those influences to create intensely refined collections, with political, social and cultural undertones that whisper rather than shout. Perhaps the designer’s architectural education has something to do with his ability to finely construct his ideas. As he notes, “I always look at the body as a landscape.” Modern, expressive and forward-thinking, it will be interesting to watch how the new Qasimi develops.

QASIMI SS16 is available at The Shop at Bluebird, 350 King’s Rd, London SW3

Photography Nicole Marie Winkler; fashion Anna Pesonen; grooming Yumi Nakada-Dingle; model Charlie Radford @ SUPA Model Management; photographic assistant Alex Rod