The Palestinian designer is bringing ancient folklore and future technologies in concert with each other
For young designers working across the global south, “futurism” is an attractive term. With roots in African-American science fiction, it offers an alternative to the glass-paned megalopolises of colonial nations; homogenous citadels where the future has arrived, but at the expense of craft, tradition, and mysticism. Designers like Zeid Hijazi, who is from Palestine, are transposing the tenets of Afrofuturism onto their own diasporic communities, bringing ancient folklore and alien technologies in concert with each other. “We are entering the age of AI and I wonder how conscious robots will become. Will they know about the conflict? Will they fight it? Will they practice different Arab traditions? My work is a constant investigation of these questions coming from a Middle Eastern point of view,” he says.
His answers look something like peak-shouldered jackets embroidered with the cross-stitching of Tatreez textiles, tasselled capes squared-off like the corner of a blanket, and geometric print neckties made by Inaash artisans. It’s about someone getting dressed for work as if embarking on a high-stakes intelligence mission: sculptured trench coats slit to the groin, daggers looped around the forehead. “I was obsessed with the idea of Arab women being hackers and coders,” Hijazi explains, having drawn on the Tunisian film Bedwin Hacker where the protagonist (Kalt) infiltrates TV signals and beams pro-Arab propaganda into people’s living rooms. “What would Kalt wear if she existed today? I created a subKALTure based on that idea, where each archetype represented a role within a group of women hackers.”
Throughout all of this, it’s important for Hijazi to challenge Middle-Eastern stereotypes. “Whenever someone hears that I am an Arab designer they think of Knightsbridge; amazing furs, big sunglasses, and extravagant dresses. But I see my woman as a futuristic power dresser – she is an art collector, she knows a lot about history and literature. A bit gothic, this woman does exist in the Arab world.” Like many of his contemporaries, it’s impossible for Hijazi to operate in Palestine – hampered by separation walls, racist shipping companies, and state censorship as Israel continues to instigate violence within the region. “I hope Palestine won’t just be known as a country that exists under occupation. It has a beautiful and rich history in art, fashion, craftsmanship, and education, which we as a collective are trying to introduce to the world.”
Schooled at Central Saint Martins, the designer was awarded the Fashion Trust Arabia prize in 2020 and now runs his business from Lebanon. “That is the true beauty of being an Arab in general, we always make it work!” Even despite an ammonium nitrate blast tearing through the capital less than two years ago – displacing 300,000 people and causing $15 in damage – in Hijazi’s experience, Beirut “outdoes European production and quality”. “They could’ve easily moved somewhere else, but they remained in Beirut in order to build a promising infrastructure,” he says. Alongside Trashy Clothing, Ayham Hassan, GmbH and Cynthia Merhej, Hijazi is using fashion to consolidate the knowledge of his Middle Eastern ancestors. “What’s interesting about us is that we all strive to achieve greatness,” he says. “In whatever industry we’re in.”