Salima Abdel-Wahab, outstanding Moroccan designer
Rim Mathlouti - 20/04/2010
The two words that best describe her character are universality and generosity as the designer Salima Abdel-wahab is a very creative person. She’s like a character coming straight out of a fairy tale book where she would be the fairy of elusive origins, with a wild mane and a thousand glittering bracelets. Her Spanish accent, her colourful French and her Arab which she only talks at the workshop, give her this internationality that she constantly claims. Salima Abdel-wahab creates words, clothes, music, dance and world chants.
As a full-fledged Moroccan designer, she says she doesn’t know how to “work on the caftan, traditional Moroccan garment. If I were to try, it wouldn’t look like a caftan anymore”. Her style is imagining contemporary clothes. “I am the Moroccan woman of today” she declares, “the Moroccan woman is now metropolised . Try to take the metro wearing a caftan. I am inspired by Moroccan tradition of the past which I look at with respect and nostalgia but I need to live in the present. I love practical clothes that can tell a story”. Her choice of material is influenced by her training in classical dance. “I used to wear stretch and comfortable clothes that allow my freedom of movement to dance. This is the spirit I look for in my creations. I love people who feel at ease. We don’t have to be prisoners of our clothes. Ideally, we could live naked and since this is not possible, I make sure that the clothes I design are worn like a second skin.” The designer has left Tangiers, her native village and her source of inspiration to follow her studies at the School of Drawing and Fashion in Malaga, Spain. That’s where the school’s directors advise her to follow her career on her own. Her style was already extraordinary and she started to create her own collections quite quickly.
“Today, I have located my workshop in Tangiers’ countryside. This gives it a reassuring natural touch. The workshop represents the world of possibilities where small collections follow one another, where ideas are materialised. The atmosphere is both soft and bubbly.” When it comes to material, she essentially looks for “noble” textiles. “Bamboo, silk, wool, I’m interested in living materials. Each and one of them give me ideas. Sometimes, I imagine that I don’t have enough material and I’m obliged to imagine one, to work with pieces. This gives birth to knotted, twisted, completely crazy creations that are always comfortable and wearable.”
When we discover a garment we are always taken aback by its details. Beads, shells, embroidery complete pieces that are both simple and sophisticated, pieces that tinkle with movements. “I love to give clothes sound and music; it’s like a note, a tone that I discretely add”. This fantasy undoubtedly comes from her talents for music and chant. The polyvalent designer sings when she can. Among other things, she has participated to the album of Steve Shehan, composer and musician. Her collections’ presentations are always like performances. Even if she’s shy and discrete, she has nonetheless managed to find the parade for her displays. She dances as she hides her face and body behind the cloth that ends up metamorphosing into garment thanks to her gestures. Her collections promote diversity. “My clothes are for all women and all times, I love the idea that one can wear a cloak that can be transformed into a skirt in the evening. It’s important to have different ideas how to wear a garment according to different moods.” The persons who discover that a crossover top turns up to be also a pair of trousers, find that the designer is a genie. A loyal customer appreciates the fact that her husband wears the same trousers or the same reversible jacket. She adds that “it’s rare to find unisex clothes that put both men and women into value”. In 2006, she participates to an international exhibition entitled “hombresenfalda » (men in skirts) in Madrid. “I have been flattered to present my skirt for men next to Kenzo, Jean-Paul Gaultier and the big names of international fashion. I was able to propose something that had nothing to do with Moroccan tradition but still having an orientalist touch.”
Salima Abdel-wahab “complains about fashion. We are getting nowhere. We are bringing out classics from the 1950’s and 70’s again and everyone finds this normal. What is happening to us? Is there nothing corresponding to our times? We continue to wear jeans while there are clothes that can be considered as futurist but are just contemporary. We are not managing to overcome the past. The new forms that I create are contemporary but sometimes people tell me they won’t dare wear them. I admire the artists who open the road, precursors are my mentors. I have created three ranges so that everyone can find their way around, sportswear or chic, everything is unique and superposable.” The designer owns two stores in Tangiers and Assilah and a show room in Marrakech. She also has original projects in Europe. She had presented a collection in a Cathedral in Basel, Switzerland. People like her rock ethnic side. She is developing her range to children’s clothes and linen. Through her collections, we find the imagination of an accomplished stylist, in harmony with her times.
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech