Fashion statement: designing abayas

Dubai-based designer Huda al Nuaimi founded Malaak, her high-fashion label, after recognising a need for abayas that uphold the values and purpose of the garment while also offering style. Vision finds out more

Growing up surrounded by Vogue magazines, watching her fashion-designer mother stitch robes and choose patterns and fabrics, Huda al Nuaimi was hooked on fashion from an early age. She studied formerly at the London College of Fashion, honing her nose for trends as much as her skill in pattern-cutting, before founding fashion label Malaak, which means ‘angel’ in Arabic, in 2010.

These foundations have set her in good stead for the work she does with abaya design for Malaak. “Alongside designing to complement a range of figures, there are guidelines that need to be maintained which can be challenging for any creative designer,” explains Al Nuaimi. “The abaya’s purpose is to loosely cover a woman’s figure and maintain modesty and you need to be very careful in how you modify the garment.”

Al Nuaimi’s work reflects a wider trend that sees the traditional loose fitting black garment of Islamic women being adapted to the lifestyle of contemporary women with a love of fashion. Designers have begun playing with the cut and adding embellishment to give the garment additional grace and style. Dubai-based Effa Al-Dabagh is another example of a designer who has been successfully putting her fashion twist on tradition using delicate fabrics and injecting elements of colour into designs.

By founding Malaak, Al Nuaimi wanted to take the abaya to an era more concerned with fashion, introducing colours and embellishments and tweaking both the lengths and shapes of the garment. She puts her technical skill to work with elements such as small belts hidden inside the flowing garments to maximise the elegant cascading effects. She’s not afraid to make edgy fashion references either and her collection last year used studs, crystals and shoulder pads in homage to glam rock.

In modifying the abaya to make it more fashionable, Al Nuaimi has given the garment a whole new aspect. “It has gained interest from women who are not wearing the abaya for tradition or for religious reasons, but would like to wear the garments as evening attire,” she explains. “This has attracted a wider audience to the brand.”

This broader clientele includes the customers of landmark international stores such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols in London, both of which have a large middle-eastern consumer base. The label is also available at Saks Fifth Avenue in Dubai and Bahrain, but Al Nuaimi aims to get her creations stocked in fashion capitals all around the world.