Walking into Siwa, all colours come to life, all scents come out to dance, and the pace of life matches the beat of the drums. Siwa is one of the many places indigenous to the Amazigh in North Africa. Their vivid and authentic traditions make them an ethnic group that repeatedly inspires creative people.
Even though women hardly leave their houses and never walk the streets without being concealed in abayas, the world knows the beauty of their handmade garments; but, not the secrets of their crafts.
Siwan embroidery is one of the rarest techniques in the world. Siwan women spend years working on their own wedding dress, which is usually embroidered with colourful buttons and seashells.
Amna Elshandaweely is a young local designer that is often enchanted by tribes and ethnic groups. Her ethnic line is notoriously known for colourful colour pallets, unconventional fabrics, and graphic prints. This time, Elshandaweely was inspired by the elaborate Siwa.
The designer spent a few months studying the city and its people. Instead of copying their garments and bringing them to the city, Elshandaweely aimed to create a modern collection inspired by Siwa without being a mere replica.
The designer, who often seeks to break boundaries, did not only incorporate strong prints, she also reinterpreted galabeyas for young gentlemen. The unisex collection includes show stopping overalls, colourful bombers, and graphic abayas.
Daily News Egypt met Elshandaweely to talk about the magic of Siwa, her inspiration, and her recent experience in the first season of Project Runway Middle East.
What encouraged you to focus on the Amazigh?
I am usually inspired the most by destinations and cities. During a trip to Siwa, I had a talk with one of the local residents and he used a few Amazigh words as he spoke. I didn’t understand a word of it and that made me curious.
Accordingly, I asked him about this language and he started telling me about the Amazigh, their origins and their various cultures; either the ones here in Siwa or in Morroco, Yemen, Turkey, and South Africa.
When I went back home, I was very inspired by the scenery, their music, the way they deal with life, their street style, and their mysterious hidden women. Therefore, I started reading more about the Amazigh culture, and about Siwa. Then magic happened.
Which parts of this culture inspired you the most?
As a tribal wear designer what inspired me the most was their Siwan galabeya, mainly its hand embroidery and array of colours.
I was also mesmerised by the way they accessorised their clothing. They add a lot of things to it that do not necessarily have to fit; some stripped fabrics with embroidery and shells, and a lot of irrelevant elements that when added to each other, create an interesting piece of art.
On the other hand, Siwa’s mysterious hidden women enchanted me. At the beginning, it angered me that you cannot really see Siwan women in the streets; nonetheless, I was way more inspired when I met some of them.
I wanted to do something extraordinary to visualise how I imagined Siwan women in the streets.
What are the main materials that you focused on?
I mainly depended on stripped fabrics along with embroidery that you can see in Moroccan and Siwan fashion. However, I focused on modernising it through other factors.
This time I also used a lot of dak fabrics, which are mainly used for tents, along with a variety of heavy fabrics that are used in Siwa and Sinai for shawls. On the other hand, I have also incorporated a lot of fringes and techniques to give a stripped effect.
How long did this collection take?
This collection was the one I worked on longest. I got the inspiration, did some sketching, got some fabrics, and started trying traditional Siwan embroidery on it before having to travel to Lebanon for Project Runway Middle East.
I had to put the collection on hold for the programme. When I came back, I changed many things, including the traditional method of embroidery.
From sketching to material scouting and manufacturing, which phase was the hardest?
I am an experimental designer. My vision used to revolve around empowering traditional handmade embroidery by using it in a modern way. Now, I believe that in order for me to empower them the most, I have to use it in a different fashion.
I currently keep traditional abayas with their details and focus more on the feeling that the collection gives; the concept that it stands for. Accordingly, I think it was the manufacturing or turning this vision into a piece that was the hardest.
Who is the perfect clientele for this collection?
Usually my clients represent unconventional characters; people who are into art and culture, who don’t care about people’s judgement, people who are into pieces that narrate stories. I think they are the change-makers and the ones who are crazy enough to change the world.
The men’s designs are rather extremely unconventional. How do you expect the public to react?
It is very unconventional, I know. While in tribes, women are the ones who are hidden, I believe in our modern cities men are the ones that are hidden. They have to wear very traditional clothes so that they won’t be judged.
Therefore, I decided that this collection will be revolutionary against how Siwan women were hidden, how men are treated in our modern cities, and how some people perceived my work as a tribal designer.
Personally, I have received many comments advising me to take a more classic direction and leave this tribal ethnic aesthetic. This was a very revolutionary collection that I am not expecting the public to accept so easily.
With that said, the unisex bomber jackets are almost sold out and they were mainly purchased by male clients, so there is hope.
Do you expect men to wear it in the streets?
I have designed a lot of untraditional menswear pieces, such as jumpsuits, modern galabeyas, and bomber jackets. For the jumpsuits, many people have already ordered them; the majority are musicians.
As for the bomber jackets, literally everybody loved them. The galabeyas on the other hand were not as popular. A few musicians have ordered them for their live performances; but, others have already praised them and a lot of women bought them.
Where do you hope to see this collection?
This time I am launching my website, so the whole world can buy it. I am currently in talks with many stores that are interested in showcasing my work in their galleries.
I want to be everywhere, but with some conditions. I would really love to attract those who believe in tribal fashion and stand against stereotypical fashion; the ones who dare to wear crazy things wherever they go.
This has already happened as my pieces were on the Dubai International Film Festival red carpet and a lot of people commented on how unique they were. One of the gowns was chosen by Harper’s Bazar Arabia as one of the best outfits on the red carpet.
How would you define your aesthetic?
I think every time I launch a collection, it makes me a bit surer of who I am and what I love. Through experience, I found out that my heart leans more towards the beauty of tribes; it is where I get my inspiration from.
I will always be inspired by the locals, their daily attire, and how these pieces developed over time. I will always be amazed by the fact that Siwan girls spend many years embroidering and working on their wedding dress. So I think my answer will always be tribal.
How did your participation in Project Runway reflect on this collection?
It made me more confident about myself and my identity as a designer. Although I got some comments about my tribal and ethnic side, but it made me visualise being a tribal wear designer from a different perspective.
The piece doesn’t have to embrace traditional embroidery; on the contrary, it has to give a tribal vibe and to stand out in the crowd. With the judges praising my craziness and unique ideas, it helped me make it more professional and polished.