When Amal Al Mulla graduated from the Royal University for Women with a degree in fashion, she came out with her brand’s first collection. Just two years later, she’s known in Paris. Georgie Bradley has tea and talks with the pint-sized fashion mogul.
Stepping into Amal Al Mulla’s four-month-old studio, you escape Riffa’s cacophonic grind and enter a sleek, uber-twee space with tactical translucent windows. “I want to be able to be in my own world here and don’t want the outside chaos to interfere with what I’m doing,” says a 23-year-old Amal. You forget the outside hive of activity until several cars grumble past all at once.
Although I’m here to talk about her current fall/winter collection, her spring/summer collection for next year is neatly filed across two clothes stands. You can tell Amal is into her botanical chic; not only do her clothes have flowers spreading from sleeve to sleeve; the studio’s sofa is a fabric of flowers.
“I want my clothes to have an organic feel. I’m very much inspired by nature and want it featured in my brand.” Amal’s designs are largely made out of a textile fabric called piña – pineapple fibre to us lay creatures. “Piña is a luxurious fabric, traditionally worn by the upper class at weddings in the Philippines. It comes in plain form, so I gave it a western twist with my embroidery for a contemporary feel. And I have dyed it too – piña comes in ecru (that colour between white and beige) but I wanted some black as well.”
The studio is new and still evolving; besides the stands, Amal’s mood boards and mind maps are plastered on the walls. The concept of Amal’s brand is based on a trinity of thoughts: escapism, contrasts and nature. “I make my collections based on how I feel in that particular moment; it’s kind of like a mindset. For the f/w collection it was about going to those very early days of winter, with a soft breeze and the last of the autumn blooms. The fabrics are very frosty. It’s got that raw and crispy feel you get at the start of winter. I keep thinking season to season – where am I going to take my girl?” referring to the story behind the collection and the girl who gets to be dressed in the pieces.
There is a real narrative involved in her collection. As put in her promotional booklet: “She escapes within her senses, she escapes into the wild. Taken by a soft breeze, whispering, calling for a storm, hurrying
to gather the last blooms, beauty she wants to keep.”
There’s also a geometric dimension to Amal’s collections, one that highlights contrast and reminds me of my favourite Scandinavian high street brand, Cos. “My brand is all about contrasts, mainly my colour palettes, light versus dark; you can see there are a lot of contrasts in the fluidity and structure in my clothes. It’s an aesthetic that I am carrying through my brand. There are a lot of ‘versus’ in my brand: structure versus fluidity, transparency versus texture and detail.”
For a region identified as traditional, but upcoming in modern development no less, how has the Middle East responded to these very Euro-centric clothes? “I have clients from all over the Middle East which is great because I want everyone in the region to be able to wear my clothes. I would say my orders mostly come from Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai,” she says.
“I had a very Western outlook growing up. My family really exposed me to the arts and they always appreciated it and it gave me that open-minded mentality.” Amal is of both Bahraini and Filipino origin and has always been familiar with the ‘other side’ being the rest of the world. “As a family we have travelled a lot and it’s enhanced my experience as a designer.”
The fact that her family cared for the arts made Amal want to pursue them in some form.
“I fell for fashion during high school; I was obsessed with it and I knew what I wanted to do.” Having graduated from the Royal University for Women, where she studied fashion, Amal came out armed with a collection which was admittedly experimental. “Season after season I still love to experiment with every new collection and take it further than the rest.”
And then Paris knocked on Amal’s door. “I took my s/s collection to a trade show in Paris and it was received really well. It was my first experience there, so I was worried about how things would turn out. I participated in an event called Zip Zone. During Paris Fashion Week, there are a lot of trade shows that go on and designers showcase their collections. It’s where buyers and the media come and check out new collections from up-and-coming designers. It was a really good experience.”
Now Amal is working towards the f/w 2015 collection. “I’m grasping inspiration from every direction, all the while sketching and sourcing fabrics.” She’s already got Paris under her belt, which some would see as a peak, but she assures me she’s just started out there. “To get further and make my brand worldwide it’s going to be through hard work.” But I think it’s already paid off.”
Besides Spanish designer Joseph Delpozo being her firm inspiration, Project Runway is Amal’s go-to TV show for reality inspiration: “When I see how tough it gets in that world it makes me want to work even harder; it’s good for me to watch and learn from.”
In a way, Amal is a one-woman band. She is on her own. “I don’t have a mentor who monitors what I do or gives me direction – it’s all down to me. It’s great though because I get to do what I love to do and have my own vision and ideas come to life.” No pressure then.
The fall/winter 2014 collection is available for orders and the spring/summer 2015 collection is available for pre-order. Visit www.amalalmulla.com