Frances Stafford, whose fresh take on vintage weaves is currently creating waves in Bahrain and Berlin, spoke about and modelled a few of her pieces for WTM. Behnaz Sanjana joined in the fun.
She’s uber chic, likeably quirky and designs clothing with the oomph factor intact. A breath of fresh air for the region’s fashion circuit, Frances Stafford’s Black Anaar brand is all about novel ideas that have their roots in heirloom values. From growing up in Alberta, Canada, working with the international art fraternity in Berlin, directing community art initiatives such as the BAB Market and museum projects for the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, to, very recently, launching her own fashion line with eclectic cultural influences, this art historian has come a long way and is raring to go further.
So, why the name Black Anaar? Frances says the epics of yore mention Bahrain as the Garden of Paradise famed for its jewelled trees – most probably referring to the ubiquitous pomegranate which grows abundantly here. Pomegranate is ‘anaar’ in ancient languages such as Farsi, Urdu and Hindi. “And ‘black’, because it’s the favoured colour of the nightlife in Berlin and also a rare variety of pomegranate,” she says.
Frances was smitten by fashion as a little girl. “It was one of my favourite pastimes. A fun afternoon would be going through my mother’s vintage clothing, noticing the differences in the fabrics, ribbons and cuts. I loved dressing myself. I was the freak at school; but a trendsetter too. I’d wear something weird and then a month later, the style would have caught on!” she says.
Her studies of Canadian aborigines and Inuit cultures, combined with her Ukrainian-English roots further fanned her love for myths attached to clothing, how dress and culture are so entwined and how clothes are symbolic of an idea or expression.
While she directed the Little India project in Manama Souq, the idea for her own fashion label germinated. “I came to a point where I finally realised what I truly wanted to do. Being creative with fashion is my calling,” she says.
Fascinated by the souq’s narrow alleys brimming with stories handed down the generations, she dug deep into the history of the island while foraging in the market for its treasure trove of fabrics. “I found tie-dye material sitting on the topmost shelves of a shop, unnoticed. It is thick and industrial, but also stretchy and really worked for something I had in mind,” she says.
Much like the fabric she sources, the warp and weft of Frances’ inspiration is found in Bahrain. “Although Bahrain has over 6,000 years of history, it is this vibrant, young and blossoming place that I immediately fell in love with.”
Her designs, many of which show her fondness for layering, have impressed fashionistas in Canada and Berlin. Her pieces are structured from woollen shawls, lissome Indian silk saris, velvets and other traditional materials. She has successfully introduced the flowing ‘chadors’, favoured mostly by older Middle Easterners, to Berlin. “Berlin is a melting pot of cultures where people are very receptive to alternative fashion. The idea of reusing and changing the old into something that is cool and contemporary is welcomed,” she says.
Frances greatly values the local arts and wants to incorporate them into the everyday fashion scene. “For example, the weavers of Bani Jamra are the last family that still does weaving. So once they’re gone, the tradition is lost,” she says.
Her plans for the future are to associate with more ecologically responsible, community-driven fashion. Commenting on her online label she says, “Every woman is a Black Anaar woman. It’s like opening your friend’s closet; you will be pulled towards something you like. It’s for women and men too; as many of my designs are unisex. These blurred lines make an interesting departure point for Black Anaar.”