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May 15, 2022
“I wanted to make a modern Palestinian line that’s still culturally rich,” Gazan designer Meera Adnan told OZY. When Adnan, 29, started the clothing line that bears her name, she wanted the designs to be about personal storytelling. Today, thanks to her collaboration with Jordanian designer Sara Jayyousi, Adnan is at work on her third collection. In this, she aims to showcase and modernize the 3,000-year-old art of Palestinian needlework, called tatreez, without compromising its authenticity. Today’s Daily Dose provides an exclusive sneak-peek into Adnan’s third season.
– with reporting by Abeer Ayyoub, from Istanbul, Turkey
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Adnan takes her inspiration from a cultural tradition that dates back three millennia. Palestinian women today continue to wear the traditionally embroidered dress, or thobe, to weddings and other events. Styles vary from village to village, with local flourishes seen in the variation of cut, color and stitch pattern. As a girl, Adnan recalls yearning for an opportunity to wear her mother’s old and richly detailed pieces. Today, as an internationally recognized designer, Adnan is bringing new energy to an historic tradition.
“Our hope is to tell a story of renewal and rebirth, the marriage of old and new,” Adnan told OZY in a phone interview from Gaza. This marriage of old and new will be on full display in her forthcoming third collection.
Slow, luxurious, and non-binary
Scheduled to launch before the end of the year, Adnan’s new season’s collection aims to modernize Palestinian craft in designs like blazer dresses, tailored suits and unisex vests. Her guiding principle is to pair Palestinian embroidery with high-end, ready-to-wear pieces. To Adnan, embroidery isn’t necessarily the foundation of the designs, like it is to so many pieces already on the market. Rather, embroidery will embellish new and original styles.
“I want to get embroidery from its very traditional style to prove that cultural designs can be used in high-end fashion,” she explains.
Adnan favors organic cotton, wool, and silk blends. She has an eye for texture and cut, yet she also brings sensitivity to pressing environmental challenges and to shifting cultural views on gender. As a designer, she wants her work to meet high ethical standards for the planet and those who inhabit it. To this end, she embraces the ethic of slow fashion, which emphasizes high-quality materials that will outlast the inexpensive synthetics of the fast-fashion industry.
Slow fashion is intended to be classic, even basic, so the pieces can be timeless. Yet, achieving this is much harder than it sounds, as slow fashion is up against competition from such international titans as H&M and Zara.
Adnan is also inspired by the potential in non-binary fashion, something that feels personal to her. As she studied her family’s old photographs, Adnan became smitten with her male relatives’ colorful trousers and patterned shirts.
“I’m impressed by how individualistic their styles were,” she told OZY. “I always wanted to wear pieces that are not typically for women.” Part of her vision for the third season is to realize this vision of non-binary high fashion.
Amman-based stylist Laith Najim says what he loves most about Adnan’s work is how she successfully manages to introduce nostalgic pieces that are also original and non-binary.
“This is a new approach that I love,” Najim told OZY. “I think she did great in adding traditional designs on the unisex shirts in particular.”
Regarding Adnan’s new season, Laith noted that he’s intrigued by modern pieces that were clearly inspired by the 1970s and ‘80s. But he says that the collection’s success — and whether it lives up to, or exceeds, Adnan’s considerable prior success — all depends on the details: the stitching, fabrics and wearability of the final pieces. The reveal will come this fall.
Adnan met collaborator Sara Jayyousi on Instagram (where else?), when Jayyousi messaged her about the possibility of working together. Initially, Adnan felt it could be challenging to work with someone else on one idea, but she soon felt a sense of synergy with Jayyousi’s talent. Adnan says she feels happy her platform showcases other Palestinian creatives. She also cites the support she’s received from other women as a major reason why she has stayed in business.
“I love to work with fellow female creatives,” she told OZY.
Creativity in a crisis zone
Adnan says that the often-closed borders of the Gaza Strip — under Israeli siege since 2007 — has been her greatest challenge as a creative. She’s always dreamed of having the label “Made in Gaza” sewn onto her pieces, but this has so far been impossible due to the siege’s stranglehold on many industries, including fashion. Electricity is a problem: Gaza’s blackout crisis began in 2007 when Israel damaged an electricity plant after an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was abducted in Gaza. The blackout prompted many Gazan clothing factories to close their doors.
Although Adnan has not yet achieved her dream of “Made in Gaza,” her fashion line is a bright light against a grim backdrop. When factories closed their doors, the Gazan clothing industry all but sputtered to a halt. Today, most local clothing manufacture happens on the smallest scale, with tailors sewing made-to-order pieces for customers based on designs downloaded from the internet.
Yet, Palestinian embroidery remains a symbol of resilience and national pride in this occupied country where there is an ongoing war. Adnan says it’s a responsibility of younger Palestinian generations to steward the craft, especially as Western entities — including the Miss Universe pageant and fashion designer Tory Burch — have been accused of appropriating Palestinian craft. Neither the Miss Universe pageant nor the Tory Burch company responded to OZY’s request for comment.
The embroidered thobe has also made headlines for happier reasons. In January 2019, the first female Palestinian American member of U.S. Congress, Rashida Talib, wore a thobe for her swearing-in. And, in December 2021, UNESCO added the Palestinian art of embroidery to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Adnan will travel to Amman this summer to make the final fabric selections and prepare her third season for launch. Calling this her “long-awaited full collection,” Adnan told OZY she is on the lookout for sustainable and high-quality fabrics that will last longer and therefore reduce clothing waste. Once launched, the new pieces will be available on a limited basis: only a small number of each style will be made and they will not be made again.
For more, follow Merra Adnan on Instagram.
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