This New Online Platform Is Giving a Voice to Young Fashion Designers in Arab Nations

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People are inundated with myriad ways to read fashion content online. Outside of what we’re overstimulated by on our social media feeds every day, there are countless blogs dedicated to niche personalities and personal style, and hundreds of websites that tell us what to wear and what not to wear, who’s copying who on the runways, and which designers are the next big thing. Despite the fact that there seems to be a surplus of ways to digitally digest trends and model info and industry gossip, Tunisian journalist and onetime editor of Style.com/Arabia Sofia Guellaty always felt shortchanged. Frustrated by the fact that the Arab world was underrepresented within the online fashion space, she launched Mille World.

The website officially opened for business in January 2018 as a platform offering fashion, beauty, and lifestyle commentary based on Arab youth culture. Through original reporting, videos, and photo shoots, Guellaty and her team feature subjects ranging from underground movements and skater crews in Dubai to up-and-coming designers who have trained abroad and started businesses in places like Beirut and Amman. Mille editors also pay much attention to what it means to be self-expressive in nations with social and religious constructs that can make doing so seem nearly impossible. Currently on Mille, there is one article titled “The Egyptian Photographer Discovered by Jonathan Anderson” and another called “5 Body-Positive Lingerie Brands You Must Know.” Others include “The Rise of the Token Hijabi?” and “A Look Inside Saudi’s First Female Focused Street Style Book.” Guellaty and her staff, which includes advisers like model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal and European president of Next Models Saif Mahdhi, are aiming to capture the attention of the next generation of Arabs, and just as important, to present them to the rest of the world in a new light.

As Guellaty explains, “We really wanted to create the best content we could ever create for an Arab audience but also from Arabs.” She adds, “Who better than me or my female colleagues to explain to you what being a woman in fashion, an Arab woman in fashion, means today? It’s a somewhat controversial identity for someone looking in, but being Arab has never truly been explored on a large scale within the digital space.”

Guellaty acknowledges that for the vast majority of Europeans and Americans looking to westernized cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the perception of Arab style can often be limited to giant, shiny super-malls and luxury label megastores like Hermès, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton. This is in part because, in those places in particular, there has never been a strong push to create a separate sartorial identity from Europe and the U.S. Drive through Dubai and you won’t see many individual boutiques with a focus on local designers. This outlook doesn’t just apply to retail either. “We have a Miss Lily’s in Dubai,” Guellaty notes, referring to the trendy New York hot spot that serves Caribbean food and juice. “Why would we ever have a Miss Lily’s in Dubai when you could have a Miss Fatimah’s, and it could be so funky and cool?” She adds, “We could do well to not emulate something else.”

Identity is the crux of Mille World. Everyone who works for Guellaty resides in the Middle East or northern Africa and is Arab born and raised. No one in the Mille office is afraid to talk about the female body, nor are they reluctant to promote politically outspoken streetwear labels like the Lebanese brand Prince Politique and Kuwait’s first streetwear brand RS.

Guellaty is particularly excited about a sister-owned, Amman-based label called Nafsika Skourti. “Their last collection was titled the Lowest Place on Earth,” she says. “This is how the Dead Sea is promoted to tourists, and it has a negative connotation, so they wanted to reclaim that narrative.”

Guellaty makes a point of showcasing the region’s independents. “What I find interesting is that when I ask for integrated content, both global and local labels are asking me to work with these little groups of rappers or skaters in Dubai. That’s who they want representing their brands.” She adds, “Generally speaking, what I see, in terms of fashion, is that we are breaking away from the clichés more and more. I think we are still very brand loyal, there are a lot of fans here of Balenciaga and Vetements and Off-White, for example, but on the other hand, we’re very proud of our local designers. Arab pride is very big right now.”

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Cornell students paint a fashion runway green

 

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Colorful and creative couture that’s friendly to the environment can be haute, haute, haute.

At the Ecouture 2018 environmental fashion show April 14 at Duffield Hall – organized by Martha Williams ’20 and the Cornell Environmental Cooperative – dozens of student models and designers unveiled the latest verdant vogue.

Dakotah Tanczuk ’19 wore a Samantha Kirsch ’18 original, a top and skirt made from bags of Dirty Sriracha & Honey kettle-style potato chip bags. Emma Birch ‘20 wore a Kirsch-made jumper made from woven newspaper and Alicia O’Neal ’18 donned a dress made from chip bags and woven newspaper.

“I came up with the designs based on my models’ personalities,” said Kirsch, a fiber science and apparel design management major. “I enjoy reimagining how things that would typically just be thrown away could be used, so designing this collection was tons of fun and really allowed my creative juices to flow.”

Tasha Lewis, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design, and Claudine DeSola and Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs, co-founders of LIVARI, zero-waste womenswear made ethically in New York, provided encouragement and remarks.

Other designers in the fashion show also bid adieu to polyester and rayon. Margot Shumaker ’19 designed a delicious Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream container dress worn by Emma Ramsden ’19. Annie Fu and Kate Wang created a dress from broken compact discs worn by Sosonia Ma ’21. And Jessica Biggott ’20 devised a dress from plastic bags, worn by Rachel Stein '18.

Who wears the skirt? Anyone. The fashion world goes gender-free

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Fashion reflects the times we live in, said Coco Chanel, and the Exeter schoolboys and the French bus drivers prove her right. We are more relaxed about gender rules, these days. A century after women started wearing trousers and 19 years after David Beckham was ridiculed for wearing a sarong, the last taboo of fashion – men in skirts – is being swept away.

Zara has capitalised on the market for clothes that can be worn by men or women, offering a gender-neutral fashion range. And the further up the fashion food chain you go, the more the boundaries between menswear and womenswear evaporate.

At the menswear catwalk shows in London less than a fortnight ago, skirts appeared almost everywhere. Men wore silk dresses at Vivienne Westwood’s show, puff-sleeved gowns at Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, and hooped floor-length skirts at Edward Crutchley’s.

Among the more commercial brands, too, the rules are increasingly fluid. Louis Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury brand, last year photographed Jaden Smith, the rapper-slash-model son of actor Will, in a leather kilt for a womenswear advertising campaign. Smith, who wore a floral T-shirt dress to the Coachella festival, captioned an Instagram post of himself in a skirt with the words “Went to TopShop To Buy Some Girl Clothes, I Mean ‘Clothes’.”

Co-ed catwalk shows are becoming a badge of honour for brands with agenda-setting ambitions. Calvin Klein in New York, Burberry in London, Paul Smith in Paris, and Gucci in Milan all combined clothing for men and women on their catwalks during the last fashion show season.

The Gucci designer Alessandro Michele has said that blending the two collections “seems only natural … it’s the way I see the world”. The impact on menswear is clear. On the Gucci catwalk men wear pussy-bow silk blouses, on the Burberry catwalk they wear pastel-coloured lace shorts.

Fashion seasons are fleeting on the style merry-go-round

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The world of high fashion used to be simple: houses would hold runway shows twice a year in Paris, Milan, London or New York, and the clothes would arrive in stores four or five months later. But in 2016 a seismic shift took place – and the implications for Australians are significant.

Driven by ever-growing demand from Asia, the advance of "fast fashion" retailers such as Zara and the inexorable rise of social media, some of the industry's most esteemed houses have disavowed the traditional spring/summer and autumn/winter groupings and decided to try something new.

In February, British behemoth Burberry announced its intention to make its biannual collections "seasonless" and mix cold- and warm-weather garments in a single offering. More significantly, it said its clothes would be available in stores and online immediately after each show.

Hours later, titan Tom Ford announced that he, too, would be adopting the so-called see-now-buy-now model from September. Other brands, including Vetements and Rebecca Minkoff, have followed suit.

"In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to consumers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense," Ford said. "We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era."

The fashion industry has been grappling with this issue for some time. To satisfy growing consumer demand for variety and immediacy, and to service markets in the southern hemisphere, a growing number of houses have begun augmenting their biannual collections with smaller offerings. These capsule collections – including "pre-collections", "cruise collections" and "resort collections" – arrive in stores during the quiet months between summer and winter.

But with more collections being released than ever, and the growth of farflung fashion weeks such as Sydney's, the fashion calendar has become incredibly crowded. Juggling all these seasonal balls is proving difficult for designers, manufacturers and retailers alike.

"It's ridiculous," says Rosemary Wallin, a designer who also teaches at Central Saint Martins art and design college in London. "We have so many collections now. It's unsustainable and we need to change our thinking."

Simultaneously, the purpose of the biannual fashion weeks has been evolving. In the past, they were held primarily so retailers could preview collections and order ahead. But a host of factors – including the growth of the luxury industry, the internet explosion and the increasingly blurred line between fashion and pop culture – has turned these into events something else entirely.

"Today, the primary reason for producing fashion shows is to generate image," says Bjorn Bengtsson, an adjunct professor at the Parsons School for Design in New York and a consultant for brands including Pringle of Scotland and Ted Baker. "This stands in stark contrast to the original intent: to drive sales. No longer do buyers represent a majority of the audience. Their seats have been taken by bloggers and celebrities."

With runway shows now functioning primarily as buzz-building events aimed at consumers, the "see-now-buy-now" model makes perfect sense. "It definitely creates a sense of urgency," says Robert Ferris, head buyer at Australian luxury department store Harrolds. "And it is working for us: we are able to leverage the hype surrounding a runway show and continue the story in store. Tom Ford is the perfect example."

Ferris says the gradual introduction of the see-now-buy-now model may help safeguard the future of bricks-and-mortar luxury retail, which has been struggling to coexist with luxury e-commerce. Currently, online shoppers can order some high-fashion collections during the four-month window between runway and release, making them less likely to visit a physical store. But see-now-buy-now may make a trip to the mall more attractive.

"We have the advantage of providing immediacy," Ferris says. "The client will be able to go into a store [after the runway show] and obtain his desired product straight away."

Michelle Obama Is Holiday Cheer Personified In This Festive Gown

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The annual Kennedy Center Honors are always a delight for the soul, boasting epic musical performances and heartfelt speeches. Thanks to Barack and Michelle Obama, these evenings have been a treat for the eyes over the last eight years, too.

That’s largely because FLOTUS, who has been turning it all the way up these last few months in the White House, never ceases to amaze us with her keen sense of style and on-theme dressing.

Take this floor-length, off-the-shoulder Gucci stunner, for example. It’s even got a bow embellishment to symbolize the present she truly is (or, you know, the holiday season in general).

The first lady previously showed off her holiday flair last week for an event at the White House, wearing a similar dress with long sleeves and a full skirt that was also beautifully embellished. Its length and lack of sparkle made it just a tad less fancy than this one, but there’s no denying they’re both show-stopping party dresses.

President Obama, of course, looked exceptionally dapper in his tuxedo and bow tie, but this home run from FLOTUS is once again the main event.

Autism in the workplace – an opportunity not a drawback

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Let’s be frank: most of us find job interviews stressful. Being bombarded with questions by a stranger who holds your future career in his or her hands is a high-stakes situation that is unlikely to be pleasant. If you have been unemployed for any period of time, you will know from experience that the pressure to succeed mounts. “This could be make or break,” you think to yourself, sweating anxiously in your scratchy shirt.

But imagine, for a moment, that you are also autistic. That you have trouble with social interaction, and that, while your friends and family might be understanding, strangers rarely are. On top of this, there’s the pressure to answer questions honestly – but you’re not sure how honest is too honest. Do you say that you got sacked from your last job because your social difficulties meant you weren’t seen as a “team player”? Do you “come out” with your disability despite the fear that it might count against you? Everything from the brightness of the lights to the office background noise makes you feel completely overwhelmed. And then there’s the fact that there are huge gaps on your CV that are difficult to explain without stating the truth, which is that workplaces are rarely geared towards people like you.

All this is highlighted by the National Autistic Society’s new film, which shows an autistic man undergo a number of job interviews with managers who, mainly through ignorance, lack understanding and empathy about the challenges autistic people might face in a work environment. It’s a stark and affecting piece of work that coincides with the launch of an NAS report into the autism employment gap. Just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid work, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work (obviously, some autistic people will be unable to work, but there are also many who would love to do so). The film raises some issues that go some way to explaining why this might be, while offering a much-needed reminder to employers that not everyone is cast from the same mould.

But it’s not all negative. People on the spectrum may struggle with certain workplace activities and interactions, but increasing numbers of companies are recognising how recruiting “neurodivergently” – actively seeking out people whose brains could be said to be “wired” differently – can bring a whole range of skills and abilities to a workforce. GCHQ’s neurodiversity programme is a prime example. Nurturing more than 300 neurodivergent employees, the programme recognises that people with autism, Asperger’s, dyspraxia and dyslexia might have qualities that are deemed a strength rather than a condition. Such strengths might include anything from phenomenal logic and maths skills and a photographic memory to a “tunnel vision” approach to problem-solving, and many more talents in-between. While it’s important not to get too preoccupied with what you might call Rain Man syndrome – the belief that all people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have some kind of savant quality; this is a stereotype that, as the sister of a severely autistic brother, I find intensely frustrating – it is heartening to see workplaces adopting a nuanced approach to autism.

One such workplace is the BBC. At the all-party parliamentary group on autism for the launch of the NAS report, I was introduced to Leena Haque and Sean Gilroy, both members of the finance team who are responsible for Project Cape (Creating a Positive Environment), which they set up in order to improve the support given to neurodivergent employees, as well as highlighting the skills and talents such individuals can bring to the table. Haque is on the spectrum, and when we meet in a crowded, noisy room in the House of Commons, with some of the busiest flock wallpaper, carpet and ceiling adornment I have ever seen, she is feeling unsurprisingly anxious. (Afterwards, I describe the choice of room to my mother as a “massive autism fail”. My own brother would have lasted at most a couple of seconds in there, before completely freaking out. It just goes to show that even groups set up with the specific aim of making things more accessible to people with autism can get it wrong.)

Haque is highly qualified, with degrees from Durham University and the LSE, but because of her autism found it difficult to find employment. “It was hard to get into work and then to find the right level of support and understanding once in work,” she says. “Line managers and colleagues may have heard of autism, but the level of understanding and empathy with what this actually means for me is often what was missing.

“This all changed when I joined the BBC and met my fellowship of superheroes, as I call them – the group of colleagues who have helped and supported me. The training scheme I joined had made appropriate allowances and adjustments to the recruitment process, although it was still challenging for me. The training scheme also provided additional support for me once I started and I was able to disclose my condition, but I could see there was room for improvement, particularly for people who had neurodivergent conditions.

“I suggested that the BBC could help people understand more about the issues facing neurodivergent people in employment, previously referred to as hidden disabilities – and with its support, Cape was born.”

With support from Gilroy, her line manager, and Ian Haythornthwaite, the BBC’s director of finance, Cape delivers the message that people with neurodivergent conditions are welcome at the BBC. “Our message is that individuals aren’t weird, they are just part of a neurodiverse spectrum upon which we all sit,” Haque says. Cape has the seal of approval from the director general, Tony Hall, and the deputy director general, Anne Bulford.

It means that the next generation of BBC employees with ASD will find themselves supported and championed. “We promote the skills and abilities of people with neurodivergent conditions, highlighting the strengths of differently wired brains which see and access a neurodiverse reality through a different lens,” says Gilroy. Initiatives so far have included two point-of-view films that aim to convey the experiences of someone who is neurodivergent. The first highlights the challenges that people can face at work, while the second, more immersive offering looks at the same issues through 360VR (virtual reality).

Project Cape has also improved accessibility at BBC MediaCityUK Salford, and run workshops on unconscious bias set in the scenario of a zombie apocalypse. It is also doing things in the wider community, taking part in the Design Manchester festival to explore the idea of a neurodiverse-accessible journey through Manchester, and is hoping to offer similar suggestions to towns and cities across the UK.

It’s inspiring to see a company such as the BBC taking such a creative and innovative approach to diversity. That’s not to say that there isn’t still a long way to go until society accepts and understands what it means to be autistic, dyslexic or dyspraxic to the point where people feel that they can talk about their conditions without fear of prejudice and discrimination. But as our economy becomes increasingly tech-orientated, the benefits of employing people who might excel in, say, processing, become apparent. Silicon Valley already employs a much higher than average number of people on the autistic spectrum, and this year Microsoft ran a conference on “neurodiversity in the hi-tech workforce” – with Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes, as keynote speaker – which was attended by delegates from companies such as Google and Apple.

The benefits of such enlightened thinking are clear. “Organisations should recognise that there are many ways people communicate and they should be more open to understanding this,” says Gilroy. “If they get this right, it will open up recruitment processes and employment and they will be able to reap the reward of accessing an untapped market of creative and technical ability.”

And often, Haque says, it doesn’t take much to be more inclusive. “It is often simply about empowering an individual, so they can feel comfortable in sharing their feelings, as well as making sure you listen to what they need.”

Men’s fashion: five key trends

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1 The third-year student cramming for exams

The “day three of finals” look has been perfected in this year’s autumn/winter collections. It’s one we can all relate to: wide-eyed from overcaffeination, and inexplicably covered head to foot in Biro. Why has it resonated with designers so much this season? Maybe because it’s not hard to draw a parallel between the mad panic of the atelier’s deadline and that of a student’s exam essay. Take that silhouette: untucked with bits of fabric trailing may look relaxed and layered, but we see it as more “couldn’t really be bothered to get dressed”. There’s a hint of insomnia and last night’s kebab.

Index-finger-length shirt sleeves to hold nervously like a security blanket as you try to remember the true meaning of Proust’s madeleine? Thank you, Maison Margiela, Prada and Raf Simons. Pyjamas worn by day, because you’ve fallen into a twilight hinterland of vampire-like living and can’t remember what month it is? Cheers Fendi, Gucci and Cavalli.

2 The 90s clubber

Thanks to the closure of Fabric, the clubber as we knew him (and her) has been relegated to the chillout room for all of eternity. Luckily for us, the look of the nightclub regular has been preserved for catwalk posterity.

We’re not talking about the breed of discoball regular who wears a bucket hat, has a glow stick in one hand and an apple sour in the other. No, this is the type of high-end clubber who exists exclusively behind a perfectly preserved velvet rope. He is quite possibly a minor member of a boy band or a semi-regular on Casualty. His padded jacket (by Raf Simons or Ami) is XXXL and is the biggest you’ve ever seen, verging on silly. Does it need its own postcode, or a cameo in a Missy Elliott video?

His other looks are equally alpha and OTT: there’s the shiny, foil jacket that looks like one Puff Daddy might have worn in the pre-JLo days (Astrid Andersen, Calvin Klein Collection) and the faux fur coat (a bit Benny and Björn from Abba, via Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and Burberry) that shouts, very loudly: “I have two free drinks tokens!”

3 The born-again jogger

Fashion is no longer a backstage bacchanalia of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s all green juices, competitive spin classes and wheat-free recipes from goop.com. The sartorial revolution in sportswear hasn’t so much changed the way we dress as allowed us to go from our morning gym session to the office wearing the same outfit (let’s all hope there’s a shower available somewhere).

This season, things have morphed slightly around our 24-7 “always on” culture: it’s more about mixing up sportswear with day- and nightwear. It is now entirely acceptable to combine your zip-up running top with shiny disco pants. Designers such as Christopher Shannon and Burberry have taken the born-again jogger as a muse. This is the guy who, after being the last one to leave the party, insists on smugly rubbing your face in his new, pedometer-carrying, 10km fun-running lifestyle. It makes your sedentary, microwave meal-eating, Pokémon Go-playing life look pitiful in comparison; but, on the plus side, you’re not the one refusing to change out of your shorts for the entire day.

4 The accountant who does slam poetry nights

You think you know Keith, your accountant. You think you know his 2.4 kids, cul-de-sac-dwelling life, don’t you? But he’s not quite the open book you assume he is. Every fortnight, Keith is third-in-command at a regional spoken-word-slash-slam-poetry night. You can often hear him by the photocopier asking the nearest ear, “So, would you like to write anything for our next meeting?” He carries around a beaten-up copy of The Waste Land and writes blank verse about his surprisingly dark observations, so it’s no surprise that in his free time The Real Keith goes by the nickname Baby Baudelaire, and ditches the grey marl suit for a look that evokes a classic Romantic flâneur: velvet smoking jacket (courtesy of Topman Designs) and/or a duffle coat (Dior Homme) accessorised with a neckerchief (Louis Vuitton). Don’t worry, he’s working on a haiku about that.

5 The hippy who just won’t quit

“Nothing after 1983”, is this guy’s motto. He’s not just talking about his music tastes, his film likes and his red wine vintage; he also means his personal style. His look is more analogue than the casts of Vinyl, The Nice Guys and Everybody Wants Some!! combined. This should be a cinch, considering the cyclical, self-referential nature of fashion. Especially this season, where the spirit of Richard Linklater’s Dazed And Confused and a lost summer day in 1976 lives on.

Roberto Cavalli combined slouchy blue jeans with a patterned pirate shirt and Converse, while Alessandro Michele at Gucci combined Suspiria colours with Exile On Main Street, to create something straight out of the Wes Anderson school of thrift-shop chic. Sure, it might seem like we are a chubby sideburn away from smelling like patchouli oil, powering up a lava lamp and wearing a clog, but this past-as-present vibe is a bit more luxe and self-aware than it was the first time around.

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