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Fashion Beyond Tradition

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Fashion Beyond Tradition
Saleh Fareed | Arab News

Heba Jamal

In the age of modern science and technology, having a specific relevant skill is an edge. Such expertise is usually acquired through hard work and dedication, yet there are a few who may not have invested the time necessary to be imbibed with rare skills. All they need is an inspiration and a good environment.

Such talents though, like that of Heba Jamal, are often in the realm of arts. They are the gifted people: Those who have the natural or otherwise exceptional ability that oftentimes starts to manifest early in their lives.

In the high-profile fashion industry in Saudi Arabia, Heba rings a bell. As the youngest Saudi professional fashion designer, she fits perfectly well in the dazzling world of fashion — as perfect as her haute couture.

Born and raised in Jeddah, Heba admits that she spent much of her early years growing up in her mother’s well-established fashion center.

“I was born and found myself in the beauty of colors and designs, such creative environment possessed me, and hence I found myself fond of it. My mother Rona, a famous fashion designer, raised me, therefore I do feel that I was meant to be a fashion designer,” she said.

Heba’s mother has been a professional fashion designer for nearly 30 years, having earned her tailoring skills at an international specialized academy. Unlike other young girls who were surrounded with dolls, Heba was instead surrounded by colors and fashion. “As a child I was in a real working environment, in my mother’s center,” she said. “Hence I acquired designing skills in a very professional way and I was able to develop my capabilities widely.”

Heba’s mother’s working atmosphere captivated her. She is an embodiment of what her mother is, and the family’s fashion-designer mantra lives on. She has no regrets, after all: “I was meant to be a fashion designer ... thank God that my dreams turned into reality.”

Highly accomplished in this profession and at a young age, Heba does not forget to pay tribute to those behind her success. “I owe my success firstly to God and secondly to my mother,” she said. “It is very hard for me to express my appreciation and gratitude, she was my first teacher and helped me to be what I am now, I will always follow her advice. My father and brothers, particularly my brother Mohammed, have also encouraged me.”

“In my designs, I often mix Oriental and Western styles,” she added. “My designs are in line with international fashion lines and, at the same time, suit Arabian women in general and Gulf women in particular. In my style I take into account features, identity, skin color and figure and concentrate on figure problems (if any).”

She emphasizes that “not many fashion designers can do that. I am proud of my Arabian origin and, thus, I am fond of designing traditional costumes such as the Gulf jalabiya, and I show them in my own way.”

But how does Heba’s handiwork stands out from the rest? She says that her clients and the fashion world’s concerned parties can speak clearly for the difference.

“Despite their different tastes, they describe my designs as different, distinctive ideas and fabrics, far from traditional and repeated styles. They know my touches, as my designs satisfy all tastes and desires.”

Heba draws inspiration from her surroundings and plucks new ideas from her own outlook of things as an artist. “A designer is an artist that can be influenced by everything around him, things that he loves, things that he has in mind. I can be inspired by a nice portrait or by a wonderful poem that I like, or from a trip. I was in South Africa on a leisure visit before my last collection, there I was attracted and inspired by the nature and its colors and animals’ skins. That is clearly reflected in my latest collection,” she said.

“I really enjoy dressing people,” she adds. “When people come to my center, I put an outfit together for them and they look fantastic. They’re really happy. I like knowing that someone’s life is better because of what I do. I also enjoy the act of creating clothes. Working with color and fabric are things that really drive me.”

“My childhood was of a different sort as my mother dedicated a lot of her time to develop the language of expression within me ... my expression does not differ greatly from the area that she adores,” she said.

The influence of her mother was pervasive, so much so that her brother Mohammed Jamal is also a fashion designer. “Jamal and I studied fashion designing in Milan, Italy, where I was trained by the famous Italian fashion designer Senior Du Angelo, the mentor of the famous Christian Dior. Du Angelo commended my talent compared to my young age, and expected a bright future for me.”

Heba has already launched four fashion shows and the fifth is being planned. The first fashion show included 20 haute couture models out of which six were wedding dresses. The second show included 30 haute couture models in addition to five wedding dresses. The third show included 35 haute couture models and four wedding dresses. The fourth show included 49 haute couture models and eight wedding dresses.

And plans are afoot for her fifth fashion show featuring her Summer and Spring 2007 collections that include 76 models out of which 50 are soiree gowns, eight are Gulf jalabiyas and ten are wedding dresses, in addition to all accessories for each collection.

“In the Gulf jalabiya models, I blended Gulf style with Punjabi style (the sari). I also mixed Gulf and Moroccan styles and used Persian, Chinese and Islamic writings as well.”

She also has held TV fashion shows on the Rotana Khaleejiah TV channel and other Arabian TV channels. “My designs were featured in the editorials of several magazines. Thank God, all these fashion shows was admired by all social classes in Arabian and Gulf countries.”

Aside from these, Heba also designs mantles for henna nights. “I introduced new designs while maintaining the traditional design,” she said. “I likewise design dresses for various marriage occasions such as engagement, shabka, and wedding with all accessories. It is great to find different designs for each occasion.”

As for the fabrics that she uses, especially for the wedding dress, Heba’s ingenuity shows off by always adopting innovation and creativity in the design of wedding dresses. She likes to go beyond traditional styles.

“I always aim to satisfy all tastes, and hence I use various kinds of fabrics such as French taffeta and dantelle and other fabrics,” she said.

Successful as she is in the women’s fashion world, Heba said she would like to venture in a new territory by entering the world of men’s fashion design.

“Actually, I am getting ready to present my next collection for women and men. This collection will include Saudi and Omani (Gulf) men’s fashions, plus new concept of folklore costumes. I have added some ideas on men’s headwear, but in this area we need to consider the basic rules required for designing men’s clothes. Based on my studies, I do believe there is a lot that can be added to men’s wear.”

But in such a segment, is she not afraid that she will be overwhelmed by its male dominance, concerned people ask her, to which, she quips: “Creation in any field does not rely on gender, it relies on the innovator himself. In my opinion, it is somewhat superficial to judge the success of a person by his gender.”

A highly informed designer at that, Heba reveals that she “reads a lot to learn more about world’s different cultures,” which encouraged her to learn languages such as Persian, Turkish and English.

“I am a regular student at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, English literature is my major,” she said. “I do believe that my mind is greater than my age, my ambition is unlimited and I do believe that success requires a lot of efforts, follow ups, and knowledge of the importance of time and its organization.”

The triumph that Heba now enjoys comes with no challenge, so far. But as innovative and daring as she is — traits of a consummate artist — she says the present developments make her more professional and sophisticated in her approach and workmanship.

“Fashion designing is a classy profession, it is a sublime form of arts and based on feelings, high-taste, imagination and true talent ... though it appears strange to what our society is accustomed to.”

“As for the obstacles, I do not think we are facing obstacles. On the contrary, there is great understanding and interest. There is great attention for Saudi women to highlight their achievements, taking into account the uniqueness and traditions of our society. On international level, I can’t say that there are obstacles; it is merely a matter of competition among the designers, in creativity, innovation and placing of new fashion lines. Fashion is not a tradition or normal trade, it is much more than that,” Heba clarifies.

And her professional advice: “Clothes are fun, it is fun to get dressed up. Depending on what you are wearing, you are a different person. Fashion is different from other fields. It is about living in the NOW. Every day when you get dressed, you are recreating yourself. That is an amazing thing.”

Heba Jamal’s designs are available at “Heba for Ladies” center in Jeddah. For other designs, visit her website at:
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