The Queen of Kaftans

Dubai-based fashion designer Selma Benomar talks about the heritage of the Moroccan Kaftan and the inspiration behind her Eid Collection

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, August 30, 2017

Eid is just around the corner and if you haven't found the perfect outfit for the occasion, then look no further. Selma Benomar's kaftan designs are synonymous with luxury, beauty and elegance. With amazing detail and workmanship, quality fabrics in simple silhouettes, we fell in love with how Selma manages to fuse the visual elements that we love about traditional dress but reimagining how they can exist in a contemporary environment. One thing is for sure, you will definitely get noticed in a Selma Benomar kaftan.

City Times managed to have a chat with the charming and self-taught Selma about the diversity of the kaftan, its origins and how every woman should wear one.

Can you tell us how different the Moroccan kaftan is from other kaftans around the Middle East?

Although the kaftan has been worn all around the Middle East, the origin of this attire comes from Morocco. Moroccan kaftans are often representative of the diverse culture heritage and its influences. Even though a kaftan is usually luxurious and heavy, our kaftans are simplistic yet rich.

For a woman who is interested in Middle Eastern fashion, how would you describe a kaftan?

Kaftan is a traditional outfit but can be worn at any time and in any way. It brings out the feminine side of a woman while keeping comfort in mind. Like any other outfit, there are a few rules to follow when you chose a kaftan. As they are a kind of a dress, you need to make sure you choose the right cuts for your body and the best possible colours for your skin tone. Kaftans can be worn at any time! A lot of my clients get kaftans to attend weddings and events, but kaftans can also be worn at any other time. Light weight, with light fabrics and less embroidered pieces can also be fashioned at various gatherings.

How do you add modern elements into the kaftan?

I am fortunate to have lived and worked in Paris for almost a decade, this helps me combine the traditional and modern together to create something truly spectacular. Rich Moroccan heritage combined with the right touch of modern design element, that is what my brand is known for. Simplistic with less work, but high end fabrics, neutral palettes but a unique combination of colours - these are the codes of the brand that puts the old and the new to create stunning pieces.

How would you describe the fashion industry here in Dubai?

Dubai is truly a multi-cultural city, with an exciting blend of people, personalities and tastes. All elements of art and style are vivid in this glorious city. Dubai plays an integral part in my design and inspiration process. With all that is happening in Dubai in terms of the growing economy and tourism, it is no surprise that Dubai is almost as well-known as Italy, London or Milan when it comes to the fashion world now. Dubai is also creating its own identity with home grown designers, bringing various unique mixes into the fashion scene and the growing modest fashion scene as well.

How would you describe starting a creative business here in Dubai?

Starting any business can be a daunting task, not just in Dubai but anywhere. Dubai especially has seen a huge rise in up and coming new brands recently. As designers we have the concept idea, the skill and the technical knowledge of bringing an outstanding piece to life but we should not forget that it is equally important to pay attention to business. Because after all fashion designing is a business. Dubai's growth has made it very motivating to start up a business. From the beautiful city to the tourism, why would you want to start anywhere else?

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I usually get inspired by nature. Not one era or person in particular but I do follow many international designers. My first inspiration, however, comes out of nature. Nothing like it! You can find the most beautiful and unusual colour combinations so I always get attracted to this natural creativity and beauty around us. I will often travel to South East Asia to get inspired from the beautiful nature there.

What keeps you motivated?

I know most women have different roles to play, mom, wife, daughter, sister. And as women we tend to sometimes overlook what we really want because of our duties and responsibilities. Although this is a trait that we must be proud of, we should also remember that some things are done for the greater good. Following your dream might lead to so many people around you who would want to work with you, for you and just see you work - to achieve something be it big or small. This is what will change the situation around us, a good number of energized, motivated women pouring their energy, their passion into manifesting their future, their loved ones' future, as opposed to being disappointed or led down.

What is your process of design?

I think the most I love about designing is turning the fabric into a dress. This is something I love. I usually start with fabrics, I don't start with sketches. I choose the fabric first and sketch afterwards. I really like the whole process of turning a simple piece of fabric into a beautiful dress or kaftan. Fabrics are most important for me. I look at them like a painted panel and I draw beautiful visuals through them and turn it into a collection full of floral glory and enigma. My kaftans are known for their unique colour combination, where I intricately plan every kaftan, putting up fabrics and pieces together on mannequins, with hours spent in combining colour palettes. It is only later that a piece is sewn to perfection, finished with a delicate hand.

Tell us about your Eid collection.

This collection is inspired by my beautiful friend and talented actress Mayssa Maghrebi.
Mayssa showcases a style that is feminine yet fresh. She is someone a lot of women really admire and look up to. The details in the collection are done carefully using only the best crystals adding the perfect regal touch to these simple pieces. With lush embroidery leading the way, we made sure the finishing touch is fine and heavy usually with an intricate belt, adding a new level of charm to the pieces.

When and how did you decide to be a fashion designer?

Kaftans are close to Moroccan heritage. I remember watching a family member work on these while I would watch in amusement. I would watch them manage fabric, hand-stitch material and use different stonework. Although I loved it all, I never really knew that this was something I would do passionately later in life. I studied in Paris, completed my Bachelor's degree in Business Administration and Masters in Quality Management. I worked for almost four years in the same field. Soon I realised I needed to travel and surprisingly landed in Dubai, where I discovered the need for kaftan, real ones and my destiny. When I came to Dubai, there wasn't really any luxury brand for Moroccan kaftans, so it was my goal to have a trusted luxury Kaftan brand available for people here. It's a traditional outfit usually but I did it in a trendy, modern way - from cuts to fabrics. It was my vision to present this in a more up-to-date manner and follow fashion trends.

Who are you personal fashion icons?

There are a lot of international designers that I follow and admire. I really like Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko. I feel like something she does is similar to my work. I am also inspired by my country, Morocco's rich heritage just as she is inspired by her country Russia. I also love the work of famous designer Elie Saab. And I am proud of the fact that he is not only well known in the Arab world but also internationally. I love his previous fall winter collection where I noticed some work was inspired by Moroccan kaftans.

What about in your personal life? Who are some women that influenced your style and attitude towards life?

I am influenced by people who I grew up watching. My close family was full of artists and people who were passionate about kaftan designing. I remember watching hand stitched pieces being sewn together and thinking how much I loved it. I have surely learned a lot from them, now that I design pieces and create looks. Coming back to my personal life, I look up to my aunts, my cousins, sisters and my mom to have shown immense strength in all areas of life.

How would you describe your own personal sense of style?

My personal style is very simplistic yet elegant. Of course this is very important for me that I design pieces that I would wear myself. I cannot design something that I would never wear, so my style influences my designs a lot. I love simplicity in general. I don't like complicated and heavy outfits and this shows in my designs too.

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