How one lucky Dubai fashion student got the opportunity to work with Rami Al Ali

The fashion designer has given a fashion student the opportunity to intern at his atelier, with the resultant capsule collection on sale this month

United Arab Emirates, September 2, 2017

Hark back, if you will, to your student years. Ponder for a moment (if it’s not too faint a memory) on what it would have meant to the younger you to have interned for someone who was globally recognised in their field. Think of the difference it might have made to your skill set and confidence levels if you had been able to learn something practical from people in the actual workplace. Admittedly, some of you may have been interns, but I will wager that in most cases more time was spent fetching your superiors coffees than gaining genuine industry knowledge.

One student from Esmod Dubai, the UAE arm of the famed French fashion school, has been lucky enough to spend the summer gaining invaluable skills from fashion heavyweight Rami Al Ali – in an initiative spearheaded by Al Ali himself.

“Previously the school had approached us to be part of the graduation panel [for third year students], and we were more than happy to do that, but we wanted to be more involved than just at the end. We noticed that it was too late to give notes, so wanted to do something in the second year to give the students the opportunity to still expand and experiment. So, we approached Esmod. We suggested this project,” Al Ali explains, at his atelier in the Dubai Design District.

The project, as he calls it, is a partnership with Esmod that requires second-year fashion students to compete for a slot as an intern in Al Ali’s ready-to-wear studio. The winner receives mentoring from the designer himself, as well as the expertise of the atelier at their disposal. Al Ali says: “When we approached Esmod management, they were very welcoming of the idea.”

In fact, they were so keen on the initiative that they have now taken the unusual step of making it a mandatory part of their curriculum. The premise is simple: moving forward, every second-year fashion student will design a collection inspired by the work of Al Ali. Free to draw on any of his previous collections, students must research and create their own work, taking design cues from Al Ali’s creations. The work is then judged and a winner selected. Over the course of the internship, these designs are produced and then sold through a local retailer.

This year, the students submitted work to a panel that, naturally, included Al Ali. Karashash Nurakhmet was named the winner.

“It was very difficult to select one as they were all excellent. We had a really long discussion with Esmod, asking if we could we take all five,” Al Ali tells me. “Karashash’s designs are commercial and modern, easy to produce, and look good without needing to be explained.

“Her work suits the taste of the Middle East, and at the same time shows creativity. College is the place where you show off your skills, but with this project we wanted students to connect with reality and make them able to communicate with the customer.

“Students think commercial is something negative. But if you are a fashion designer, being commercial is very important for your business, so we wanted to remove the negativity and make it a positive. Commercial is not the opposite of creative,” says Al Ali.

“We have a lot of knowledge about the market, especially in this region, and we wanted to share that. Ultimately, the most important thing is that it is a way for us to give back. We have experience and know-how and we want to pass on that knowledge,” he adds.

Nurakhmet is already entrenched in Al Ali’s atelier when I visit. “It was very unexpected for me to win,” she says shyly when asked. “I did my last calico [mock-up] in just one day, as I didn’t have any time.

“The other students had the help of the teachers, but I was travelling, so when Mr Rami chose me, I was so shocked.

“I was inspired by Mr Rami’s spring/summer 2013 collection, which was based on The Great Gatsby, which has always inspired me, too. I mixed The Great Gatsby with Studio 54. My style is very free, loose, straight cut and always A-line.

“I used The Great Gatsby and its champagne colours, with sparkling stripes, and also took inspiration from New York, Studio 54 and art deco.”

Nurakhmet’s winning capsule collection is due to go on sale exclusively at the Polette concept store in City Walk Dubai this month.

Having created the original collection, it must have been interesting for Al Ali to see his work reimagined through someone else’s eyes, and watching him nodding enthusiastically at Nurakhmet’s ideas, he certainly looks happy with her approach. “It is a very interesting mix,” he tells me.

His desire to support and nurture the next generation of designers is, of course, mutually beneficial – as he supplies a helping hand to newcomers, he is also able to open up a dialogue about fresh new ideas.

“We realised that we need to be connected to the now, and how the new generation perceives fashion.

“Plus, it’s a great opportunity for us to scout for new team members and for students who most suit our DNA,” he says.

Rami Al Ali & Karashash Nurakhmet's team busy at work. Chris Whiteoak / The National

For the summer, at least, Nurakhmet has the complete workshop at her disposal. No doubt more familiar with running up her own pieces on a sewing machine at home, suddenly she has a ready-to-wear studio at her fingertips, and the years of experience of the craftsmen and women working there to call upon. However, this is more than just an opportunity to produce her own designs.

“Most importantly, we want to teach her the technical elements. We want to teach her how to interact with the team. She is leading the production so she needs to know how to explain and manage, and to get them to get the product finished to the best quality, in the time required,” says Al Ali, who is clearly keen to offer Nurakhmet a solid grounding in the practical business of running a studio and team. “We want the team to help her as much as possible, but also for her to stick to her concept.”

Spending time in the studio, which is brimming with bolts of fabrics, shelves stacked with boxes of beads, and mood boards tacked to various walls, is clearly the stuff of fashion student dreams, and Nurakhmet fully recognises what an invaluable opportunity this is.

“I feel very lucky that Mr Rami chose me,” she says.

“It’s such a great experience for me, and so helpful. Before I came, I was so nervous, but the team met me with a smile, and have helped me so much.”

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