Dubai-based label Arwa Al Banawi continues to inject fresh energy into the classical suit silhouette
“The suitable woman” is how Saudi designer Arwa Al Banawi describes her recurring muse. “It’s a play on words, so suit as in the suit, and suitable as in she’s the right woman,” Arwa explains. When she first emerged on the fashion scene in 2015, it was with a collection of brightly patterned suits for females, and since then, the suit has remained a key silhouette for the Saudi designer. “Power suits have always inspired me,” says Arwa. “We feel empowered when we’re in them, and I wanted to make suits that are both effortlessly cool and elegant at the same time, redefining the classical pantsuit and giving it an urban twist.”
Last year, for spring/summer 2017, her approach was kitschy and playful – one suit was printed with ice cream and rainbow motifs, while others were crafted from a palette of baby pinks and luxurious mint greens, trading in trousers for shorts. This season, Arwa’s prints of choice have roots in the ’80s, and her black-and-white polka dot, and teal-and-orange star-patterned suits are given relaxed, pyjama-style cuts. Cheetah prints are incorporated into the range, appearing on sporty, two-piece sets and on a dramatic, trailing gown. There are gingham jackets with frayed hems and sporty, wide-leg trousers in bold, red-orange hues. Through one look, embellished with zig-zag stripes of teal sequins, Arwa shows how even the most casual garment shapes – drawstring trousers and hooded sweatshirts, can evoke glamour for the modern-day millennial. The title of the spring/summer 2018 collection is ‘Banat’, the Arabic word for ‘daughters’, and it’s scrawled across T-shirts, hoodies, jackets and trouser legs – a signature Arwa Al Banawi mark, as her previous collections have shown text spelling out ‘the suitable woman’, and ‘hayataha’, the Arabic word for ‘her life’, on T-shirts and jacket lapels.
Arwa’s personal style is heavily influenced by athleisure, and last autumn, she created a capsule collection called P.E. by Arwa Al Banawi, which was launched by Adidas Originals in Dubai Design District. Arabic slogans saying ‘you get me but you don’t’ were written on pieces in the athleisure collection, which also included a slouchy, abaya-inspired dress. “I design for a woman whose style is very urban, chic and a bit masculine, so I make pieces that I know fit her lifestyle, keeping in mind of course the modest styles, because I’m also Saudi and I know we need more options to layer and dress in a certain way,” explains Arwa. Though her clothes appeal to a wide audience, Arwa has remained committed to her roots, and to the requirements of her Middle Eastern clientele. The brand is often present at showrooms during Paris Fashion Week, and is a regular at Fashion Forward Dubai, but Arwa’s home country gets first dibs on the unveiling of her next collection. “For autumn/winter 2018 I skipped Paris Fashion Week because I was showcasing at the first Riyadh Fashion Week in Saudi Arabia and I want to give them that honor by showing my collection there first,” she says.
Words by Hafsa Lodi.