Last month, actor Timothee Chalamet unveiled a hoodie he created in collaboration with designer Haider Ackermann that is meant to raise money for the people of Afghanistan, who have faced massive economic upheaval since the Taliban took power in August.
The stylish actor said he and Ackermann were horrified to learn of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and decided to design the blue and white hoodie, 100% of the proceeds from which will go to a humanitarian organization in the troubled country which fights to protect the rights of women and children.
the Dunes The stars’ post was immediately shared across Afghan social media and major fashion publications vogue, Paper and O everyone heard the news. But despite all the attention these two men are receiving, Afghan designers who have worked for years to not only evolve Afghan style, but to make clear and bold political statements about their homeland, are being overlooked.
Shamayel Shalizi, Marina Khan and Naweed Zazai, designers in their twenties and thirties, run Blingistan, Avizeh and Zazai respectively, three strikingly different brands, but each placing Afghanistan, with all its complexities, difficulties and beauty, at the center of its mission and its message. .
For these three designers, there is no fashion without politics.
In 2008, after years of living between California and Russia, Shalizi, then 14 years old, returned to Kabul. This is where she says she found herself and, above all, her artistic voice. While living in her father’s house west of Kabul, she began wandering through tailors’ shops and crowded markets. Along the way, she bought yards and yards of fabric and canvas.
It opened all these doors for me to try all these different artistic mediums, says Shalizi The National.
She became a compulsive designer of clothing designs and jewelry sets, and depicted in her designs the life she saw around her. She would then have tailors and jewellers, usually older men who were trained in the thick, ornate and embellished designs of traditional Afghan fashion to make her designs a reality.
When she launched Blingistan in 2017, she wanted customers to know the designs were created by an Afghan woman. I want people to know that Afghanistan can be many things, that everything I do is for Afghanistan.
In this capacity, she followed the path of a long line of designers such as Alexander McQueen, Demna Gvasalia, Telfar Clemens and Kerby Jean-Raymond, who never shied away from using their work to make political or societal statements. .
If anyone were to doubt that, all they had to do was scroll through Blingistan’s Instagram, with its 14,000 followers, where photos of merchandise such as gold hoop earrings with the phrase Dari “Dilem Bicyclem”, or “I do what I want”, hang. ears of a non-binary model with long hair sitting next to a screenshot of a statement about Afghan women claiming to be the first to do something.
“We Afghan women are quick to sell ourselves just for a chance to be the next Malala Yousufzai,” she wrote in the caption alongside the aforementioned post. “Is a contract or a newspaper article worth more than our own dignity? Or is it worth more than the love and respect our country and our ancestors deserve?”
Shalizi is of course not the first Afghan fashion designer.
If Blingistan is the enfant terrible who uses goofy designs to make obvious, straightforward statements borrowing from the styles of 1980s and 90s hip-hop, then Avizeh is the senior stateswoman. Khan’s brand stands as a treatise of highly stylized and refined interpretations of the ornate traditions of Afghan dress that plays on high fashion imagery to challenge traditional notions of femininity and beauty.
Like Shalizi, Khan has always had an interest in art, design and fashion. A psychologist by trade, Khan, 29, fell into design out of necessity. She says she struggled to find Afghan dresses and jewelry that matched her modern tastes.
I was a consumer myself, but never found anything, so I decided to make it myself, she says from her home in Canada, where she grew up.
In 2014, Khan was invited to a family wedding but found the clothes in Afghan stores dated and lacking in creativity. Even the new designs at the time were boring and lost, not something young girls would wear.”
Because the women in her family always made their own clothes, Khan decided to start making her own jewelry and posted her designs on Facebook. Her first collection of 20 rings, three necklaces, four cuffs and two headpieces sold out in three days at the end of 2014.
She hasn’t stopped since.
Eventually, she expanded her line to include her versions of traditional Afghan women’s dresses. I didn’t know where I was getting this, I just knew I wanted to work on female empowerment.
I wanted to bring Afghan art in a new light that tells a very specific story about beauty and fashion.
Khan is a creative director in every sense of the word, overseeing every aspect of each collection, right down to model castings and concept storyboarding for each campaign.
Although the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has increased global interest in brands such as Avizeh, Khan says it shouldn’t take a dramatic societal upheaval for his designs to garner interest from publishers. and Western buyers.
I was very angry at first. I was here before all this, she said. Why do you want to talk to me now that all is lost?”
As a member of the global Afghan diaspora, Khan wants to use her work to promote a culture that she says has been lost through decades of war and displacement caused by the ongoing conflict in her country. As such, it is very important to her to work with artisans in Afghanistan to help bring her vision to life.
Still, it can sometimes be difficult to rely on the talents of mostly older men. At first, Khan says she was just a 22-year-old girl leading older Afghan men.
Over time, however, as the brand grew in popularity, the ties between designers and makers grew stronger. They are the most well-bred men. They treat me like their little sister.
Khan and Shalizi, who were in Uzbekistan at the time of our interview, intended to return to Afghanistan this year, but the arrival of the Taliban in August made it much more difficult to maintain financial and artistic ties with the country.
Although she insists she is in no way pro-Taliban, Shalizi sat down with low-level Taliban fighters she had come into contact with. She says these encounters, these simple conversations, taught her a lot about their 20-year insurgency against Western occupation.
They are lost too,” she said. “They are like many people in Afghanistan, they never had a real childhood. They were told things and brainwashed.”
Shalizi uses photos of a stylish young Taliban fighter who went viral shortly after the August 15 takeover as an example of the dormant Afghan creativity she wants the world to see. Seeing that image, it just showed that beyond all that exterior, there’s a person out there, someone who took the time to choose their clothes and put all those things together.
Overall, in mainstream fashion, Khan and Shalizi’s status as designers is a rarity. Women make up the majority of fashion and retail employees, and up to 80% of all fashion buying decisions, worth up to $15 trillion globally. However, only 12.5% of fashion CEOs are women, with just 26% of them on boards. For this reason, Khan is particularly proud to see Afghan women leading the charge in her home country, although there are no official statistics on the number of women involved in fashion in Afghanistan.
One man involved in the industry, however, is Zazai, who in 2015 traveled between his home province of Paktia and Kabul before heading to the Netherlands and launching his own eponymous fashion line. The brand is named after the famous Pashtun tribe known for their rebellions against British imperialists and an oppressive Afghan monarchy.
Using his tribal name was not safe, as he says members of his tribe in Paktia, including Taliban fighters, advised him to change the name of the brand, but he refused. What’s important to me is the message, and that people see it.
From the start, Zazai, 28, wanted to take Afghan styles and mix them with high fashion, so he put a man in leggings and reinvented the traditional longi turban, tunics and pato, shawls worn by Afghan men. Across the country.
Zazai knows that his collections may never win mainstream support in Afghanistan, not even in 20 years, but for him, art is more about message than commerce.
I have a stable life. I just want to be able to challenge people and make them think, he says.
Unlike Shalizi and Khan, Zazai has no interest in being a commercial designer, instead wanting to use his work to make statements.
I like extremes. I like a message. These things don’t usually go with commercial designs.”
Updated: January 21, 2022, 6:01 p.m.
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