There is a new phenomenon in Cairo that few people will have the fortune to experience: the first Spring/Summer 2009 collection by Tahir Sultan. Crafted by a young man whose training in fashion design was extensive, and fashion philosophy is well grounded, the new line includes pieces that bridge the gap between art and fashion.
Sultan is an effervescent character, talking passionately about his journey that led him from his homes in Kuwait and Delhi to Florence, London and Paris. With a Kuwaiti father and Indian mother, Sultan comes from a culturally rich background, and he is the first to point out this as a privilege.
Having done a foundation year after high school in Florence, he followed it up with three years in the Architectural Association in London. Hating his years there, he left to India to work in the fashion industry. Setting his sights on completing serious studies at fashion school, despite much skepticism from family, he enrolled and was accepted at the prestigious Central St. Martin’s School of Art and Design. Specializing in Fashion and Knitwear, Sultan returned to Kuwait after four academically successful years to ponder his future.
“I believe in an ethos that if you want something bad enough, it happens. In life I always get what I want and I always have and I always will because if you believe it can happen it happens.
From Galliano to own label
Always hoping that he’d be able to work under John Galliano, head designer at the house of Dior, family and friends were skeptical once again, but luck was on his side.
A chance meeting between his godmother in India with a friend involved in production for Galliano resulted in her showing Edith Chenu Sultan’s work. Chenu as the head of internships at Galliano offered Sultan an interview and he flew out to Paris immediately.
Subsequently, he was offered a position the following Monday.
“Working with John [Galliano] . there was so much creativity, talent, there was such a great team. He creates these interesting worlds, with these characters. You ask ‘where do they come from’ and ‘who are they?’
“I learned a lot because I really got taken through the ropes because I really wanted to learn from everyone. Sometimes I used to work with a 101 degree fever. Once I was taking off jewels worth around ?300,000 off models and putting it into my hoodie pocket because no one else was organized enough to. Edith Chenu who was head of interns at Galliano trusted me with a lot and gave me lots of chances.
He was told by Catherine Evier, head of Dior’s couture line, to take his talent and leave Dior; that he must start his own collection.
And that he has recently done, working over the past five months to put together a collection that is novel in its approach to dressing women comfortably and fashionably.
He is also proud to point out that he started with only $150. Today, his collection is sold in stores of high fashion; Othman in Kuwait, Scoop in Dubai, and now HIP in Cairo.
Daring and comfortable
Turning up at fancy formal Christmas dinners in a bathrobe is exemplary of his attitude to fashion: spontaneous and daring.
“I think in life a lot of people get bogged down by what people think. What only matters and counts is what you think of yourself. Once you stop worrying, your life becomes your own.
Has Galliano seen his work? “I don’t think so, but I don’t really care either. And Sultan’s clothes embody the same attitude: dramatic in their effect without a care about current trends.
For him, the story of a woman who wore a parachute as a wedding dress sums up his passion for fashion. “When questioned she says, ‘See that small red stain in the corner? My husband during the war had to eject out of his plane, and he scraped his knee upon landing which is why it has a blood stain. But had it not been for this parachute, we would not be here today.’ That is what fashion is all about to me.
His designs are like visual tricks, playing with your eyes as you sweep the silhouettes of his designs. Although the colors are soft and muted: mostly sky blue, grey, light khaki, white and black, there is much dramatic flair to the pieces because of cut and shape.
Having selected a few basic silhouettes and ideas, that of the man shirt, the basic little black dress and day jacket, Sultan has played with established notions of form.
Drapes, pleats and artful tucking are in full swing as he exaggerates the length of a men’s shirt to transform it into a long tight fitting dress with dramatic collar and up turned cuffs. Day jackets are jazzed up with tails and bustles, fusing rigid masculine lines along the collar and cuff with the sensuality of the pleats which are gathered around the hips and fall softly behind.
Sultan also takes on the persistent challenge that all designers grapple with: How to create that perfect all occasion Little Black Dress?
The Missy dress and the Bohemian dress stand out in black. The former takes the concept of a men’s shirt and fuses it with a wide skirt pleated at the waist. The wispy drapes hang down so regally, it evokes a sense of Victorian era fashion yet in a manner reminiscent of Vivienne Westwood’s flair for play, or Alexander McQueen’s panache for drama.
The Bohemian is a bateau topped dress, gathered with strong elastic to pull and tug across the body at three intervals, across the shoulder, at the waist and mid-thigh. Sultan’s trademark draping effect rises from behind with great seduction, yet never physically revealing much.
Undertones of empowerment
“What I find hard and challenging is making clothes that people can wear. I have managed to find a balance within a price point that is accessible to almost any woman. It embodies all the femininity yet the design aspect as well.
Only 30 percent of his designs are categorized as the “unwearable type of artistic fashion, “so I can have the space to design and explore for myself. Then I might change something here or there. At the end of the day it’s a creative process.
In addition to being accessible, his designs also make a statement.
“I don’t have one woman in mind, women of all weights, sizes and shapes are wearing my clothes. My clothes are sexy, conservative. Any woman can take it and wear it and make it her own. . My clothes are a starting point for someone to express themselves. I like to think that I give people a freedom through an “art and I produce this [art] with a lot of love, a lot of caring.
“The clothes are about empowering woman.
He muses on the common practice of offering affordable ready to wear lines different from the costly courture lines. “My pieces from the intended couture line are a lot more expensive but they are pieces you will wear for life, you will love for life, they will never go out of fashion.
“Most of the stuff in my couture collection are sold so quickly I don’t even have time to document them after production.
His clothes are manufactured in Kuwait, Hong Kong and India, and he talks proudly of a recent project taking place in India that he is involved in. Teaching village women with no skill sets how to sew and construct his pieces, the women have been able to take work home and work on their own time, now earning more than their husbands and brothers.
“With privilege comes responsibility to give back to society and educate other people. Living in the Middle East one is aware that not everyone is in a position to be educated. My philosophy which keeps me happy is if I’m going to take, I have to give back, and it’s a cycle which I think works.
Sultan says that balancing a profitable job with charity work has “completely changed what I want. But my goals still remain the same, to attain my goals.
“The bigger the brand expands the more uncomfortable I get with being the face of it. I guess I’m not as vain as I thought, he says laughing.
www.tahirsultan.comHIP: 3 Amman Square,Dokki, Giza. Tel: 02-333-64-182www.hip-cairo.com