17 January 2013

Morocco's Fashion Designer, Zhor Rais - 'An Ambassador for Kaftans'

interview

The National, Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane - A highlight of Muscat Fashion Week 2013 was the 36-piece collection by the North African kaftan couturier Zhor Rais. Having first shown her designs in Oman 25 years ago, the Moroccan designer had the perfect opportunity at this week's event to educate her children about how her debut helped turned her into a runaway commercial success.

How does it feel to be back at MFW?

I feel very nostalgic to be back and I am so proud to represent Morocco at this fabulous Gulf event. I love this country and things have changed a lot, for me and it, in more than two decades. I'm also delighted to be able to bring my two daughters with me. My 29-year-old, Shadia, designs with me, helping to keep things fresh and young.

With whom did you design the collection you are showing in mind?

Well, it's certainly not just Arab women. It's for everyone. My primary aim is to encourage international women to have a kaftan in their wardrobe. That's what I'm striving for.

In addition to kaftans the collection includes shirts, jackets, capes and jalabiyas for daywear and evening wear. The fabrics are predominately satin, organza, lace and chiffon in pastel shades but there are also some spicy colours such as yellow velvet, orange and turquoise.

Explain your decision to take the "kaftan cause" to a European fashion capital.

Eight years ago, I showed at Paris Haute Couture Week. It wasn't cheap to do yet I would do it again and again because I truly want everyone to know about the Moroccan kaftan. I'll pay the price to promote and market it abroad, and of course I'm happy when they sell, but it's more important for me to be something of an ambassador for kaftans abroad.

Will kaftans always remain at the heart of your collections?

Absolutely. It's my culture so I'm keeping tradition alive and giving it a modern twist.

While our materials are often sourced from Paris, our thread only comes from Morocco and we use around 20 local craftswomen to embellish the pieces around the neck, sleeves and central panels. We also love using Moroccan brocade. I'm just here to explain that Moroccan fashion hasn't completely lost its noble heritage. I'm emphasising its elegance, grace and that these handcrafted designs can be worn by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

What first inspired you to get into design?

I started designing for myself and others in my late teenagers. I then attended schools in Casablanca such as L'École Superieure des Beaux Arts and Esmod, which used to be there. Design was always part of my environment because my father had a workshop making uniforms for the Moroccan army.

Although his pieces were very sober in form and colour, when I started designing kaftans some of my creations appeared with straight lines of beads across the shoulders - undoubtedly inspired by the military stripes of his uniforms.

For more information, visit www.zhor-rais.com

Zhor's fashion 101

Kings of couture: L'enfant terrible, John Galliano for his crazy side and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Can't live without: Sergio Rossi shoes.

Style advice to women: Have the courage of your fashion convictions.

Would most like to dress: Monica Bellucci, Nicole Kidman and Sharon Stone - so many powerful women.

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