Fash­ion de­signer Rym Me­naifi draws on the wealth of her Al­ge­rian her­itage to daz­zle on the run­way

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Ruby Bouk­abou

De­signer Rym Me­naifi draws on the wealth of her Al­ge­rian her­itage to daz­zle

When I was lit­tle, I hung out with my grandma, who was a seam­stress, and my aunts, who used golden thread to make beau­ti­ful, tra­di­tional gan­doura dresses in their work­shop in Con­stan­tine. My grandma passed down her pas­sion by help­ing me make dolls and dresses for them. By the time I was a teenager, I was de­sign­ing items for my­self, my lit­tle sis­ter and friends. I never thought this could be­come my pro­fes­sion. I wanted to be an ar­chi­tect or a pi­lot. [My fam­ily] per­suaded me to study medicine. To tease me at univer­sity, my friends called me ‘Dr. Cou­turière’. When I in­terned in surgery my stitches were so good that my pro­fes­sor let me fin­ish op­er­a­tions so they would be aes­thet­i­cally well done. This is when it clicked what my fu­ture ca­reer should be! But I still fin­ished my seven years and be­gan to work in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like hos­pi­tals. I was fas­ci­nated by colour and ma­te­ri­als. I started re­search­ing tra­di­tional dresses of var­i­ous re­gions. I found this sub­ject so rich. Al­ge­rian an­ces­tral cos­tume dates back over two mil­len­nia. I wanted to take th­ese cos­tumes out of their folk­lore con­text to make con­tem­po­rary clothes with an Al­ge­rian sig­na­ture. The ma­jor fash­ion de­sign­ers of­ten seek in­spi­ra­tions in other more ‘ex­otic’ cul­tures, so why shouldn’t I be in­spired by my own di­verse coun­try? I moved to Al­giers, took dress­mak­ing lessons while still work­ing, and in 2007 launched a small col­lec­tion of 10 out­fits in­spired by the women in the Ori­en­tal­ists’ paint­ings. Af­ter my am­a­teur cat­walk show at the Sher­a­ton dur­ing Ra­madan, I re­ceived or­ders! I re­alised that I should launch my­self se­ri­ously: buy sewing ma­chines, re­cruit seam­stresses, and reach be­yond my­self. I launched my la­bel, Manouba, in 2008, named af­ter my grandma. Al­ge­rian women like colour and ev­ery­thing that sparkles. Hav­ing a beau­ti­ful tra­di­tional cos­tume in our wardrobe is part of our cul­ture. I love this tra­di­tion, while also the idea of cre­at­ing some­thing that is orig­i­nal, au­then­tic, unique and rare. There’s also the ques­tion of iden­tity: a print to show that you are from a cer­tain re­gion, and a sense of na­tional pride. My pri­mary ob­jec­tive isn’t com­mer­cial but to give Al­ge­rian cos­tume in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure. I’ve showed in Mar­rakech, Bel­gium, Lyon, Paris and the US. When I was at Fash­ion Week in Washington in 2014, peo­ple thought that since I was from Africa I would make boubou dresses. They were so shocked by my col­lec­tion that they called me to the mi­cro­phone to ex­plain. I want to show Al­ge­ria in a dif­fer­ent light from how it is por­trayed in the main­stream me­dia. In life we should put sin­cer­ity and in­ten­sity in all that we do, love with all our force and be the master of our own des­tiny. I don’t be­lieve in the ex­is­tence of ‘no’ or ‘im­pos­si­ble’ – th­ese are just no­tions we in­vent in our heads when we give up.

This is­sue car­ries one inser t be­tween pages 66 and 67 for se­lected coun­tries

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