Break­ing Tra­di­tion

Paris-based de­signer Sasha Nas­sar is giv­ing her Pales­tinian roots new life with a col­lec­tion full of cul­tural ref­er­ences. But there’s not one tra­di­tional thing about it.

Bespoke - - STYLE - Writer: Stephanie d’arc Tay­lor

Look­ing at the clothes she de­signs, you can tell it’s been a while since Sasha Nas­sar left Jaffa, the an­cient city on the Mediter­ranean where she was born and raised in fact the pieces from her first col­lec­tion as a Paris-based de­signer, a year ago (for spring/sum­mer 2017), only hinted at Mid­dle Eastern cul­ture. You would have to have been look­ing for clues like the squared off neck­lines, the sleeve lengths, the pre-worn stripes that vaguely re­call a djellaba plucked off a wash­ing line in Mar­rakech. (Only Nas­sar’s djellabas are in silk, nat­u­rally.) Yet it’s those sub­tle Mid­dle Eastern ref­er­ences that dis­tin­guish her clothes, and off­set an oth­er­wise Euro­pean sil­hou­ette of plung­ing neck­lines, strappy backs, and soar­ing hem­lines. Then again, as much as her work is a bal­anc­ing act, there’s no mis­tak­ing her Arab roots, es­pe­cially these days. The writ­ing is quite lit­er­ally on the, erm, “tits,” as Nas­sar puts it: her new col­lec­tion of spring/ sum­mer 2018 t-shirts – orig­i­nally de­signed for the shop at the Amas­tan (a bou­tique ho­tel with its own art gallery just off Paris' Champs Elysées) but now in­cor­po­rated into her larger sea­sonal cat­a­logue – fea­ture Ara­bic script with cute ev­ery­day say­ings like ‘ Habib Albi’ (Love of My Heart) and ‘ Inta Omri’ (You are My Life) sub­tly scripted across the wearer’s chest. The play­ful­ness of those t-shirts is em­blem­atic of the rest of her col­lec­tion that, true to her man­ner, evokes Arab tra­di­tions in un­ex­pected ways. Stand­out pieces in­clude a tri­an­gle-top sun­dress, caf­tans and a 1970s style sleeve­less flared

leg jump­suit made from a light­weight keffyeh ma­te­rial pro­duced in a fac­tory in He­bron that’s now, ac­cord­ing to Nas­sar, the only place that still makes kef­fiyehs in

the tra­di­tional way. It seems that the longer she has lived in Paris, the more Nas­sar has come to miss her na­tal cul­ture. “I guess my work is in­spired by the Mid­dle East,” Nas­sar tells us. “But I need to be away from it to

un­der­stand how in­spir­ing it is. When I’m there, I don’t no­tice it, I feel stuck with my life. It was only when I moved far away, to Europe, that I re­alised how in­spir­ing it was.” Nas­sar’s choice to bridge con­ti­nents, both in terms of her homes and de­sign phi­los­o­phy, has proved to be a rich source of in­spi­ra­tion. Dur­ing her grad­u­a­tion from Isti­tuto Marangoni in 2013, where she got to study in Mi­lan, Lon­don and Paris, she won the fiercely com­pet­i­tive top prize of

best col­lec­tion dur­ing Lon­don’s Grad­u­ate Fash­ion Week. Her work com­prised a se­ries of caf­tans, shifts, and burqa-style out­fits cre­ated in very un­tra­di­tional

sheer muslin and re­veal­ing lace. Nas­sar de­signed ev­ery as­pect of those looks, all the way down to the ma­te­ri­als: “I didn’t find any fab­rics that i liked she rea­sons

“so I de­cided to cre­ate the pat­terns of the fab­rics my­self.” Her un­for­get­table sheer burqa cov­ered the model from her head and shoul­ders all the way down to the mid calf but it was so form fit­ting that she

was forced to clasp her hands to her sides while walk­ing. It was also so sheer that her breasts and un­der­gar­ments were vis­i­ble through the geo­met­ric pat­tern. Yet, de­spite an ob­vi­ous sub­ver­sion of con­ser­va­tive dress codes, Nas­sar does not see her­self as rad­i­cal, and more im­por­tantly, nei­ther does her au­di­ence. “When I cre­ated this lat­est col­lec­tion, I had some con­cerns about whether the col­lec­tion might be re­ceived neg­a­tively,” she says, “To cre­ate a dress out of a kef­fiyeh is a state­ment for pales­tini­ans it is

a sym­bol of re­sis­tance so peo­ple can take it badly. But I only got pos­i­tive re­ac­tions from it and that was sur­pris­ing to me.” So who ex­actly is she de­sign­ing these clothes for? Nas­sar is adamant that her work must ap­peal to more than just the bold, beau­ti­ful, and young and dis­closes that a re­as­sur­ing sign is that even her “strong, in­de­pen­dent” mother is a fan of the la­bel, although she also ad­mits with a chuckle that “she doesn’t have a choice in the mat­ter”. De­spite mak­ing her home in the French cap­i­tal, Pales­tine will al­ways be dear to Nas­sar’s heart. “Ev­ery­thing about the place is spe­cial – the peo­ple, the food, the sea, the streets. There is some­thing super au­then­tic, es­pe­cially in Jaffa. Be­ing Pales­tinian is a big part of my iden­tity. My in­spi­ra­tion will al­ways come from there, and I’m glad it does.” Up next for Nas­sar? “I want to use Pales­tinian em­broi­dery to cre­ate a col­lec­tion of djellaba and sil­hou­ettes like that. I’ll also add more t-shirts, in Ara­bic of course!”

"I need to be away from the Mid­dle East to un­der­stand how in­spir­ing it is. When I’m there, I don’t no­tice it."

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