Post­card An in­dis­pens­able so­lu­tion

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Anna Zacharias Anna Zacharias is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist based in Mus­cat.

Ev­ery Omani has that friend. He’s the guy you can call be­fore a wed­ding, a grad­u­a­tion or when you need a pass­port photo. He’s the guy who you can count on to drive across town and meet you in the Opera House park­ing lot. He’s the guy who can do your mus­sar just right. The mus­sar, an em­broi­dered Omani tur­ban of soft cash­mere wool, is the head­gear of for­mal oc­ca­sions and is manda­tory for Omani gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees.

Issa Mubarak Al Amri was that friend. Now, he is a pro­fes­sional mus­sar folder. In the age of In­sta­gram and Snapchat, his dex­ter­ous fin­gers and eye for de­tail are in high de­mand.

Issa and his brothers founded Pride of Orig­i­nal­ity, a mus­sar fold­ing and rental shop, in Oman’s cap­i­tal Mus­cat, af­ter they saw so­cial me­dia cre­ate de­mand for more va­ri­ety among young men. That was in 2014.

“Peo­ple want to be unique and hand­some, pro­fes­sional at their event, so they come to me,” says Issa, 35.

“A lot of peo­ple have changed their life­style and they are seek­ing some­thing nice and spe­cial. So­cial me­dia helps a lot to change the think­ing of peo­ple.”

The mus­sar rental busi­ness has taken off in the past two years. When Issa started as a free­lance folder in 2010, he knew of two other rental shops in Mus­cat. Now, he can name 13 in his neigh­bour­hood.

Pride of Orig­i­nal­ity is in a hum­ble three-storey build­ing. Be­hind its plain wooden door is a groom’s par­adise, with a room for each kind of ac­ces­sory: one for khan­jar dag­gers, swords and bullet belts; one for antique ri­fles and canes; one for black and gold bisht cloaks. Other rooms con­tain shawl sashes and mus­sars. Thurs­day nights are busy. The Al Amri brothers start by burn­ing frank­in­cense to wel­come guests, who ar­rive car­ry­ing khan­jar dag­gers in red vel­vet boxes.

Issa’s brother-in-law Ab­dul­ra­ham Al Amri, 22, presents a khan­jar to a young man in shorts, flip-flops and a Fer­rari T-shirt, who dropped it off for pol­ish­ing a few days ago. An­other young man tries on bullet belts, struggling to find one to fit his slen­der waist. “There’s no belly,” an un­cle cries. In the room next door, Issa’s brother Saeed has his own so­lu­tion for a loose bullet belt: a leather holepunch.

Issa and his brother Ma­jid, 28, are fit­ting mus­sars in an­other room. “He can make you hand­some,” says cus­tomer Has­san Ali, 26, wear­ing a mus­sar pat­terned with golden lau­rels to match the edg­ing on his dish­dasha.

“If you do it at home, it will be messy. We want the easy way and this man is a pro­fes­sional.”

Although the mus­sar is na­tional dress, it is not worn ev­ery day. “I’m work­ing in the desert,” said Mo­hammed Harthi, 28, who is em­ployed in oil drilling. “OK, if you ask me about cov­er­alls and a hard hat, I’ll tell you. But for mus­sar, we’re not prac­tised.”

The ser­vice is not just for grooms. The mus­sar’s tight folds hold for days and it’s of­ten kept in­side a car, ready for busi­ness meet­ings.

“If you go back three years, Omani peo­ple were not in­ter­ested in fash­ion,” says Ha­mad Al Balushi, 33, a client and dish­dasha de­signer. “Now, young peo­ple love to wear some­thing so they look smart and pro­fes­sional. Be­fore, peo­ple were get­ting ready for wed­dings at home. Now, there are so many shops.”

For Issa, mus­sar style has al­ways mat­tered. “When I was a kid, I liked ev­ery­thing to be or­gan­ised, my shoes cleaned, my dish­dasha pressed,” he says. “When we were kids of the same age, my cousins and my brothers did not iron their dish­dasha but for me, no, I’d iron it and put it aside.”

He prac­tised fold­ing his first mus­sar, at age 14, for hours. By Eid, his fam­ily were ask­ing him to pre­pare theirs. “I had this skill and ev­ery­body no­ticed that,” says Issa. “When you like some­thing you are in love with it, you grow with it.”

So­cial me­dia has made rentals more ac­cept­able but brings pres­sure for more looks, at a time when the cost of liv­ing is ris­ing. Many Omani youth are struggling to find em­ploy­ment af­ter grad­u­a­tion but at the same time are ex­pected to marry.

Issa es­ti­mates it costs more than 700 Omani ri­als (Dh6,678) to dress and ac­ces­sorize a groom. “For one day, huh? One day.” Many men have their own khan­jars. But a sword, the groom’s most prom­i­nent ac­ces­sory, can cost from 270 to 800 ri­als. Issa says rentals are a so­lu­tion to this. “What do you want a sword for?” he says.

A mus­sar fix­ing costs 3 ri­als and groom styling costs 10 ri­als. Issa says it is not just about looks. “Rep­u­ta­tion be­longs to peo­ple. Ev­ery­body has his own pres­tige.”

Over the years, he has be­come a con­fi­dant to ner­vous grooms. His job is not only to make grooms look good but feel good, and to fo­cus on what mat­ters – the marriage ahead.

“I just help him to take out that fear. In the end, he will do it and he will be with his wife. So, kha­las.”

I just help him to take out that fear. In the end, he will do it and he will be with his wife. So, kha­las Issa Mubarak Al Amri pro­fes­sional mus­sar folder, on help­ing to soothe Omani grooms’ nerves

Cour­tesy Anna Zacharias

Issa Mubarak Al Amri of Pride of Orig­i­nal­ity, Mus­cat, adds his fin­ish­ing touches to an Omani tur­ban.

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