There is something menacing, yet enticingly beautiful in Yousef Akbar’s image of a woman in full beaded mask (above). She is shielded and protected as if adorned in armour, yet without revealing her face she is also a potential threat.
Akbar’s Blood Witness collection is due to be presented before a panel of local and international judges at iD Fashion Week this month. As a finalist for the International Emerging Designer section, he is among 39 finalists vying for prize money, internships and the opportunity to show his collection on the iD runway.
The designer grew up in the Middle East and currently resides in New South Wales where he originally set out to study logistics, until he realised that it was possible to pursue and study fashion as an art form.
Not only does Akbar bring powerful emotion to his work, but a sophisticated eye for modern detail. Raw edges undo elegant draping, feminine garments reveal flesh through cut-out sections and appear almost torn and repaired—pinned together with metal hardware in a process of constructing and deconstructing with almost militaristic vision as if he’s piecing his vision of womanhood back together, examining her transition from delicate to strong in an instant.
Akbar’s ability to take risks left me curious to find out more…
You’ve worked with Kimbra and Jessica Mauboy and have achieved local and international success, why did you want to submit your work to iD Fashion week?
I wouldn’t really call it international success yet, because I believe I am yet to start my journey in this industry, but I am grateful for all the opportunities, experiences, mistakes, and people I have come across so far.
I first heard of ID fashion week competition while I was at School in 2014. I was fortunate enough to make it as a finalist while doing my advanced diploma, but I couldn’t make it to New Zealand due to some personal issues. This time I have finished my Bachelor Degree in Fashion, [so] I had to submit my work again.
You draw carefully from your personal experience of growing up in the Middle East and your collection is a tribute to women, which makes for a powerful story. What is it like to go through the creative process with your personal experiences in mind?
All of my work comes from some sort of emotion [and] some sort of frustration on the inside—a need to express myself. The starting point for this collection was that today, there are so many tragedies in this world around us, and to be honest (without sounding too negative or bitter) I’m sick and tired of everyone pretending like life is great and its all flowers and roses. How can we be okay while other humans are suffering [and] most are women and children.
I wanted to dedicate this collection to all the women of this world, especially the silent women fighting their own battles. But I hated the clichéd power dressing women’s collections [of] women equal men. Even though it’s a good message with good intentions, it was missing the point.
So I felt that we need to come back to reality and really look at what women are really going through, feel their pain and suffering; listen to the screams and cry of the widows who lost their husbands for no reason, women who suddenly became single mothers to five children with no home and money, women who are victims of sexual assaults and abuse. These are the true strong women. The survivors.
What are your hopes for your collection?
Through this collection I hope that I evoke some emotion to raise awareness that there are many other humans suffering because of the greed of others and a hunger for power. Most of these victims are women and children [and] this is simply my way to express this frustration, and to share my feelings and thoughts about it.
The more I researched the more I realised that the problem is much worse, and we only hear about a fraction of what is going on around the world.
How does your design process work?
I usually interpret these themes, concepts and emotions into the cut, construction and texture of my garments, which I find fascinating. For example, in this collection it was all about deconstruction of the garments, tension, gravity and drape of the fabric to express all these stories and feelings mentioned above.
How important is fashion you?
Fashion to me is just a way to create and express my self, just like a painter with a brush. I don’t really know how important it is. This might sound weird or like a contradiction, but even though I really love fashion I don’t think it is important.
How important is it for you to create garments from such a personal place?
I would say it’s very important. When it comes from within, it is always true and original. I accept that you will never please everyone, so I don’t really care how others might feel about it [and] I won’t take it personally, as long as I know I am true to myself.
What are you looking forward to when you come to iD Fashion Week?
I have never been to New Zealand and I look forward to everything over there. Everyone who has been there tells me how beautiful it is. I look forward to seeing other talented people and sharing conversations and thoughts with them.
iD Fashion Week runs from 12 to 20 March 2016.
Photography: Dan Hilburn