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Favourite Designer “Vivienne Westwood. A British Designer. She is so totally funky, crazy and stylish. I like her designs and her personality.” Fabric of choice “I love to work with raw silk; and I love pink and off-white.” Favourite Accessory “Ear rings. For my designs, that was the only accessory I used. I designed one, and in different colours to suit each design. It was in Swarovski crystals.” Flair for the Abhaya Despite the designs she spins, Noor is always clothed in an abhaya. Little wonder, that she is toying with idea of an abhaya line. “I want to try something different. Play with fabrics and cuts. To experiment. I want to explore possibilities – at present it is rather impractical. You get abhayas only in crepe or other synthetic material. It is so hot in Qatar, and we are wearing multiple layers...” Female Designers Why are male designers so much more popular? “Probably because people feel they know how to dress a woman. But I feel women designers understand a woman’s body better. They will be more adept at dressing other women.” Faux Pas “I hate to see people not dressing appropriately for their age. Youngsters wearing clothes meant for older ones, and vice versa. You can’t blindly follow trends, the clothes should suit you.” Food for thought “A lady came up to me in London and was telling me I should work on designs for bigger women. The clothes available now are so ugly. We went to Milan and Rome on an educational trip from VCU and we saw at Versace that buyers were ordering special sizes depending on the market. That is an interesting concept. You get the same beautiful design, but to suit your size. You need to keep you customer in mind, put their needs first.”
What Dreams are Dr aped of...
By Vani Sar aswathi
“Noor is an extremely talented, selfmotivated person. She is in a position to get whatever she wants, yet she works really hard, and is willing to do what it takes. She checks every little, minute detail. Usually designers supervise, but we encourage our students to be more hands-on.” – Sandra Wilkins, Area Chair, Fashion Design, VCU-Q
he is all of 23, and has already dressed Haifa Wehbe, Arab music’s most popular star. With maturity that belies her age and modesty that cloaks her achievements, Sheikha Noor Al Thani spreads out her sketches on the cafe table. At that meeting, four months ago, she says little, and leaves it to her cousin to fill in about her personality. We sat down again, on the first day of Ramadan. She has a lot more to display, a lot more to say. In four months, she has had two more shows – in Beirut and Rome. She is different too – still soft spoken and mature, but more confident and forthcoming. A graduate of fashion design from Virginia Commonwealth University in
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The stunning wedding dress, with a high collar made of Swarovski crystals, received great response
Qatar, Noor Al Thani was born into affluence, but has sweated and sewn her way forward, gaining recognition and making a mark abroad, where her family name does not automatically extend favours. Last year, she was among the winners of the most promising designer award at the Lux Fashion Show in Beirut, for young designers. In August this year, she went once again to Lebanon for the show Hiqayet Musamam (Designer’s Story); the theme demanded a traditional piece, and she came up with a stunning ‘toubanashel’. She also figured in the Honour’s Book, the youngest of 10 designers featured. While in Rome... And just before her second Lebanon
foray, she participated in her first European show – the Italian Fashion Week 2005- 2006 in Rome, a show entitled ‘An Oriental Night’ directed by Wafiq Salbeikh. “I had chosen Breaking the Ice as my theme for the Oriental Night, as in many ways that was what I did then. I broke the ice. “I am very shy and closed. Most Qatari women are. I expressed myself through my art. My paintings, my designs. I showed 16 pieces in Rome. That show would not have been possible without the support of HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Misnad. I was sponsored by Qatar Foundation, and I owe a lot to her. Without her, my dreams would have remained so.”
The Rome show gave her unprecedented exposure. “Haifa Wehbe liked a dress I showed there... I had hand painted flowers on it. And it hangs in her wardrobe now. A Lebanese team which came for the show photographed my creations and showed it to her. She liked it and her agents got in touch with me. And I was only too happy to gift it to her,” beams Noor. “A lot of people from Doha have approached me to do their evening wear and casual clothes. Response has been good from abroad too. After the Rome fashion show, I received a call from London to design a wedding dress, after she saw the one on show. For the show I had done a wedding dress, with a Swarovski crystal collar. I have a person in Lebanovember 2005 27
entire salary on my creations. It is an expensive business. I need to travel to source material – fabrics, accessories, beads... I go to Dubai, to Lebanon.” She recently attended an exhibition in Paris, on new trends in fabrics, yarns, accessories. “I participated mainly to educate myself. To get to know what is new in the market for the future.” Mixed response Noor interned at a local boutique briefly, and realised that while some Qataris loved to work with a Qatari designer, many don’t want to wear their designs. “It is difficult for them to realise that I am Qatari and a qualified designer and will do a good job. They feel Western designers are more aware of trends. However, western designs also need to be altered for local need,” she points out. “Mainly because of the weather and wearing the abhaya. We have to wear light fabrics. But the cuts and patterns are the same. Qatari women are very aware of fashions and trends. Even the youngsters are so aware.” Recounting a family anecdote, she says, “Though I am designing now, when I was in school I wore whatever my mother picked up and gave me. But my sister who is only seven years old, is so opinionated – she will not wear a design she doesn’t approve of. She is so particular. So when I am buying or designing a dress for her, I make sure she is totally involved in it.” She says that she is not yet completely satisfied with her work. “I sometimes feel something is missing in design. That I need to go the extra mile. I do get depressed when my designs don’t satisfy me. But I have my mentors. My teachers at VCU. I go to them to clear up stuff, get their comments.” “My dream is to offer the world a International ‘Ready to Wear’ line, originating from Doha. I am discussing the idea with fellow designers here, to present an international line, with a local touch. But the immediate task is the show to be held in Doha – for the opening of the refurbished women’s store at Salam Studios and Stores.”
The dress that caught the eye of Haifa Wehbe
non who specialises in accessories, so I worked with him and he executed my idea,” says Noor. Seeking a signature Noor grew up with colours, patterns and designs. She grew up watching her father, Hamad bin Salman Al Thani – a renowned artist, paint. “He excels in so many different styles, that you won’t be able to connect one work to another. And somewhere I picked up that trait. My designs are so different. It is good in one way. There is variety. At the same time,
I am not getting my ‘signature’... but I guess the paintings on my designs is my ‘signature’,” she adds as an afterthought. Last year, Noor participated in her first big event, in the Lux Fashion Show in Lebanon, winning a promising young designer award. “For that I had shown two from my Senior Collection at VCU and two done exclusively for the show. This year, it was a totally new collection.The concept itself was so removed from what I did last year. “I work on hundreds of sketches and play around with my designs before
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finalising. I make sure that some part of every dress I design and execute, I work on with my own hands. I paint on it, I airbrush. It is not my creation just because I design. It is not my creation if I sketch it and someone sews it. I need to be involved in it. If I don’t touch it, it is not mine,” she emphasises. “Painting still continues to be a passion. I escape to my painting when I am stressed or angry. It clears my mind.” Even as her father inspired, her entire family encouraged her. “I keep dressing up my cousins, sisters and even my mum.
When I showed in Rome, they were all there by my side.” Dressing up the men While she has been zipping around showing her creations, Noor has also been holding down a full time job at the Qatar National Olympic Committee, (QNOC) facing tough assignments and tight deadlines.“Though my job at QNOC is to design as well, the work is so different from what I do otherwise. I am designing clothes for Qatari sportsmen, I am working against a tight deadline. This is a
totally different ball game. “I have been given a freehand, in that I don’t have to stick to maroons and whites. But I have been educating myself too. Looking at anti-bacterial fabric for one... I need to show the designs to QNOC bigwigs for approval in two months. There are two categories of kits I need to work on. One is for the competitions and the other for opening ceremony,” she says, barely hiding her pride. “My family is most supportive. But I want to be self-sufficient. I spend my
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Rosa Parks passes away
Voice against discrimination
One small, but strong gesture of Rosa Lee Parks changed the course of history. She refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Alabama, in 1955. And with that, she inspired an entire race to stand up for its rights. The mother of America’s civil rights movement died last month, at the age of 92. WT pays tribute to this truly inspiring woman.
felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long.” She added, “At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in.” The 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, which came two years after the Supreme Court’s landmark declaration that separate schools for blacks and whites were “inherently unequal,” marked the start of the modern civil rights movement. It culminated in the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act, which banned racial discrimination in public accommodations. Still, after taking her public stand for civil rights, Parks had trouble finding work in Alabama. Amid threats and harassment, she and her husband, Raymond, moved to Detroit in 1957. She worked as an aide to Rep John Conyers from 1965 until retiring in 1988. Raymond Parks died in 1977. Parks said upon retiring from her job with Conyers that she wanted to devote more time to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she founded in 1987 to develop young leaders. She worried that young people take legal equality for granted and said that older blacks “have tried to shield young people from what we have suffered. And in so doing, we seem to have a more complacent attitude.” “We must double and redouble our efforts to try to say to our youth, to try to give them an inspiration, an incentive and the will to study our heritage and to know what it means to be black in America today,” she said. “As long as there is unemployment, war, crime and all things that go to the infliction of man’s inhumanity to man, regardless – there is much to be done, and people need to work together,” she once said. Even into her 80s, she was active on the lecture circuit, speaking at civil rights groups and accepting awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. “This medal is encouragement for all
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Left: Rosa parks being arrested after her act of defiance Above: The historic bus
arks, a mild-mannered daughter of a teacher and a carpenter, was 42 when she committed the act of defiance that changed the course of American history and earned her the title of ‘midwife’ or ‘mother’ of the civil rights movement. At that time, Jim Crow laws in place since the post-Civil War Reconstruction required separation of the races in buses, restaurants and public accommodations
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throughout southern USA, while racial discrimination kept blacks out of many jobs and neighbourhoods in northern USA. The seamstress, an active member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, was riding on a Montgomery city bus on Dec 1, 1955, when a white man demanded her seat. Parks refused and she was jailed and later fined $14. But her one-woman act of defiance inspired 50,000 blacks in Montgomery to join in a historic 381-day boycott, organised by a then little-known Baptist minister, Rev Martin Luther King Jr. So they walked, finally refusing to endure their daily humiliation on the city’s buses. Parks’ bravery became the catalyst for a movement that broke the back of legalised segregation in the US. Speaking in 1992, Rosa said history too often maintains “that my feet were hurting and I didn’t know why I refused to stand up when they told me. But the real reason of my not standing up was I
of us to continue until all have rights,” she said at the June 1999 ceremony for the latter medal. Parks was the subject of the documentary “Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks,” which received a 2002 Oscar nomination for the best short documentary. Parks’ health had been declining for the past 10 years. She was said to be suffering from dementia and had stopped making public appearances. In one of her last interviews, when asked what she would want people to say about her, after her death, she said, “I’d like people to say I’m a person who always wanted to be free and wanted it not only for myself; freedom is for all human beings.” She said the love of freedom was instilled in her from childhood by her grandfather – her mother’s father with whom she lived when she was growing up. He taught his children and grandchildren not to put up with mistreatment. “It was passed down almost in our genes,” Parks wrote in her 1992 autobiography, My Story
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