Resurrection of the Kaftan
WORDS BY DEEMA AL AJLANI
The story of Hawanem began a few years ago, in 2012, when a simple idea was hatched at a tea party. It was then that Nadia and Nadya, two best friends, decided to embark on an adventure and delve into the world of fashion by focusing on a historically significant garment in the region, the kaftan.
This robe, or tunic, has been a fashion staple in the region since the Mesopotamian era and has evolved and acquired a myriad of styles and purposes over the span of generations. It is a garment that conveys images of exoticism and opulence, reminiscent of a long gone era of decadence. Pictures of Arabian princesses and the Ottoman Harem of sultans may come to mind when one thinks of kaftans, and this opulence is clearly evoked through the use of rich fabrics decorated with beautiful designs and embroidery.
It is this lavish era and garment that Hawanem sought to resurrect through their brand, which they describe as “a dialogue between the fabric, the trimmings and our imaginations”. The name of the label itself truly exemplifies this as it signifies beautiful, elegant, grandly and lavishly dressed ladies. The designers therefore chose to design feminine dresses and kaftans to suit their particular tastes and the hot climate of the region and thus successfully married the modern with the traditional. Taking into consideration that a woman’s identity is intricately intertwined with her clothing and how she presents herself, the duo began their endeavor by focusing on custom made kaftans so that each gown may be a reflection of its wearer, and thus truly unique. It is a joint labor between the duo who state that “we each have our own individual taste but collaborate towards designing garments with elements of femininity, while also sprinkling in some of our personal touches and flare”. This ensures that each gown is unique and no two Hanems end up with the same gown.
The designers pair colors together and add touches of lace and various trims during the design process as they state that “For us, creating a painting on canvas is similar to designing a dress; our imaginations run free”. They take inspiration from their surroundings as well as their travels as they claim to live “highly design-oriented lifestyles” whereby they appreciate all things artistic and incorporate them into their designs.
A blend of floral, lacey, arabesque and opulent trimmings and fabrics come together to create their unique Hawanem look. The final dress is then topped off with a signature symbol; a small bird made out of fabric. It is their whimsical way of finishing the garment off and adding yet another distinguishing touch as almost no two birds are the same.
Fabrics for their dreamy creations are sourced both locally and internationally during their “Hawanem trips”; voyages which aid in igniting their creativity and finding beautiful and unique textiles to incorporate into their designs. This provides them with a treasure trove of fabrics and trimmings to tap into when designing their dresses. The designers are especially busy during the peak season of Ramadan and Eid, when it is customary for people to wear kaftans. The collection then leans towards the traditional style of the kaftan with what they call a “modern twist”, whereby Arabic calligraphy imprinted fabrics, gold trimmings and Arabesque elements are weaved together with more modern elements, silhouettes and lengths. In summer, cotton dresses and light bishts are favored by the clientele, who are from all ages and backgrounds, so Hawanem offers dresses made out of breathable, light cottons sourced from well-established mills in the East.
Rich, warm velvets and darker colored fabrics appear in the line during the cooler months of the year; deep purples, hues of blue and black are used alongside vibrant trimmings to keep the playful spirit of the label apparent. Gowns for special occasions such as weddings, engagements, hennas and milchas are also high in demand and available by special order as they are time consuming and elaborate.
It is this attention to detail and the use of distinctive fabrics that has ensured the success of the brand and a long wait list which in turn led to the addition of a ready to wear line in 2013. This line is available exclusively at their shop on Janabiya Road in Bahrain and is ever-changing with new fabrics and trimmings being infused regularly.
The success of Hawanem attests to the fact that the kaftan has survived the test of time and is still a relevant garment in the modern fashion world. It has even transcended geographical boundaries over time as variations of it even appear in the West. In the 1950’s big fashion houses such as Christian Dior and Balenciaga incorporated the kaftan into their collections and big names in the fashion industry such as Andre Leon Talley can also currently be spotted adorning it. We therefore may rest assured that this traditionally oriental dress will remain in the fashion arena with brands such as Hawanem constantly re-inventing it as to them “it is a reflection of our devotion and passion towards our quest to happiness: both in creating the dress, and in delivering the dress to it’s wearer.”
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