Famed for his modern interpretations of classic kanduras, the Saudi-born designer Hatem Alakeel - the founder of the label Toby - has just revealed the new face of his brand. We get the inside track on the competition winner and take a closer look at the designer's autumn/winter 2012 collection.
For the past two months Alakeel's label has run an online competition to find "The New Face of Toby", his popular ready-to-wear and bespoke brand. Aspiring models and fashion savants sashayed their way to Saks Fifth Avenue in Dubai's BurJuman shopping centre to be photographed on a catwalk wearing Toby's latest creations. The images were uploaded to the brand's Facebook and Twitter pages, enabling a panel of six eagle-eyed industry insiders to choose the candidate with greatest billboard appeal.
The judges included the TV presenters Diala Makki and Omar bin Butti, the blogger and Dollhouse salon owner Mona Kattan, the celebrity photographer Wadih El Najjar, Luc Decroix from Tag Heuer and the owner of Thrust Entertainment, Elie Lahoud. "The event exceeded all my expectations," Alakeel says. "There was a great turnout and people were very passionate about the brand and concept of taking fashion to another level."
Commit the name Arash Mohammadi to memory, for he is about to be jettisoned into fashion orbit. The 30-year-old Iranian's handsome face will soon grace forthcoming Toby advertising campaigns, after he successfully saw off stiff competition to become the label's new face.
The judges were looking for a confident, dynamic, educated, multicultural, traditional and progressive face, Alakeel says.
"Arash is a model, but also someone very career oriented and very into personal training - a hard worker with a strong sense of self. He'll now get some great media exposure and a certain platform to expose himself to the Saudi Arabian market and wider GCC countries."
The motivation behind the project was to create new role models for the Middle East's youth and provide one deserving individual with the chance of a lifetime.
"I firmly believe that models can be role models here, just like they are in the West," says Alakeel "There's limited access to regional role models, especially in Saudi Arabia, and some individuals don't have the advantage of being sent abroad... They don't all have the educational tools at their disposal to be able to further themselves, so the point of this campaign was to empower youth and to show them that if you are ambitious and you have a talent you can further your career."
Don't despair if you missed the fashion ferry this time around, Alakeel is already planning "The Next Face of Toby KSA" and considering a similar competition for his impending women's collection.
Alakeel's latest line, under his new eponymous label, is a range of shirts that fuse Savile Row's understated elegance and sophistication with the Middle East's style and sensibility. The collection has a distinctively wintry feel befitting of an autumn/winter range and uses the colour palette of greys, navy and baby blues - some of the designer's favourite shades.
"With my latest thobe collection I also went back to the classics, launching a new label called the Blue Line," Alakeel says. "I was trying to show another, more serious, functional side of thobes. I'm known for avant-garde designs, so it's good to have different lines to complement what I'm doing. I've tried to give a little edge to this collection, adding a little buckle to the end of very simple thobes, for example."
Know your thobes
If you think all kanduras look alike, think again. Closer inspection will reveal that the UAE's traditional design is one of clean-cut minimalism, while Saudi Arabian thobes are more intricate, tailored and often unconventional.
"Every country's style has a different concept, from the UAE kandura to the dishdasha for Kuwait and the thobe for Saudi Arabia," Alakeel says. "In the UAE they are very adventurous with colours. Take Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for example, wearing royal blues and maroons etc. However, Emiratis never venture out of the box when it comes to cuts and changes need to be gradual.
"Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is far less daring when it comes to colour but more adventurous with cuts. A typical style would be a mandarin collar with the thobes more tailored and fitted. The 15- to 35-year-old demographic goes all out when it comes to style, textures and fabrics at times like Eid - which has been very beneficial to up-and-coming designers who are taking this road."
To view the latest collections and for details of stockists in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, visit www.urtoby.com
ALL DRESSED UP
The National's fashion correspondent Gemma Champ is writing every day from Paris Fashion Week. See our fashion blog All Dressed Up to read her posts, as well as her letters from London and New York.