x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

From photography to fashion

Amr Ali is the designer of the London-based label BodyAmr, which was the grand finale show for Dubai Fashion Week.

Amr Ali is the designer behind BodyAmr.
Amr Ali is the designer behind BodyAmr.

For pretty much as long as I can remember, my biggest influence was photography - Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, all the majors. My father had the books and I stumbled on them as a child. My father was a keen photographer and would shoot all of us, my mother, buildings, everything. I was around seven or eight, and I really loved seeing the work of different photographers and the images that they were creating. It kind of gave me a feeling in my stomach, and I knew that I wanted to somehow depict, or have, or be in that kind of world.

My mother was definitely very fashionable, and my parents used to host a lot of dinner parties. It was all very fabulous, but we children were sent to our rooms. We would peek from the balcony and see the people come in absolutely dressed up. It was the time of Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaia, and all these amazing, super fabulous women just went all out. It was fantastic. When I was a kid, my mum bought me some pretty cool stuff. I remember her getting me these denim trousers, and the front part of them was really rich chinchilla suede. I practically lived in them. They had holes and cuts and they were from Newman's. I had these Jean Paul Gaultier trainers that had the decked sole, which were hideous, but at the time they were so fabulous. I thought I was the bomb. It sounds so tacky now.

I was born in London and moved from there to Oman when I was 14. But I was set in my look and who I was, so when I moved there I got a lot of criticism. I think I was at that age when I was looking at everyone else and thinking: "You can't judge me, I have come from London!" I was uncompromising in my style, and in fact I pushed it even more. Then MTV hit Arabia and that was it. I watched the style TV channels, and House of Style with Cindy Crawford. I wanted to provoke a reaction out of people then. It's not as much fun any more, and I am too old to be able to pull those things off now. I have to be respectable. I still have the JPG shoes, though.

My first really big purchase was a Guy Bourdin photograph. It was the first time I felt like it was OK to treat myself. Actually, a lot of my money goes to art. I have a Damien Hirst, a Banksy, a Tracey Emin, and Helmut Newton. After art, vintage is the second thing that I collect. Halston, Alaia, and Mugler are my must-haves. Stores call me to say they have got a piece, but I also love to find them. Sometimes stalls are selling a dress and they don't know it's an amazing Halston. It still happens.

I like to play with clothes. Maybe I find a women's trench coat in shirt-type fabric, which I chop and make it into a shirt and wear myself. I like to think my style has that 1990s sleek feel - a mix of vintage, casual and feminine. My style changes a lot, depending on the mood, where I am going and how I am feeling. I'm busy most of the time so I wear baggy, comfortable shirts. But sometimes I want to glam it up with something sleeker, sharper, more tailored. I love Tom Ford for Gucci. It's totally timeless. I wear a blazer with a tucked-in black kimono style top, a messed up vest underneath and jeans. I just chuck it in the washing on high heat and wear it out, mess it up. You know, London edge. Confidence. I love Salvatore Ferragamo's evening dress shoes, obviously with messed-up jeans. And I live in trainers. Nike Air, all the colours. I try to be pared down in my style.

I never studied fashion, so in a way photography and vintage have all been my education. I want to learn it from the people whose work I love. The skeleton of a piece is so important, and Mugler was just amazing. I go straight to the core and think I want him to teach me, but I try not to pull vintage pieces apart. My favourite shops have to be New York or Paris flea markets. They are so cheap and unique, and no one else will have the same thing. I love finding it; that's that fun of it, just being able to search and find.

I love working with photographers who have a vision similar to mine, that can add to it and brainstorm. When that happens it's just magic and I just want it to last. I never want it to end. BodyAmr is stocked at Boutique 1 and Harvey Nichols.