x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sharjah's Lina Al Amoudi's got a feather in her cap

Lina Al Amoudi discusses the inspiration behind her award-winning design and the materials she used for her cap.

Lina Al Amoudi's winning design, made from laser-cut medium-density fibreboard and found items from Saudi Arabian Bedouins.
Lina Al Amoudi's winning design, made from laser-cut medium-density fibreboard and found items from Saudi Arabian Bedouins.

Commit the name Lina Al Amoudi to memory, for she looks destined to make waves in the design world. The 23-year-old Sharjah-based student and graphic artist saw off stiff competition from 79 other international creatives to be crowned the overall winner of the lifestyle label New Era's cap competition and taking the £10,000 (Dh58,443) prize. The global label, best known for its broad, peaked, high-crowned and colourful headgear, has had its designs worn by numerous celebrities including Spike Lee, 50 Cent and Jay-Z. And although the company is inextricably linked to its sports heritage - namely baseball - it has evolved in recent years into a fashion brand featuring in music videos and on international fashion week catwalks. Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane interviewed Al Amoudi about her winning design Bilquis, which will be the centrepiece of a travelling exhibition displaying the shortlisted hats that stops in Dubai next week.

Congratulations Lina. Tell me about the inspiration behind your winning design?

For me, hats are far beyond accessories - they are more than headdresses. Throughout history, hats have been used as symbols of power to indicate religion and social status, so in many ways I felt I was given the chance to share insights on my culture with the rest of the world. I wanted to speak of an inspirational woman who had worn the hat of a leader, a mother, a wife - and that was the Queen of Sheba - a story told to me many times when I was a child. She's like my idol and there are not many figures like her, so I wanted to capture that.

The front façade speaks about how she is the embodiment of divine wisdom and there's a quote from the poet Nizar Qabbani referring to her beauty. There's also Arab floral patterns and calligraphy saying "she was the most beautiful queen of the land". Celebrating her being a creator of life and a protector of her children are the lions and symbolising her marriage to King Solomon is the Hoopoe bird that acted as a messenger, telling him there was a rich pagan queen ruling her own kingdom all alone.

The back façade is the Marib Dam, which she built and was one of the first of civilisation - it represents how she led her country to prosperity.

The hat looks like it is made from fretted metal, is that the case?

It is MDF (medium-density fibreboard) which has been laser cut and left in its natural state, because when the laser burns the wood it leaves a brownish outline, which gives it an oldish feel. For the lining, I went to areas in Saudi Arabia, near where I was born, and found materials used by the Bedouin. It gives it an ethnic feel and when I think of what cloths and materials the Queen of Sheba would have worn in those days it would have been embroidered materials such as this. I added the coins at the bottom to symbolise her monetary wealth. And because her kingdom controlled the spice routes, including frankincense in Arabia, I infused all the inner linings with bakhoor.

Was practicality an element of the design or is the hat purely ornamental?

It is more of an art piece than a cap to be worn as it's uncomfortable and pretty heavy. I only made one piece and it has been on tour to Berlin, Milan, Paris, Stockholm, Cape Town and Dubai will be the last stop.

What will you do with the prize money?

After I graduated from the American University of Sharjah in visual communications, I worked for two years, trying to save up for my masters, and with this bursary I can now go ahead and do that. The rest of it will go towards my business. I've just started my own studio near Business Bay in Dubai and I'm really excited about it. It's a very small, niche company that caters to local businesses and we do branding and illustrations.

What made you enter the competition in the first place and how did you rate your chances?

In September of last year when I visited the website, it was intimidating to see all the other artists that had joined because some of them were actual hat designers who had made pieces for Alexander McQueen and Valentino. I felt I didn't stand a chance, but I just closed my eyes and gave it a shot.

After we were narrowed down to 180, New Era sent us all really cool boxes containing 59FIFTY blank caps, marker pens and a video camera for us to keep. After working on our hats for two crazy weeks and sending them back, they narrowed it down again to 80 artists in early October. The final entries were appraised by an international judging panel, including the renowned British tailor Timothy Everest.

Is millinery a career you would like to pursue one day?

This is the first time I've ever customised a hat - and embroidery and stitching are skills I picked up along the way. I generally like to delve into different things and learn as I go along but I don't really consider myself an artist. I feel I am just a person who likes to create and tell a story with my hands.

• The exhibition of Lina Al Amoudi's winning design and 79 other contenders in the New Era cap competition stops in Dubai next week. The caps will be on display adjacent to Desert Fish Studio, Warehouse 5, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz, on Friday, April 27 from noon to midnight and Saturday, April 28 from 3pm to 10pm.


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