A luxury retail event with social purpose, Laala brings together jewellery and fashion designers from Afghanistan with carpets and textiles and local food produce. In the run up to the event, three Afghan women speak to Bazaar about their work, love of their home country and showing a positive side to Afghanistan, away from war and suffering.
As the daughter of the late Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, peace activist Fatima Rabbani has a strong emotional connection to the country. Moving from Afghanistan to Pakistan as an infant and then, following a fire at the Afghanistan Embassy in Pakistan, to London and later Dubai.
However, even during the war she spent every summer in Afghanistan as her father continued living there as president. “I remember there were rockets flying and we had to run to the basement. It was a way of seeing my father, because he wouldn’t leave the country.”
With Iman Soraya Nazemi, a family friend, Fatima is launching a jewellery line using Afghanistan’s precious emeralds and lapis lazuli. “I felt that the beautiful stones weren’t being celebrated enough outside the country. The traditional jewellery designs are beautiful but tend to be very heavy and chunky, not the sort of thing you can wear every day. So what Iman and I want to do is modernise it, simplify it so it’s more appealing to a global customer.”
Iman and Fatima will design then have the pieces made by local jewellers in Afghanistan. “I was always very drawn to Afghanistan because of my father. I studied politics and did my thesis on the development of women in Afghanistan in the past five years” says Fatima. “My father was assassinated five years ago and after what happened to him, I didn’t want to go into politics. So this is my way of doing something for the country.”
Iman Soraya Nazemi
Iman wears jacket by Laman
Although born and raised in London, Iman Soraya Nazemi felt misplaced as a child. “I always felt like Afghanistan was my home, even though I’d never been there.”
Iman visited Pakistan regularly from the age of 12 with her mother, Maryam Gailani, who opened schools to educate Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Aged 20, she moved to volunteer at the Red Crescent Society in Kabul for a year, in a ward for the mentally ill. “My parents said it’s your duty to help your people as much as possible."
Now, in tandem with her humanitarian work, Iman makes clothes under her label Zundai, setting the vivid hues of embellished fragments of old Afghan wedding dresses, bought from village women, against the neutral backdrop of her dresses. “My mother has suitcases full of fragments of old embroidery from Afghan dresses so when I was 16, I started taking these and incorporating them into dresses and selling them for fun.”
Of the pieces in her collection, she says, “All the pieces are imperfect, you will never find two pieces the same because they say only god is perfect. You see the style change through the war, as influences from Pakistan came in while people were in refugees there.”
Iman’s mother founded the Shamsa Children’s Village, a home for abandoned and orphaned children in Afghanistan, where they now teach the children embroidery. “I want a system where they create, I sell and we create a bank account so that when they are 18 they have some money of their own,” says Iman. “Keeping crafts alive creates jobs for women and keeps something alive that I feel we’re losing.”
Karima Samim’s love of the natural beauty and craftsmanship of Afghanistan goes back to her childhood in Mazar-i-Sharif and, later, Kabul. “My father’s business was carpet making and he was keen for us get involved. Sometimes he would bring the kids who made the carpets to the house to demonstrate how they were made.”
Karima has designed clothes since childhood but her parents didn’t consider it a proper career. So she worked in HR before starting her own fashion line, StyleMe, three years ago, designing evening couture dresses and ready-to-wear. “I knew I had to do something unique, so I started mixing the traditional Afghan embroidery with designs appealing to a GCC audience,” she tells Bazaar.
Fusing traditional Afghan and Moroccan designs, the passages of embroidery used in Karima’s designs are largely made in the UAE by Indian embroiders, but she sources work from Afghanistan when possible. “I prefer to buy from Afghanistan because they are such experts and there’s a long history of embroidery. But it’s difficult because I cannot go there easily to inspect the work.”
Although Karima has lived in Dubai for 27 years, she still feels very connected to Afghanistan. “I was raised there, so I have strong memories. There are so many talented creative kids in Afghanistan and I would love to see that come out, give them the opportunity I have had later in life.”
Laala’s Afghan Chic Pop-Up runs from December 8-10 at City Walk Phase 2, Dubai. Laala.org
Fashion Editor: Gemma Deeks. Fashion Assistant: Samah Elmeri. Photography: Carla Guler at MMG. Hair: Katie C at MMG. Make-up: Britta Tess at MMG. With thanks to Park Hyatt, Dubai