With the new season oft comes a slew of new designers waiting like buds for their spring awakening as they blossom from neophyte designers into accomplished aesthetes. However, where there are a handful that successfully cross-over from apprentice to established, there are many more fledglings that fall by the way side, overawed and under-experienced in an industry that is as brutal as it is beautiful.
When, however, you can cite Phoebe Philo, Alexander Wang and Nicolas Ghesquière as your personal mentors, it’s safe to say that you’re on the right road to becoming a fashion designer with conviction. And so it is with 30-year-old Federica Visani, a Doha-based Italian designer launching her debut collection in the GCC this spring under her new brand Arabology, bringing with her a formidable amount of know-how.
Before graduating in 2008 from Creapole-ESDI Paris with a Masters degree in Fashion Design & Pattern Making, Federica spent half of her last year working at Céline, assisting the head designer for the womenswear collection. From there Federica’s journey brought her to Qatar in 2010, after being head-hunted to join Qela boutique, owned by HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, as a ready-to-wear designer, before returning to Paris to work with Céline once more, Barbara Bui and Sonia Rykiel. “I can say that I professionally grew up at Céline, where I went through all the steps from assisting to design on the main line ready-to-wear. I learned so much about fabrics, tailoring, colour experimentation, finishings, and the perfect fit."
Federica has since designed a capsule footwear collection for Louis Vuitton, worked with Pierre Hardy, and was hired as footwear designer at Balenciaga – first under Nicolas Ghesquière and then Alexander Wang. However, at the end of 2012, Federica’s journey brought her back to Qatar, alongside her husband, David Martinez, co-founder and art director of Blue Brush Hair Studio, owned by Sheikha Muneera Al Thani. Through her work as a stylist, Federica has also “had the chance to style one of the most gorgeous women I know from the royal family; we had a lot of fun together choosing outfits for special occasions, with a closet full of treasures just ready to play with and style.”
The decision to branch out alone as a designer stems back to her very first few months in Qatar six years ago. “Firstly, I wanted to create a modest wardrobe for myself adapted to life in Arabia but with a European-Parisian look – pieces that I could wear in Qatar but also be proud to wear back in Paris hanging out with my very critical, fashion-forward friends. And so I started to wear my designs, mixing modesty with a strong style statement; and secondly, to fill a gap that I saw in the market, because I was truly struggling to find a simple, desirable, wearable wardrobe that adapted to life in the GCC.”
And so, Arabology was born, a brand that combines a strong visual aesthetic with modesty.
Fluid, draped, long-layered silhouettes that give women choices, either to unveil ingeniously or to cover gracefully.”
With huge importance placed on proportions, Federica looks for the “cut that makes you feel good. We wish to flatter all bodies, not create our own selfish fantasy. Our generation is more and more relaxed in their way of dressing, because we move all the time, travel, and need to be comfortable, but where has the drama, the glamour gone? I really believe we can create garments that are both comfortable and truly stylish.”
Joking that she is a “marketing specialist’s nightmare”, she describes her designs as appealing to a wide-range of women. “Our product is very clean and timeless, so it’s also very versatile. You can play with the pieces, and style them the way you want. I would say that the Arabology woman likes to be playful, that she dares to be different. She overdresses with impertinence but always feels comfortable, so gives of an air of cool nonchalance.”
Riffing on this playful element, the 30-piece debut capsule collection for S/S16, is rich pickings for those who like to mix-and-match; “basic pieces with a DNA and a bit of spirit”, as Federica calls them. Light overcoats and capes contrast beautifully against draped jumpsuits and edgier bomber jackets, while long layered dresses present the perfect staple for Arab women. The colour palette is simple with graphic colours of burnt orange, indigo blue and peppermint green juxtaposed against softer shades of white and the most elegant blush pink.
Standout pieces include the double jumpsuit – white layered with floaty black light silk georgette that billows beautifully as you walk; a Middle Eastern take on a bomber jacket in peppermint with keffiyeh-patterned sleeves (above); a trenchcoat in camel that promises to be the perfect trans-seasonal investment; and a 1920s-inspired white summer ‘fur’ dress (left) in a custom-made fabric from Korea that is as light as it is artfully feminine. Beyond the cut and aesthetic of the collection, it’s Federica’s use of silk within her designs that also raises the bar; the insides of her jackets and capes, in particular, deliciously soft and tactile.
Of her projected clientele, Federica says Arabology “understands her needs, seamlessly melting into the culture, yet bringing her something that isn’t clichéd or too obviously GCC."
"And because of my time in Qatar, I have always felt very close to Arab women and the way they choose to dress. I find so much beauty and sensuality in the long fluid silhouettes preferred here, because suggestion is far more glamorous than obvious sexiness. I have also always wanted to respect the culture and dress modestly myself and the truth is... It’s always been a pleasure.”
Bomber jacket, Dhs2,330
Arabology is available online at Houseofarabology.com. This article appears in the April issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia